Saudi food truckers tickling your taste buds can’t find a recipe for parking

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Food trucks doing brisk business at a street in Riyadh. AN photos by Huda Bashatah
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Youngsters enjoy at a food joint in Riyadh.
Updated 31 May 2018
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Saudi food truckers tickling your taste buds can’t find a recipe for parking

  • Pop-up kitchens on wheels have become part of the popular Saudi culture
  • Just like any other business, food trucks have regulations and licensing that owners need to follow in order to operate a food truck.

RIYADH: Food trucks are fast becoming a key feature of the Saudi streets. These mobile food outlets have become a lucrative business in major urban centers across the Kingdom.

It would not be wrong to say that these food trucks have become part of the popular Saudi culture. Only a few years ago, such outlets used to serve the needs of people working blue-collar jobs but today it has become a trend and these eateries are as valued as high-end restaurants.
With a wide variety of foods to offer, this business is gaining popularity among young entrepreneurs mainly because of the minimal costs as compared to setting up a proper restaurant. Yet when it comes to setting up the business, it turns out that it is not as simple as buying a truck and selling food.
Just like any other business, food trucks have regulations and licensing that owners need to follow in order to operate a food truck.
Cities like Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam have regulations for establishing a food truck business in order to obtain a license. There are also regulations for the vehicles, governing safety, size and sanitation. However, rules about where and when to park these mobile eateries appear to be the most difficult for the owners.
Abdulaziz Al-Qahtani, owner of a food truck in Riyadh that specializes in coffee, told Arab News about how owners struggle with the city’s municipal regulations, describing the process of opening a food truck as difficult as opening a regular outlet. But the most difficult part was finding a spot to park the truck.
He said: “They do not have clear guidelines where food trucks can stop or cannot stop,” he said. “It will be better for the city’s municipality to have a spot fixed for food trucks in different parts of Riyadh.”  
Another entrepreneur, Sereen Al-Madani, said: “I’m facing the same difficulties other trucks are facing: Many food trucks lose their businesses due to the unavailability of parking spaces, the absence of electricity or other facilities around the spots these trucks are usually parked.”
The situation in other countries is totally different, she said, adding that the municipalities provide food trucks with necessary facilities.
Al-Madani said: “We are not allowed to leave our trucks parked in a specific area overnight. A number of robberies have taken place at some locations.  In some incidents, generators and other machinery were stolen. I know one girl whose truck was stolen.”  
Some time ago, the Riyadh Municipality had allocated a parking space for food trucks on King Fahd Road but for reasons best known to the authorities the decision was overturned.
Attempts to get comments from the municipality on this issue did not yield results.
Another regulation was about the Saudization policy. According to Jeddah’s municipal website, in order to obtain a license, the workers and owners of the food trucks must be Saudi citizens and cannot be employed at a public authority.
In addition, the owners themselves must work along with their Saudi employees in the kitchen, sales and customer care.
“That is a problem because Saudis expect high salaries compared to foreigners, and if we hire Saudis we will have to increase our prices,” Al-Madani said.
“They cannot live with low income and I cannot benefit from it if I will sell my falafels at the same price as restaurants. There is no way to compete with that and that is the biggest difficulty.”
Despite these obstacles, the city’s municipality made it pretty easy for owners to issue a food truck license. Now permits are issued electronically and generally take two working days to be issued.
Even though Al-Madani and Al-Qahtani faced some issues with their businesses, each of them has a success story to share.
Most food truck businesses are upgrading to become restaurants or shops. A food truck specialized in coffee, now has its own coffee shop boutique in one of the upscale areas in Riyadh.
“The coffee sector in Saudi Arabia is witnessing a boom,” Al-Qahtani said. “Lots of shops are opening. We will have more coffee shops in the Saudi markets in the next couple of years.”
“The environment, the experience, the details that you find in the truck or you find in the shop, our characters, our colors, are all integrated to create an unforgettable atmosphere for the customers by providing board games, music, customer service. It’s actually not one package, it’s many packages that come together and make our outlet unique.”
Al-Madani said her food truck, which specializes in making all kinds of breakfasts, is succeeding because of its uniqueness. “When planning for my food truck to stand out from the pack, I focused on the quality,” she said. “My prices are reasonable, I sell breakfast throughout the day and that is unique.”
She added: “Without the help and support of my family and partner, I wouldn’t have made it: They are the ones who inspired me.”
Some food trucks are considering the month of Ramadan as the peak season, while others are taking this month as a chance to renovate, work on maintenance and think of new plans for the rest of the summer.

Al-Qahtani said he has a clear plan for how his business will go in the summer. He said: “In Ramadan, we will sponsor Shalky (Exhibition). We are taking this position to capture the eyes of more clients.”

Decoder


Saudi researchers join T20 summit in Japan

From left to right: Dr. Fahad Al-Turki, head of Saudi delegation; Kenichiro Sasae, president of The Japan Institute of International Affairs; Dr. Julia Pomares, co-chair of T20 Argentina during Argentine G-20 presidency; Kyoto Tsuji, vice-minister for Japanese foreign affairs; Naoyuki Yoshino, dean and CEO of the Asian Development Bank Institute; Gustavo Martinez, Argentine T20 executive director; Hiroshi Watanabe, president of the Institute for International Monetary Affairs pose during the event. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 25 min 32 sec ago
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Saudi researchers join T20 summit in Japan

  • Ways to fill economic infrastructure gaps, the US-China trade crisis analyzed

TOKYO: The world’s leading think tanks gathered for the G-20’s Think20 (T20) Japan Summit on Sunday in Tokyo, ahead of the upcoming G-20 Osaka Summit next month.
In the opening address, the president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIIA), Kenichiro Sasae, spoke of the importance of technological advances, governance and multilateralism. 
“Technology is a tool,” he told assembled delegates. “We need two guiding symbols to harness modern technology to continue to pull economic growth. Technology has a wade-ranging impact, not only on business but also on privacy, protection.”
The T20 Summit comes amidst the backdrop of a four-day visit to the Japanese capital by US President Donald Trump.
Of the main topics discussed in closed sessions were finding innovative ways to fill economic infrastructure gaps, the US-China trade crisis, how to promote entrepreneurial ecosystems and climate change.
The host country has the privilege of selecting task forces specifically for the T20. Under the theme “Seeking a Sustainable, Inclusive and Resilient Society,” Japan’s T20 recommendations were based on theoretical and empirical analysis, and consist of 10 separate task forces.
They include sustainable development, climate change and environment, cooperation with Africa, Global governance and Future Politics.
Heading the Saudi T20 delegation, Dr. Fahad Al-Turki spoke to Arab News and told of the delegations’ various roles and expectations for the summit.
“We’re working with the Argentines, the Japanese and the Italians to ensure continuity on policy recommendations that will go to the G-20,” he said.
Five Saudi think tanks are being represented at the summit.
“The purpose is to have a collective effort from Saudi Arabia to represent the Kingdom at the T20. The first day went great, we talked with the authors of many of the policy briefs about our views and our recommendations,” he added.
Dr. Hossa Al-Mutairi told Arab News Saudi participation was essential, in anticipation to the 2020 G-20 Riyadh Summit.
“We participated last year as observers (at the 2018 summit in Buenos Aires), we went to learn from the Argentines, attended their sessions to understand the process of organizing T20 as well as how to select the task forces, but mainly to maintain a network with T20 members,” she said.
“One of the presentations that we had was on climate change, as Saudi Arabia cares about climate change, but we also care about economic stability. There is a connection between economics, environment and energy, you can’t separate them and we look into all energy sources.”