Food trucks swap festivals for front yards during Sydney lockdown

Husband and wife owners of 2 Smokin' Arabs food truck Sarah and Nawaf Refai in their Punchbowl front yard.
Husband and wife owners of 2 Smokin' Arabs food truck Sarah and Nawaf Refai in their Punchbowl front yard. Photo: Edwina Pickles

With events on hold and tight restrictions on travel, food trucks are rolling into suburban driveways in order to keep slinging souvlaki, noodles and burgers through lockdown.

"We've been setting up in customers' front yards and driveways anywhere between Luddenham and Richmond," says Tim Rosenstrauss, co-owner of Penrith-based food truck and eatery Burger Head.

"We posted a few messages on our Instagram feed saying 'hey if you want to host us, get in touch'. Then it's just a matter of promoting the location on community Facebook groups and our own social media and rocking up. It's been doing pretty well for us."

"Even Sonny Bill dropped by the other week." Sarah and Nawaf Refai serve wagyu brisket burgers and packs in Punchbowl
"Even Sonny Bill dropped by the other week." Sarah and Nawaf Refai serve wagyu brisket burgers and packs in Punchbowl Photo: Edwina Pickles

Rosenstrauss is benefiting from a "flexibility for food trucks" order introduced by the NSW Minister for Planning and Public Spaces during the first wave of COVID-19. The order allows food trucks to operate on any private land, at any time, provided the land owner has given permission.

"The order also says you don't need to seek council approval to trade, and that has been a massive help for operators through the pandemic," says Ray Khouri, founder of booking and promotions agency Food Trucks Australia.

"The rules and red tape for operating a food truck are a mess across Sydney councils. It makes it hard for a small business to get out and about when there are so many different fees and permissions you need to apply for across different local government areas."

2 Smokin' Arabs beef brisket pies are available for pre-order collection daily.
2 Smokin' Arabs beef brisket pies are available for pre-order collection daily. Photo: Edwina Pickles

In spite of the flexibility for food trucks order being introduced last year, many vendors are still not aware they can operate any time on private land without council approval, says Khouri.

"It hasn't been advertised that well to vendors. Lots of food trucks have stopped trading through this lockdown … the owners tell me they have nowhere to operate.

"I tell them all they need is a private driveway and at least they can still offer delivery or takeaway. But I do understand that some people may not want their home address posted online."

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Andy Paglialonga is providing porchetta rolls for delivery and click-and-collect from his Caminito food truck, parked in the driveway of his Revesby home. 

"The past few months have been very tough," he says. "I only open Friday to Sunday as there's no business during the week. However, I'm confident my food is good and when we come out of lockdown, the truck will be a success."

Paglialonga only launched Caminito in November after spending 18 months searching for a brick-and-mortar shop to showcase his Italian cooking. 

"The shop rents were always too high though, so I thought I would give the food truck a go. And thank god, I did … with lockdown, my accountant said I would be closed already if I was paying a lease."

Husband-and-wife team Nawaf and Sarah Refai own the 2 Smokin' Arabs food truck and have no issues advertising their private Punchbowl address for customers to buy 100 per cent halal barbecued meat packs.

"We started operating from home during the first lockdown and business went off," says Nawaf Refai.

"Every night there would be a line up of at least 100 people. This lockdown is totally different, however. The 9pm curfew has affected our opening hours, and more people are scared of getting sick so they're staying indoors.

"Thankfully we're still getting enough customers to push through. Even Sonny Bill [Williams] dropped by the other week."

Refai opens his driveway-parked food truck every Friday through to Sunday and specialises in American-style smoked wagyu brisket, plus frozen brisket and jalapeno pies available for pre-order and collection any day of the week.

Unlike many food trucks operating from home, Refai has not partnered with online delivery platforms such as Uber Eats. Customers are encouraged to arrive at his John Street address from 5:30pm and place their order for a $25 slow-cooked beef box with coleslaw, pickles, crisps and a bun.

"Our food doesn't taste as good if it goes cold while being delivered, and I don't want to pay the 30 per cent Uber Eats commission and have to put that cost back on my customers," he says.

The state government's food truck flexibility measures will be kept in place during the pandemic period.

Meanwhile, Refai and Khouri are advocating for the creation of a single governing body to manage the registration and locations of food trucks across all Sydney LGAs coming out of lockdown.

"It's important to eliminate the cowboys who will park anywhere, and make sure food trucks are compliant with food safety laws, but it would be a massive help to the industry if all councils could get on the same page," says Khouri.

"Some councils will say 'good on you, we love what you're doing'. Others will come down, inspect the truck, hold up business and ask for a fee before that vendor can trade.

"It's a shame it has to be so hard because food trucks are such a great way for Australians to taste different cuisines."

More food trucks for lockdown

Firepop

Raymond Hou and his family have grilled sticks of cumin lamb in Haymarket since 2006. Barbecue-your-own lamb and David Blackmore wagyu packs are available for delivery to many Sydney suburbs and a single-use charcoal grill can also be added to the order – perfect for a park picnic of five. firepop.com.au

Knafeh Bakery

Albeit more of a shipping container on wheels than a food truck, the bearded blokes at Knafeh will deliver their signature creamy, cheesy Middle Eastern dessert across most of Sydney. knafeh.com.au

Agape Organic

A longtime favourite of Sydney's food truck scene, this family-run business provides free delivery to Bayside and Randwick councils. Healthy-ish spelt pizzas are the go, perhaps topped with zucchini, basil and mozzarella, or goat's cheese, tomato and kale. agapeorganic.com.au