The Food Truck Movement
It is hard to believe that it was not so long ago that the only hot food that was available from a van was a bag of chips. How things have changed! Nowadays, Cork foodies are constantly looking out for the next roadside food experience, and we really are spoilt for choice here in Cork!
I decided to do some research to find out what is going on in the Cork food truck scene, just as the travel restrictions were beginning to ease, and our thoughts were on where we could travel in our county. I contacted some food truck owners in the Cork area to get an insight into their business, how Covid-19 has impacted them, and their hopes for the summer ahead. It is never easy to start a new business, especially in these tough times, and having been given the opportunity to talk to some of the owners of amazing food trucks in Cork, it has whetted my appetite to go and visit as many of these trucks as I can over the summer months!
The food truck movement has allowed local chefs and entrepreneurs to feed people authentic dishes, made using local and seasonal ingredients. Customers are also given a memorable food experience, without owners having to bear the large rental costs and staff costs involved in renting a commercial unit. The customers get a unique experience, and the entrepreneurs and chefs get the time to develop their ideas, learn and adapt their offering, while also having the opportunity to build their brand.
Depending on the location, it can also provide a spectacular view for customers! It can really be the best seat in the house, and this makes the experience of choosing fresh and seasonal food from a food truck truly magical!
The Impact of the Pandemic
As a result of the pandemic, food trucks have faced numerous challenges, and reduced footfall and travel restrictions have had a negative impact on some businesses. They tended to rely heavily on tourism, both local and foreign, and therefore they were impacted severely by the lack of tourists entering Ireland and travel restrictions. Festivals and events were all cancelled due to health and safety concerns, and these would generally have been a valuable source of income for food trucks. On top of that, the challenging and evolving business environment, alongside the significant reduction in footfall translated into uncertainty for food truck owners on whether it would be financially viable to continue during these uncertain times.
However, I am delighted to say that despite the problems that Covid-19 has brought, and the difficulties it has posed for businesses, many food trucks in Cork have thrived during these uncertain times, and some food trucks have even been set up and started trading during the pandemic.
One such example is The Beanie Box, which is a small family business at Gobby Beach in Ringaskiddy, which has been running for almost a year. Every weekend you will find Cindy and her team, serving coffee, hot chocolate, iced mochas, sweet treats and more to their loyal customers, including serving Pupachinos to cater for the local dog walkers and their little friends!
The idea of running a food truck came about as a result of Cindy’s love of coffee and a sweet treat, but it was the pandemic that gave her the push to do it. She had a look around in her area, and felt that running a food truck was something she could be good at! She carried out research, chose what products to sell, and made sure that they could be locally sourced. Their sweet treats, baked goods, milk, and hot chocolate are sourced from local suppliers including Hoban’s Treats in Carrigaline, the Flour House in Kinsale, O’Conaill Chocolate, and Clóna Dairy in Clonakilty.
They are also environmentally conscious, using as much recycled materials as possible and they recycle their coffee grinds to the Ringaskiddy tidy towns for use for composting. They also have buckets that children can use to collect beach rubbish and litter. Each full bucket gathered by the children can then be exchanged for a free treat! When the first lockdown happened, it was ‘now or never for them, and it was the push they needed to start the business. They are now settled in Ringaskiddy and are loving it there. They are hopeful for the summer ahead, and they are looking forward to a good season as restrictions continue to ease.
In East Cork, you will find the Captain’s Catch who serve fresh fish and chips. They have a longstanding background in the fish industry having a fleet of their own boats, meaning that they have the first choice of the freshest fish. Their passion and knowledge for all things fish is the reason behind the food truck, and it is the reason why they only serve fish!
For them, the arrival of the pandemic coincided with the arrival of their brand-new Airstream unit. They had commissioned it the year before, and they had the intention of focusing on serving at events and festivals. The pandemic forced them to adapt their plans, so instead of operating at events and festivals, they are working roadside, which meant a complete change to their target market. Their locations are posted weekly on Facebook and Instagram, and currently, they trade on a Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Their hope for the Summer will be that they will be able to be out more, and they also hope to be available for private hire when they are allowed!
The Dough Hut in Douglas is a family run business and has been in permanent residence in Douglas Community Park for the past three years, and they had built a great customer base, even before the pandemic hit. They provide Barista style coffee, hot mini doughnuts, ice cream, and gluten-free cakes. They, like other coffee/food stalls, have become a lot busier during lockdown as people were looking for new experiences during a very strange year. They told me that “their iced coffee is a huge hit on warm days and our hot chocolates are great for the cold days”. They said that ‘it is great to see so many new food trucks opening around the country. I have been saying for a long time now that it would be brilliant to have coffee stalls at amenities where it might not suit a permanent coffee shop’. They are looking forward to the summer ahead, and believe that they will be as busy as ever, especially if the weather is good!
While conducting my research on food trucks in Cork, I have also read some sad stories of closures, which is probably largely due to the impact of travel restrictions, and the lack of tourist footfall resulting from the pandemic. For all those working hard throughout these challenging times, and those for whom this is their first season, it is hoped that better days lie ahead. There are many food truck businesses who have thrived during the pandemic, and with the easing of travel restrictions, and the summer days ahead, there will likely be an increase in the popularity of outside dining, and this is great news for these businesses who will aim to maximise on this. The future looks bright!
