Lifestyle living has been adapted over the years to meet the ever-changing needs of the times we live in. Our modern hustle bustle way of life so often dictates the way we sleep, eat and socialize.

As much as an economic downturn has it negative effects, it also creates opportunities. In South Africa there are many such success stories – what was a means to an end for survival became a national brand or multiple franchise.

Perhaps as an interesting introduction to fast foods, let’s look at the history and origin of this phenomenon. The following extracts are from Albert Jack’s wonderful book “What Caesar Did for My Salad.”

A quick history of fast food:

Fast food goes hand in hand with modern living – people lacking the space or time to prepare food for themselves – and as the Romans are credited with the invention of the town, so it is most likely that they came up with the idea.

In Roman cities much of the poorer communities were packed into insulae (islands in Latin) – multi storey apartment blocks built out of cheap materials – proving that high-rise accommodation is not such a new concept either. With little opportunity to cook for themselves without burning down the neighborhood, many had to depend on the food vendors for their meals.

This wasn’t what we would recognize today as fast food: in the mornings, bread soaked in wine was eaten as a quick snack and cooked vegetable and stews were in demand later in the day but the idea behind it is the same. By the middle ages, all large towns and urban areas supported numerous vendors, providing a huge range of dishes. As in the cities of antiquity, these establishments catered for those without cooking facilities: workers, the poor, travelers and pilgrims.

At a time when the daily diet of most people living in the British countryside consisted of simple fare such as PEASE PUDDING, the food on offer would have seemed highly sophisticated: the pilgrims in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (1387 – 1400), for instance, are constantly talking about snacks, and munch their way through everything from pasties and roasted onions to sweetmeats such as blancmange.

This kind of food fascinated people living in rural areas, who had a much more limited and unimaginative diet. Even quite lowly folk in the cities had access to a huge variety of speedy meals. Then as now, it was all part of the instant gratification of urban life. ‘London Lickpenny’, a popular fifteenth-century poem, picks out many of the cries of the food sellers on the streets, who offer the narrator a whole range of cooked food, from ‘hot sheep’s feet and oysters’ to ‘ribs of beef and many a hot pie’.

These precursors of the burger bars, fried-chicken outlets and kebab shops that litter (quite literally) today’s inner cities had only their owners’ voices and distinctive jingles to make them stand out from the crowd. As a consequence, London became notorious for the constant racket from vendors trying to drown each other out. As Joseph Addison wrote in the Spectator in 1711: ‘there is nothing which more astonishes a foreigner, and affrights a country squire, than the cries of London.’

Street hawkers were a popular subject for artists and by the middle of the 1700s, engraving of the ‘Cries of London’ had become all the rage. Likewise, their attention-grabbing cries were written down and collected.

Food Trailer Business Boom

For the person who wants to open a restaurant, the brick and mortar issue can make it an impossible dream, with property and rentals being so expensive and risky. For many years, we have seen food trailers that park on street corners, in events grounds and parking lots and business parks. These business people run low overhead operations that are less expensive than rent and easily moved where the revenue will be best. It is like embracing a new food culture.

The creativity and personal style of cuisine and the design of these rolling restaurants is a lifestyle which appeals which to many a family. Some of these are brightly painted to match the food they’re selling. Investing in one of these little mobile restaurants would present a multitude of opportunities.

What may be a great venue this year may fade in time but now you are not stuck with rent and overheads. Pack up and move to the next venue and if this fades down the line there’s the venue somewhere else. People willing to work late hours can profit from the late nightclubs too. A well-placed coffee trailer can reap many profits through morning peak hour business.

The start up investment for a trailer is around R25,000. It’s possible to do it for less. Then it’s getting the proper licenses and permits where required. Look for auctions where you can find great bargains on catering equipment. Keep it as simple as possible – simple menu and manageable productivity and profits.

Street food vendors today supply a range of foodstuffs from fire-roasted mielies on the cob to a gourmet schwarmas or pancakes. As a business opportunity it can be a low cost way of starting up a business. Many have started up out of desperation for extra income. There are many vendors who travel from venue to venue which in itself has become a lifestyle for them.

Mobile food vending offers everything from hotdogs, burgers, chicken, Chinese, Thai, Mediterranean, as well as coffee-on-the go from a trailer to a fully equipped van. What about more variety of wraps style mobile stalls, for people who eat while they are driving, mobile curry stalls, healthy alternatives, organic variety, salads, Mediterranean style kebabs, soups and ice cream parlor mobile stalls? What about offering decent espresso and a selection of quality pastries, in the mobile market?

The options are endless, and there are more than enough experts who can tailor design and manufacture mobile trailer units. Don’t wait for the mega trends from overseas to dominate the market. Follow through on your own ideas and meet the needs of the eating population.

Street stalls and kiosks can meet the needs in an economic slowdown. Reviewing the costs and potential franchisable concepts, it presents itself as an efficient way of doing business almost anywhere. Opening a mobile street stall or kiosk does not require significant amounts of money. This way you can also offer and sell freshness that is easy to manage and control.

Where to start? Well, like everything else, it starts with a plan. The bigger the outlay the more detailed the business plan should be. There are a number of trailer specialists who will assist you in designing a trailer to your specific requirements. There are companies such as Priclo, Venter, In Tempo Trailers to name a few.

Other alternatives could be to get an engineering company to build one for you or find an old second hand caravan and convert it as required. One could always purchase a second hand vending trailer. Containers are another alternative too.

But let’s review some valuable pointers first:

Starting your mobile food business

Many people dream of a work style that gives them independence, enjoyment and, at the same time, a decent income. But it still takes effort, careful planning and diligence.