The melted cheese business was booming for Beau Lange before the coronavirus crisis hit Sydney.
Specialising in burgers and fries covered in gooey raclette cheese, Lange's Dairy Extraordinary food truck had a full calendar of events locked in for the next four months, and on March 14 he was looking forward to a busy weekend trading at the Opera House.
"Then public gathering restrictions were announced and all my events were cancelled," he says. "With community markets also closed, the truck's takings immediately dropped to zero."
Lange is one of many food truck operators in Australia looking for new revenue streams after restrictions on public gatherings caused the events industry to collapse in March.
"I tried to do the whole Uber Eats and Deliveroo thing, but because I travel everywhere, I didn't have an existing customer base in my suburb," Lange says. "It would be like starting as a new business, and with the high commissions charged by delivery platforms, it wasn't really worth it."
Frank Rusitovski is director of the Australian Mobile Food Vendors Group (AMFVG) which provides guidance and support for 5000 food trucks across the country. He hopes new features developed for the group's "Where The Truck" app will help provide mobile food vendors with much needed income while restrictions remain in place.
"With the majority of vendors' revenue now slashed, we said, 'OK if the events industry is not coming back for a while, food trucks will need to do something different'. We thought it might be fun to go back to our origins and serve people in the suburbs."
AMFVG has updated its "Where The Truck" app to make it easier for customers to locate mobile vendors in their area by using an interactive map, and food can now be ordered online to enable contactless pick-up.
A new "Food Truck in My Street" feature also allows users to book one of the registered rolling kitchens to cook exclusively for a household or whole neighbourhood.
"We've timed the Food Truck in My Street launch with the first stage of restriction-relaxing that will allow more people to visit each other's homes," Rusitovski says.
"Each truck determines what their minimum cost is to visit a certain location, and if it's financially viable, they'll come to that person's house and cook fresh food in their driveway.
"It's a bit of a novelty and we're hoping customers will let their neighbours know a food truck is visiting their street and other families can place an order."
Helen Avakian has operated her Street Sliders food truck for the past five years, with a focus on corporate events, weddings and birthdays. "Now I have nothing left except a loan to pay," she says.
"I used to do secretarial work, so while there's no events I'm trying to get back into that by brushing up my skills with free administration courses at TAFE."
Avakian says it will have to be a large order to warrant driving her Street Sliders truck to a specific household or neighbourhood.
"It takes a long time to set the truck up to start cooking – it's simply not economical for short periods. For me, it's better to find spots where I can approach local councils to let me trade. There's lots of parks around Sydney with busy walking tracks perfect for food trucks.
"It would also be terrific if people could help food truck operators by letting us know if they have a good spot with lots of traffic coming through."
Rusitovski agrees the Food Truck in My Street service may not be suited to all vendors, but also says it is likely some trucks will waive a minimum call-out fee. "We're finding ice-cream trucks are ideal for it, for example, as they can visit multiple houses in the one area really quickly."
Beau Lange signed with Where The Truck this week and is hopeful the app will lead to more suburban business, but is also concerned it will be a challenge to visit multiple houses on the one trip, unless a whole neighbourhood is onboard for melted cheese on chips.
"However, I have a bubble tea truck which may be a lot better for the job," he says. "Whereas Dairy Extraordinary requires a lot of setting up and packing down, with Bobble Tea, I'm pretty much just opening and closing a door."