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January 03, 2012

BY EUSH TAYCO

Parked Plates

Metro Manila is starting to get on board with the food truck phenomenon. While there aren’t that many of these trucks in the city yet, a few pioneers have paved the way for these conveniently mobile yet gourmet eateries.


The Guactruck design (Image credit: guactruck.com).

Guactruck is the first and, so far, only full-fledged mobile eatery in Manila, according to founders Michealle Lee and Natassha Chan. The distinctive, mustachioed truck offers affordable, well-made, Mexican-inspired Filipino dishes, with quick service in easily accessible locations, ideal for office workers with short lunch breaks.

To Ms. Lee and Ms. Chan, venturing into the food truck business in Metro Manila was a “logical choice,” as the food truck trend has reached its peak in North America. “North American trends more often than not find a comfortable place in the Philippine islands—given the similarities in culture and level of openness,” Ms. Lee wrote in an email.

When starting Guactruck, Ms. Lee and Ms. Chan faced two main challenges: creating the truck, and acquiring permits. They converted a used Mitsubishi L300, as catering vans are not readily available in the Philippines. However, they ran into another problem in communicating the level of quality and craftsmanship they required. Because of this, the truck took almost six months to complete.

As for permits and location, because there was no precedent, obtaining the proper permits from local authorities took a lot of time and effort.

The founders acknowledge other possible hindrances to the success of food trucks in Metro Manila. “Factors such as people’s lifestyles (aversion to walking, especially under the scorching heat), the city’s urban planning (narrow streets), and the weather (rains half the year) make it difficult to find good locations to park in,” Ms. Lee wrote.

Nevertheless, Guactruck persisted, eventually commencing day-to-day operations in Bonifacio Global City, as well as making appearances in Mercato Centrale and Distrito, a weeknight food truck market held last month.

The reception to Guactruck has been “wonderful.” Through word-of-mouth, social networking, and some media attention, the founders have been receiving plenty of positive reactions to their concept.

Guactruck features good design, with a cozy interior that makes it look more like a home than a truck; a 100% local origin, as everything from the truck to the food to the packaging all coming from Manila; and sustainability—concern for the environment is reflected in the materials Guactruck uses, as well as in a loyalty program that rewards customers when they return their packaging to Guactruck.

Ms. Lee and Ms. Chan also want to use Guactruck’s status as the country’s first gourmet mobile eatery for good. “We want be an example for future food trucks and businesses in general in terms of responsible business ownership and good design. Furthermore, being the first food truck means that in a way, we have a hand in shaping the eventual rules, policies, and systems that will govern the food truck industry,” Ms. Lee wrote.

Celina Nolasco’s Mio Gelati, meanwhile, is a gelato truck that offers homemade Italian gelato flavors. When Ms. Nolasco was asked to join Mercato’s Soderno branch in Alabang, she was excited; the market was perfect for her products. But, as her main production happened in Quezon City, transportation of the products was a logistical nightmare. Ms. Nolasco then decided to solve her problems by using a food truck.

“I toyed with the idea of a mobile truck and told my dad. Since he approved, I asked the organizers if, instead of a space inside their tents, we can bring a gelato truck and park it outside, I was beyond relieved when they told me how excited they were about the idea,” she wrote in an email.

The same challenges that faced Guactruck also faced Mio Gelati, especially with the construction of trucks. “Since we wanted a compact truck that can easily be transported, there were a lot of things that needed to be considered: ergonomics, mechanics, and aesthetics,” Ms. Nolasco wrote. Luckily, her family had the expertise needed to create the gelato truck; “my dad built and designed how the truck will transform when parked. And my sister is an interior designer and she helped us on the ergonomics and aesthetics side.”

Ms. Nolasco recognizes that the most distinctive feature of the food truck is the experience it provides. “I personally think it’s the experience that people are after, especially since it’s only now that food trucks are becoming a hit here in our country, they [consumers] want to experience what they can only see in the movies before.”

Ms. Lee also acknowledged that offering a good experience with Guactruck was the priority. “While developing the concept, we were more focused on the design and the experience rather than the type of food we were eventually going to serve.”

Anton Diaz, Our Awesome Planet blogger and co-organizer of Mercato Centrale and Distrito, has some advice for prospective food truck operators. “People are looking for gourmet food trucks. The food needs to be really good, and it needs a theme, a character in a sense,” he said in an interview. He also said that if cities would make it easier for food trucks to apply for permits, “and not charge a lot—lower than malls,” this would encourage entrepreneurs to venture into food trucks.

The blogger also offered to tap his network on food truckers’ behalf. “If they’re interested, one problem is where to park. Mercato is open and Distrito, depending on where we relocate, would be open to food trucks. We don’t charge them any higher than a mall stall, we’re open for food trucks, and I can help them if they want to contact Bonifacio Global City, or route them to the right person.”

Guactruck is found in various locations in Bonifacio Global City and may be reached through mobile no. 09166814140, email address hello@guactruck.com, website guacktruck.com, or Twitter ID guactruck. Mio Gelati may be found at Midnight Mercato, Soderno Nights, and Unit 7D Madison Square, Ortigas Ave. cor. Madison St., North Greenhills. The gelato business’s Twitter ID is miogelati. Anton Diaz’s website is ourawesomeplanet.com.


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