Kuwait is now bustling with the new trend of food trucks, which has been welcomed with open arms by the public. With the new bylaws in place since 2017, licensing a food truck has now become possible without the requirement of a physical location.
Many entrepreneurs have since then ventured into this market and have been trying their hand at something they are passionate about, food.
Before this latest whirlwind trend, back in 2013, Ahmed Al-Abduljader decided to take the hard way and introduce this still untested concept in Kuwait. The Times Kuwait recently had the opportunity to chat with Al-Abduljader, or AJs as he is known to friends, and to explore the path that led him to become one of the first food truck entrepreneurs in Kuwait.
“I have always loved to cook and, whenever I did have the spare time, I used to cook for my friends,” said Ajs as a sort of introduction to his venture into the food business. “Some of my friends were working on another business concept and they had a spare truck, so they encouraged me to take my love of food to the public.
“Although in the beginning I contemplated on the fact that I didn’t have the time for it with my full-time job, my friends still convinced me into giving it a go. Thus, along with my friends, we began our operations in 2013, by attending private events held by friends and acquaintances while I worked on getting my food truck legalized in-order to get into the public space. It was then that I realized that getting a food truck registered was simply not within the law, so I continued to just attend private events as a hobby.
“In 2014, other food trucks started to come into the picture in public areas and I could see how the market had expanded. I still didn’t want to be out in the public without the correct registrations in place. That’s when I started a dine in, which allowed me to set up a separate company that was no longer dependent on my friend’s company for licensing, after which I grew the catering and delivery side of the business.”
Elaborating on how he went about complying with the food truck laws in Kuwait that back then were a gray area, AJs said: “As the concept grew, I was no longer looking at public parking to serve customers and focused more on private events. There were some old regulations in place for the use of food trucks, but it wasn’t clear, and the process was long. Further to this, there would always be push backs from the restaurant owners who had regular brick and mortar shops.
“For us the idea was to stay lean, and focus on growing the food menu, but as the menu grew and as we ourselves had to rent a place we then added a delivery service and dine-in also to the original food truck catering concept.
“Now, the regulations for food trucks are more advanced and clearer. The regulations allow an easy set up for people who want to get in the food and beverage business, without having the burden of paying the high rents and the other fixed costs associated with traditional brick and mortar establishments.
“Some food truck owners are also allowed to operate in registered public areas. As our license is associated with a store, we are unfortunately not allowed to access the same spots as pure food truck companies.”
Speaking about how he manages his busy day to day activities, AJs revealed: “It’s all about time management. I work at NBK with the projects finance team that manages the various mega projects across Kuwait for my full-time job. Having a restaurant is entirely different from my regular work, but I am able to manage both with the support of technology. I usually start my day by checking the reports from the previous day, the sales and the costs. Only after this, do I head to work. I also have staff to help manage and take care of the more detailed day to day operations, but we are all connected by phone calls and WhatsApp throughout the day.
“One of the other tasks that I like to manage on my own during the day is outsourcing for the best quality meat. I do have regular suppliers for this. I also co-own a butcher shop, Mr. Cleavers which is fully managed by a partner; hence I get support from there as well, in terms of supply.
“We also have catering events on a daily basis and aim to make it to all the events we are invited to. Since there are more markets and events across Kuwait, we try to be a part of most of them. We used to participate in food truck events as well, but as the competition has grown and since there is a lot of bigger brands that have introduced food trucks, it’s not economically feasible to pay and participate in every event. You need to choose the right event for your concept.
Expanding on sales from his food truck business and dine-in venture, AJs said: “ Sales on an average day actually depends on the time of year, because our summers are extreme the culture of food trucks is not practical during this period; but whenever we do have good weather the food truck and catering business for events is more in luck. Which is also why I realized adding a dine-in would not only regulate my business but also increase my sales channels although our food truck as a standalone does have lesser costs.
On his views about where the food truck market is headed, now that the regulations are in place, AJs explained: “There is indeed potential growth in this market and what I like about the new bylaws is that it protects the idea of the food truck and supports a person who wants to get into the food industry without having to pay expensive rental costs. This has always been a big part of the expense for restaurant owners and thus is the biggest advantage you can have while owning a food truck. They are also protected from the big players specifically in regard to registered parking areas. Hence, with time hopefully the ease of getting permits and the increase of available legal locations to sell would be in place.
“When we started, I didn’t even have to do any marketing, just the concept of having a food truck was marketing on its own. Since the people have always enjoyed it, growth in this market is definitely possible if one has good quality and tasty food. From my personal experience when I set up stations at events, I often get asked where the food truck is, so you can see that the different experience is wanted more even when the food is the same. You also can see from the growing number of food trucks in today’s market that indeed this concept is widely accepted. Hopefully this growth continues through the coming years and the concept will flourish.
His advice to some of the aspiring food truck owners? “Currently there is a website called kbc.gov.kw where you can apply online and get your food truck licensed. I wouldn’t recommend anyone going any other way because it is regulated now, and easy information is available on how to go about with the process. You don’t have to go through the hard way like I did anymore. So, my advice is to follow the regulations, and if there are any issues to speak up, as there are people now who are responsible to take care of your food truck licensing needs.
“You can benefit in this market and it is indeed a good way to start a business with much lesser costs. There may not be much of a difference in terms of setup and capital costs when compared to a dine-in, but in terms of running costs and overheads food trucks are definitely much more feasible.
“I am very happy with how the new regulations are in place, but I do still wish they move a bit faster as this is an important aspect that will lead to creating this new ecosystem in Kuwait.
“You can visit AJs at our dine-in located at Bneid Al Ghar, book us for an event through Bilbayat or order in through Talabat and Carriage.
By Meryl Mathew
Exclusive to The Times Kuwait
Meryl Mathew is a logistician by profession, a writer by passion, and an upcycling hobbyist. She involves herself in a lot of multicultural events across Kuwait. You can find her on Linkedin https://www.linkedin.com/in/meryl-mathew-b7181444/ or Muckrack https://muckrack.com/meryl-mathew and on Instagram @Meryl_elizebeth_mathew or @create.kuwait