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A food truck goes the extra mile in the pandemic

Being on the move is essential for a food truck. But with restrictions due to covid-19, the Bombay Food Truck has had to shift gears

Ashesh Sajnani, founder of Bombay Food Truck.
Ashesh Sajnani, founder of Bombay Food Truck.

The cherry-red Bombay Food Truck was a permanent fixture at music festivals and corporate hubs in and around Mumbai during pre-covid times. But with lockdowns and mobility restrictions, what happened to food trucks that served on-the-go comfort food every day?

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Ashesh Sajnani, founder of Bombay Food Truck, says they pivoted to delivery menus. One would think it would come naturally to them, because food trucks are solely about takeaways, but the irony is that people come to eat at a food truck for the experience. During the lockdown, Sajnani’s team got calls from regulars enquiring if they could come to eat by Bombay Food Truck, like the good old days. They couldn’t. But Sajnani’s team created a virtual experience. They announced a hot dog festival last month on their Instagram page @bombayfoodtruck, and orders came in from all corners of the city. Sajnani says, “We were overwhelmed and happy.” In an interview, the food entrepreneur shares how covid-19 impacted his team. Edited excerpts:

Before 2020’s lockdown, what were your plans for Bombay Food Truck?

Last year in March, we had three food trucks—two in Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) and one at the India Bulls corporate park at Lower Parel. Our model was to operate in corporate hubs during the week and take off for music festivals on the weekend. We were in the process of closing our operations at BKC. I was following the news about the novel coronavirus, and had an inkling that there would be something like a lockdown in India.

I asked my employees to take a ‘creative break’ for about two weeks and encouraged those who weren’t from Mumbai to head to their villages. I had a feeling we could be closed for a few weeks. But I couldn’t have predicted the lockdown would last almost six months. It drained the restaurant industry.

What happened during lockdown?

Our vehicles lay idle. We tried to support the Mumbai police by distributing fruit and drinks. We began to notice that our customers were craving Asian food—dumplings or chicken Hakka noodles. So, we launched a new Asian menu. I have several kitchens and chefs, and everyone collaborated to bring this to fruition.

What did you do when the lockdown was eased?

Offices hadn’t restarted. Luckily, we got calls to cater private events like birthday parties. In December, we collaborated with M2M ferries (Mumbai to Mandwa) to park a truck at Alibaug jetty. It received a good response. But, I sensed that a second wave was coming and on 31 March, we brought the truck back to Mumbai.

Also read | In India, there's always thirst for beer

What happened in the second wave?

I was prepared for another lockdown. But I didn’t foresee how badly it would hit us. My team and I were diagnosed with covid-19. Our accountant, who was with us for 21 years, passed away. We lost a very dear person. We are trying to keep our creative hats on, keep our costs low and stay optimistic. The hot dog festival was a great success, and you can expect similar launches. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is in the process of drafting a food truck policy, and it could be issued in 2021. Food trucks are here to stay.

One dish that signifies:

Home: Daal chawal

Happiness: A nice crisp dosa

Hope: Paani poori…because it means we can be out in the streets again.

Turning the Tables is a series of interviews with chefs and food entrepreneurs on coping with covid-19.

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