Maggie Gray, one of the two co-founders of the Food Truck Collective, has always loved events. “It sounds so cheesy but it’s just the joy on the faces of people who come along. It’s so simple but it’s so effective.” Maggie and her business partner Tim van der Werff (owner of the Double Dutch Fries truck) set up the collective around six years ago. At the time she was operating her own smoothie truck, and having worked in events previously, could see the potential for getting people together over good, inexpensive food.
Although there weren’t many trucks around at the time, the first event Maggie and Tim organised in Kingsland was a huge hit. “People were queuing around the block, and it just snowballed from there.” In late 2018, the first Street Kai on Takutai event, where over a dozen food trucks gathered in Takutai Square, made it clear there was an appetite (sorry!) for regular food truck visits to Britomart, and Food Truck Fridays were born.
In March 2020, Covid stopped the party abruptly. Since then, we’ve made several attempts to restart it, which have been thwarted by repeated lockdowns, gathering restrictions and weather. But next week, starting on Wednesday 5 October, the can trucks finally return to feed downtown workers and visitors at lunchtime.
The chefs of the Food Truck Collective haven’t been idling for the last two years though. You might have seen them popping up in parks and reserves around Auckland. “There are so many beautiful spots around the city, and communities that aren’t usually activated, like Millwater, Torbay, Devonport,” says Maggie. But she’s especially looking forward to their return to Britomart. “We’re just excited to bring people back together after Covid.”
Melinda Williams: It’s great to have the food trucks finally back in Takutai Square – it’s been way too long.
Maggie Gray: It feels like forever, it really does. The last two years have been the biggest blur and we’re all just so excited to be getting that sense of normality back, especially with those traffic light restrictions dropping a few weeks ago. For myself, it’s just a huge sense of relief to not have it hanging over us for another season. I think it’s going to have a ripple effect across so many industries and businesses going forward.
MW: Yes, because although you guys have been able to operate over winter, the wet season is not quite as busy as summer, right?
MG: We’ve tried to make the most of it. I think April 1 was when we could first go back after the first restrictions lifted earlier this year and we’ve tried to maximise what we could do, and of course support the food trucks, who had been really on and off. We came up with a few cool concepts, like WinterFest, which was part of Elemental AKL, and an event at the Botanic Gardens and hopefully we’ll be doing them again. It just gave us a chance to think outside the box during that wetter period.
How did everyone from the collective go throughout Covid? Did they all make it through?
MG: I can only think of two who closed down. Most of them took on another part-time job to make it through. But they’re all chomping at the bit now to get back into it, and there are quite a few newbies too, which is really exciting. As much as Covid was horrific, it gave people a chance to really think about what they are doing and the passions that they have and how they could pursue them. So there are quite a few new trucks coming to the scene, and they’ve done their homework and know they’re not competing with other operators, which we like. Spring’s here now and we’ve had three weekends in September and we kick off in Britomart in October on Wednesdays.
MW: Yes, it’s Food Truck Wednesdays now, instead of Food Truck Fridays! Tell us why you’re excited about the new day.
MG: Yeah, Hump Day! I think since Covid the whole work week has shifted. The most popular day for people to be in at the office used to be Friday but now because of flexible working, Friday is a day when people are more likely to be working from home. So we just wanted to create a drawcard to bring people back into the city. With tourism coming back it’s great to have that buzz again. I mean, on a summer’s day, there’s no better place to be in the city than sitting on one of those beanbags on the grass at Britomart, eating delicious food and taking it all in.
MW: Couldn’t agree more. Can you tell us about some of the new operators people will get a chance to try?
MG: Sure. There’s Karaage Boy, he just started a couple of months ago. He actually debuted at our Fried Chicken Festival in April – talk about being thrown in the deep end. We had a couple of last-minute cancellations, and I’d just found him on Instagram so was like, “I can see you’ve just started, do you want to come along?” He was great and dove straight in. We’ve got K-Pork, a Korean-style pork bun, really delicious. He’s got a really cool truck, quite eye-catching, and I believe he’s coming to Britomart in the first couple of months. A couple of new icecream vendors. There’s Butter Baby - they’re looking to open a permanent site in Westgate at the moment as well, so that’s quite a juggle for them but a nice way to launch a business, shop and a food truck, because you can reach so many more customers by going to them instead of just serving the ones who come to you at your permanent site. I think it’s quite a smart model. And all the other trucks have had the chance to review their menus, come up with new dishes, so I think people will really enjoy coming back.
MW: And we have a special plant-based Food Truck Wednesday coming up next month during the Climate Festival too, right?
MG: Yes, we’ve got some vegan trucks booked for that. From memory there’s Vege Bang Bang who do veggie rotis that I love, and they do a mushroom burger that I also love. We’ve got Veggie Pulse, and Grown-up Donuts, who do a vegan range of their doughnuts, and they’ve got a site just around the corner from Britomart so they’ll be coming down. We do have a pool of quite a few vegan food trucks because we also run the Vegan Food Festival. More and more people are going plant-based and it’s great to see. There’s another new vegan food truck starting up, who’s based up North, and she’s going to be circulating around Auckland as well. I think it will draw a great crowd, because there are not that many vegan events around.
MW: Which is a bit surprising as veganism is definitely becoming a more popular choice for people.
MG: Absolutely. You see it on menus everywhere, even with our food trucks – they’ll all have a vegan option on the menu to cater to that audience, because there’s such an appetite for it. It’s amazing, it’s changing that perception that vegan food is really bland. I was vegan for a few years, veggie now, but the spices and the food you can create – you wouldn’t even know it’s vegan. That was one of the reasons we created the Vegan Food Festival, was to just help educate the public that you can go vegan without compromising on taste. So people can get an advance taste of the Vegan Food Fest at Britomart’s plant-based Food Truck Wednesday.
Food Truck Wednesday happens every Wednesday, 11.30am-2pm from 5 October onwards. Four trucks from the Food Truck Collective bring a range of tasty lunch dishes to Britomart, always including sweet and vegetarian/vegan options. Come early to score a beanbag to eat your lunch on! Follow the Facebook page to see which trucks will be turning up each week.