Darren Keogh and David Marsh graduated from the food-making business to the food-truck-making business, because their gourmet hot-dog cart broke down.
“When we actually went to buy a new one, there was nowhere to get them between here and the UK; you’d have to go to the States. So we just decided to build one,” says Marsh.
They started to get phone calls from prospective buyers, and so they set up shop in 2011, and the manufacturing side of the food truck business took over.
Dog Eat Dog Inc is hidden at the back of an industrial estate in Finglas. There, the pair fashion carts from scratch and convert vintage vans to swanky food trucks.
By Marsh’s count, there are around 50 trucks in the city already, and he and Keogh have noticed an increase in their domestic sales. “It’s getting better with the economy,” says Marsh. “There’s more Irish customers.”
Even so, the majority of their food-truck creations are shipped off to other countries. Their favourite truck to date was one they put together for a company called Blacks Burgers. But they waved it off to London.
The Dog Eat Dog lads plan to open a second premises in the UK.
“In London, street food’s a big thing now, and the city councils are catering for it; they’ll find an old car park or whatever,” says Keogh. “The councils here aren’t really that way inclined.”
In the city today, there is a smattering of food trucks. Many of them work around licensing laws, rather than set up on public roads.
But there isn’t really a fleet of crazy, creative cuisine. So is that kind of thriving food-truck scene something the city should work to encourage?
Theresa Hernandez, one of the owners of K Chido Mexico, thinks so.
“There’s a whole market there for a new culture,” she says. “There’s no doubt about it, the appetite is there. It’s just a matter for somebody who is innovative enough in Dublin City Council to say: ‘Right, let’s do this.’”
On an otherwise dull Chancery Street, K Chido Mexico’s bright pink-and-blue truck – the handiwork of the Dog Eat Dog crew – sells authentic Mexican food made with fresh and organic ingredients.
Hernandez and co-owner Oisin Healy didn’t look for a licence from the council to set up on the roadside. Instead, they keep their mobile business in a warehouse-like setting that looks out onto the Luas tracks.
Whenever they want, they can roll out their loud-looking truck to cater for events.
Healy has 12 years of experience running his Crepes in the City food trucks. They travel far and wide, around Ireland and the UK for festivals and make weekly appearances at Dublin’s food markets.
“We just found that it was an easier option,” says Healy, who couldn’t get a permanent spot on the street from the council for his crepe van.
Dublin City Council have a quota for casual trading licences. That’s the reason there aren’t more food trucks in the city, Healy says.
And many of the pitches the council does hand out tend to be for late night use only, Hernandez says. “They seem to be geared towards that kind of chips, burgers rather than fine food.” K Chido needs a lunch-time crowd, she adds.
In America, the laws are more relaxed, says David Harper, of Say Fish, a mobile fish and chips shop. “You can go on Twitter and tweet the location you’re going to pull up at in your food truck,” he says. “But Dublin City Council don’t have the vision of the councils in America.”
And if the council tried to take the initiative and help food trucks thrive, restaurants would kick up a storm, Harper thinks.
Last week, we sent Dublin City Council some questions about how many licences it has given to food trucks and if they would like to see more in the city. But it hadn’t got back to us by publication.
But we did manage to get in touch with one of those rare casual-trading licence holders.
Greg Byrne waited for eight years before he got a pitch in the city, and now it is his for life. Opening just last March, Byrne’s gourmet-burger joint Hatch – it’s more of a trailer than a truck – is located on Hatch Street.
“I’ll tell you why there’s not more food trucks,” he says. “Dublin City Council give out the spots for trucks and it’s extortionate.”
He opens for business from 11pm to 4am, Thursday to Sunday. Though these are the council’s conditions, Byrne admits it’s sensible because the traffic is light and it means he can’t be accused of stepping on the toes of the restaurants on Leeson Street.
Incubators of the Food Industry
Spurred on by the success of his food truck so far and a regular clientele, Byrne wants to set up a burger bar. “That’s the dream,” he says.
He also hopes to set up a bigger food van to go around music festivals next year.
Harper of Say Fish is thinking along the same lines. Having done well at lunch-time markets and music festivals since 2010, he believes his food would do well in a stationary location and has been scouting for the right space.
Food trucks are a good way to test products and figure out your business plan before investing in a restaurant, he says. “They are low-cost to set up.” A gazebo is even cheaper, he adds.
At Dog Eat Dog, the lads say set-up costs can run anywhere from €5,000 to €100,000. Restaurants should be looking at food trucks as a potential add-on to their business, suggests Keogh.
A Bit of Movement?
The food-truck sector in Dublin may not be buzzing, but it isn’t completely stagnant.
In 2013, John Farrell – the man behind 777, Dillinger’s and The Butcher Grill – won a council tender to use the space on George’s Street just under the “Why go Bald?” sign.
He designed some grand plans for a plaza-like area with public seating and, of course, a shiny silver food truck. The council approved it, but an objection about overcrowding on the street meant it never went ahead.
This hasn’t dampened his ambitions though. He has plans to set up a food truck in a garage near Capel Street early next year.
This, along with plans to expand K Chido and Hatch, means we might see more meals-on-wheels in the city soon. Even if they have to remain parked in garages for now.