The food truck scheme in Hong Kong was dealt another blow with a third operator confirming its decision to bow out on Friday, prompting calls for the government to step in to save the embattled tourism plan.
Creative Yummy, which serves grilled cheese sandwiches, said it had earlier told the Tourism Commission under the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau of its decision. The move comes less than four months after the launch of its business.
The food truck was run by Raymond Chu Wan-man, a professional chef who worked in the UK for more than a decade. In an earlier interview, said that he had returned to Hong Kong to operate under the scheme.
Chu said last year: “Food trucks are very popular in the UK and US. Hong Kong should also give opportunities to those who are interested in making their own dishes.”
The bureau had said the two food trucks’ withdrawal was “due to their business considerations” and “how to compete for business and excel on a level playing field was a challenge to the food truck operators”.
Tourism sector legislator Yiu Si-wing said: “The government should meet the operators to understand their difficulties and introduce measures to help them, and also save the scheme.
Yiu said he heard of complaints by some food truck operators about poor locations and urged the government to designate more areas for food trucks to operate.
Why was the scheme falling apart
The scheme was pretty cack-handed from the outset. Where Bangkok and other Asian cities are famous for their street food scene, as Hong Kong used to be, the government here did its best to drive hawkers out of business on health and hygiene grounds.
In deciding to revive the concept, albeit in a limited way, the government made some rather fundamental decisions. First, it resolved that though the food is being sold from trucks with wheels, the vehicles are not free to move around. In other words, customers must come to where the food is. In which case one may well ask what is the difference between a food truck a la Hong Kong and a fixed restaurant or kiosk.
Secondly, the government chose the locations and allocated spaces. It selected eight spots adjacent to tourist hotspots and two trucks at each, for a total of 16 trucks. Next came the selection process. Applications were assessed according to food concept, menu, business and financial proposals, design of the vehicle, and so on. One has to ask what expertise civil servants have in some of these areas and how it compares to the experience of actual operators. Overall, the scheme comes across more as a bureaucratic exercise rather than an attempt to create a new culinary experience.
Inevitably, the pilot scheme has run into headwinds. Only one of the eight locations is apparently profitable – the one next to Disneyland, where of course it is cannibalising the profits of the theme park operator from his own catering outlets.