Saturday, October 1, 2011


Street vending, confined hitherto to small scale players with low expectations, seems to be graduating into technology and fashion driven activity world over. The Food Truck movement that is increasingly becoming popular in the United States has attracted big name Chefs who provide the required brand push to attract many customers and practically every city in this country is trying to cope up with the pace of growth of this sector through evolving the necessary control frame work to ensure safety of the fares offered by them. With modern communication technology like Tweeting these food truck entrepreneurs are able to make the business highly profitable. As these mobile vendors have ultra modern vehicles equipped with state of the art cooking facilities and procure practically every thing locally customers seem to have developed great confidence on the foods offered by them. In contrast road side catering still remains an archaic piece of institution of yesteryears with modernity hardly touching any face of its operations. Sporadic attempts to bring in reforms to benefit both the vendors as well as the customers do not seem to have created any impact on their working. It is in this context one has to see the recent developments in the country when educated entrepreneurs are entering mobile catering business with lot of ideas and innovative ability. The latest report reveals the interest shown by the graduates in fashion design entering the mobile catering business which bodes well for the sector.

"The roadside eatery has gone chic, smashing the stereotype of the quintessential dhaba and its hygiene concerns. And the entrepreneurs manning these mobile food outlets are no traditional businessmen. Some have designed clothes for hot shot models while others have trained in complex computer circuits. And suddenly, they decided to sell food and change the concept of roadside gourmet in the city. The enterprising bunch is led by a NIFT graduate who passed out in 2010. He launched the mobile food outlet Aahar Rath. It's actually a vendor handcart designed like a vintage car that sells authentic food like litti chokha, dal baati, dal pitthi, lassi, chhach and sherbet. All at affordable prices. A glass of packaged water co'mes free with a plate. Suraj Kumar, 24, who spearheads the venture is a graduate in fashion illustration from NIFT and also a guest lecturer at the institute. His two key aides - Rohit, an engineer in electronics from IP University and Ranjeet, an NIFT graduate. They are also employed with two reputed firms. Some employees are also pursuing courses at NIFT. One of them is Ashish Mehta from Suraj's home district in Bihar. He is a first-year student in leather designing. Mehta spends a few hours at the first stall near V3S mall on Vikas Marg and takes home Rs 2,500 a month. "I am studying and earning as well. I don't need monetary support from my family and I am enjoying the work. The food is hygienic and we ensure quality," he says. Suraj says this idea struck after he struggled to get good food at affordable price during his student days. "We selected the menu to promote authentic Indian food. Presently, the popular street-food is Chinese cuisine. We are forgetting our traditional food items. We are working on the menu and will introduce new items in other localities like Mukherjee Nagar where we plan to open outlets," says Suraj. On why he launched a street-food vend, despite graduating in fashion designing, Suraj said "most of my friends have taken to textile designing, but I preferred to enter a new world". The concept of fashion designing does not end with clothes and textile. "I have used my training to design the cart. And believe me, it's innovative. This was a stretch where nobody would even stop and even look. Now, people are flocking to our outlet to eat," the young entrepreneur says. Suraj's friend, Rohit, who works with a reputed cellphone manufacturer is upbeat on the viability of the venture. He provides support with design and concept promotion. He said, "We will expand to other areas of the city. We have moved an application for promoting this idea under the Promotion of Street Food Scheme of the central government," said Rohit.

While a good design vehicle which looks attractive will definitely be an asset, ultimately the quality of fare offered, their authenticity, safety aspects and cost will be the determining factors for success. After all one has to realize that customers are attracted to mobile eateries not for ambiance but for the quality of foods served and therefore it remains to be seen how far new designs or appearances will influence the customer attitude when fashion designers start using their expertise to bring out new mobile eateries to the street. A more appropriate alternative would be joint ventures between catering graduates and fashion designers ensuring mutual benefit, besides providing exciting fares to the customers. Probably this idea may catch up sooner or later and millions of patrons, who feast on street vending foods, will stand to benefit. In the mean time Singapore has been singularly successful in transforming the street vending scenario into a more orderly and organized business according highest priority to customer safety under their Hawker Center scheme almost 35 years ago! With almost all urban roads literally cluttered and choked, how can mobile catering business similar to food trucks can be a viable proposition in India? A more feasible alternative will definitely be setting up of a number of Hawker Centers in all cities in proportion to the population living there and move the vendors into these centers eventually.


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