After watching the film Chef, we became very intrigued by food trucks. I remember them being all the rage in New York around the time I left (2011), although I think that popularity is still incomparable to the craze in L.A. So considering Singapore’s love for jumping on trend bandwagons, it struck us as strange that the food-truck trend had not caught on in Singapore.
So the question is: where are all the food trucks in Singapore?
To satisfy our curiosity, we decided to hunt down one of the three food trucks that currently exist in Singapore – the Coffee Bandits! (The other two are Kerbside Gourmet and The Travelling Cow.) We found Jessica, Cheryl and Gil at their Thursday haunt at Seletar Aerospace View and were struck by the positive presence that they had in this ulu part of Singapore despite only being in operation for three months. It was evident that they have a regular clientele that depends on them for hearty, homemade goodness and what was even more impressive was how they knew exactly what their regulars wanted and were even willing to customise their orders. (One of their Caucasian customers actually requested for chilli padi with his pulled pork sandwich and they gamely agreed to bring some the next week!) Here are some excerpts from the wonderful conversation we had with them (:
ETSY: Why the name Coffee Bandits?
J: In the process of planning for the food truck, there were moments when we were so bogged down by the red tape that we wanted to just set up the food truck, sell our food, and RUN if we got caught, just like bandits! But yes, we do have our food license now.
ETSY: What inspired you to start a food truck?
C: We were stay-at-home mums who got bored (J: Bored of staying at home! Not of our children!) and we thought of starting a food truck after I went on a camper van trip around Perth. That convinced me that it would definitely be feasible. We want to be mobile so that’s why we prefer having a food truck instead of a café, even though the latter would definitely be a lot more stable. We also want to be a blessing to the people around the areas that find difficulty in getting food.
ETSY: How much is the sunk-in cost of starting a food truck?
J: You’re looking at approximately 200 thousand dollars, but don’t be deterred by this. The government actually gives a lot of subsidies to start-ups and entrepreneurs, so there is substantial support.
ETSY: Is space a constraint and how do you prepare your food?
C: We have a rented kitchen where we can prepare food the day before and in the morning. We will then chill the food and pack them into the truck in the mornings and we can heat them up once they are ordered.
ETSY: What are your best-selling items on the menu?
C: We change our menu everyday so it’s hard to say! You shouldn’t ask me this because I would just go down the list! *Laughs* But if I had to choose, it would be the bacon cupcake, pulled pork sandwich, ham & cheese sandwich and the chicken pie. And of course, the coffees!
(We tried the bacon cupcake, pulled pork sandwich and the flat white and definitely concur.)
ETSY: What were the initial challenges starting out and why do you think there aren’t more food trucks in Singapore?
C: There is a lot of red tape and licenses that you would need to get. Sometimes you would need to contact Agency A, which would then refer you to B, which would then refer you to C, and then back to A and so on. You need to have a lot of patience and persistence. Also, in Singapore, you can’t just park anywhere you want, unlike in the U.S. So for every place we go to, we need to get permission from the private land owners, and we need to rent the space as well. That is probably why people would find it a lot easier to just rent a space and sell their food.
ETSY: Words of advice for aspiring food truck owners?
C: *Points to truck logo* Make your own rules! You might be discouraged by the red tape and the well-meaning “practical advice” that people give you, but sometimes you just need to chase what you believe in and go for it.
The Coffee Bandits have a clear passion for great food and what seems to set them apart from the other food trucks is how they strive to bring their love to the far-flung areas of Singapore, where it’s most needed. We have so much respect for that and wish them all the best (: Catch them if you can!
The Coffee Bandits Schedule:
MONDAY – RECHARGING
TUESDAY 9am – 3pm – AYER RAJAH CRESCENT
WEDNESDAY 10:30am – 2pm – CLEANTECH ONE
THURSDAY 8am – 2pm – SELETAR AEROSPACE VIEW
FRIDAY 9am – 3pm – AYER RAJAH CRESCENT