Importance of location
For all food trucks, location is key, and it is essential to think strategically about where to locate so that they can maximise profit. A key factor that dictates locations for these food truck businesses is where people are gathering. These are generally locations such as farmers’ markets, near beaches, at the entrance of woods, or near parks and playgrounds.
One example is The Ramblin’ Sole who have strategically positioned themselves currently at Mahon Point and Douglas Farmers Markets. They will also be at the Marina on Sundays starting next week on May 2nd, and they aim to continue full time there on Thursdays and Sundays in the coming weeks. The fish they sell is sourced locally from one boat that lands in West Cork. They cook a variety of fish in their mobile trailer, and say that ‘we have worked for and with some amazing people along the way’.
The Drip At the Warren, run by Tony Speight, owner of West Cork Coffee and Brian Shanahan, is located on Warren Beach, Rosscarbery, and serves specialty coffee blends from West Cork Coffee and treats from Hope Street Bakery every Saturday and Sunday from 10am-4pm. The great thing about this hatch is that you can indulge in their coffee and treats and then go for a walk on the beach to walk it off, making it the perfect weekend!
Coastal Coffee is a coffee trailer run by Adam D’Arcy. Adam bought his first trailer when he was in third year in school, and spent his time doing it up over a number of months. He launched the business in Myrtleville, in the summer of 2019, serving hot drinks and snacks to the swimmers and beachgoers. Having visited Myrtleville over the summers, he recognised that there was an opportunity to maximise on this beachside location, with large crowds gathering during the summer months. He told me that there was a great buzz down there for the summer and that they got great support.
The summer of 2020 was also spent at Myrtleville beach, and Adam’s dream was to expand his business and invest in another trailer. After the summer of 2020, he invested in a bigger trailer and moved his location from Myrtleville beach to Crosshaven Walkway in December 2020, and he also extended his offering to crepes. He taught himself how to make crepes and then launched his specialty ‘The Coastal Crepe Box’. Adam believes that this was a great addition to his business.
In March 2021, he applied for a license to trade in the new park in Haulbowline and was successful. Following this success, he now has two coffee trailers, one continuing on the Crosshaven Walkway, and the second at Haulbowline Park. He told me that the park has become a popular spot for them since starting to trade there. He also extended his offering to homemade ice pops by Popsicle which are ‘gourmet pops in different flavours’ he says. He is also conscious of littering and as a result has provided additional bins along the walkway in Crosshaven to encourage people to bin their litter.
Covid-19 has had an impact on the business, but in a positive way in how he runs things. With the 5km restrictions in place, it meant that people couldn’t not use the walkways or go to the parks, but there were locals, Adam says, that supported him during this time. Now that the 5km restrictions have eased, and inter-country travel is allowed, he has seen a massive increase in the number of people out and about which is great for his business. His plans for the summer are to be open five days a week in both locations, Crosshaven Walkway and Haulbowline Park, serving coffee, treats, cakes, and the new range of popsicles which are made in Cork City. He is also hoping to find opportunities to expand even more.
New Business Venture
Setting up a food truck has provided the opportunity for many people to start a new business venture without having large rental and staff expenses. One such example is The Quirkey Kitchen food truck, which is situated in Innishannon. It is run by Siobhan Quirke, with some help from her husband, former GAA inter-county player Seán Óg O hAilpín. Running the food truck had been a long-held dream of Siobhan’s, after working in food and finance in Ireland and the UK.
When I had the opportunity to talk to Siobhán, she explained how she feels lucky to have grown up in idyllic Innishannon, which she called ‘The Gateway to West Cork’. She explained how West Cork has been synonymous with artisanal and homegrown produce, and therefore she feels that it is important for her to source and use local ingredients and suppliers where possible. She likes to think that the menu at the food truck demonstrates the importance of provenance and supporting locals. They use West Cork Coffee which is roasted in Innishannon, and award winning fresh milk from Gloun Cross Dairy in Dunmanway. Their bites and treats are also all homemade and locally sourced where possible. Some examples include cocoa, coconut, and pumpkin seed oat scuffin, which is a hybrid of a scone and a muffin, stupendously sticky lemon drizzle cake, Dutch sponge cake, which is layered with discs of caramelised apples, the ‘rockiest’ of rocky roads, loaded with some biscuity chocolate chaos, cookies which are packed full of milk, dark and white chocolate, as well as a ‘Quirkey’ surprise sprinkling of choice chocolate.
Siobhán explained that the concept for the food truck is quite simple. ‘They simply supply great tasting coffee and homemade, locally sourced treats from their unique and eye-catching quirky vehicle’. She believes that the unique selling of her food truck is their quirkiness, as well as its ease of access and being able to go to you! It’s fun, funky, and quirky. They also cater for events and special occasions. They are very excited for the summer ahead, and as the weather improves, they are now serving iced coffees and funky sparkling waters to refresh and tingle your taste buds. They are open Wednesday to Sunday 11-6 in the yard of Barrett’s bar on Main Street, Innishannon.
Another example of a new entrepreneur entering the Cork food truck scene, who has featured in the media recently, is well known Cork artist Sebastian Thommen. Toast is a new food truck which is soon to launch in Ballinlough Olde Faery Trail over the coming weeks. To add a distinctive element to his business, Thommen has printed some Cork scenes, in his own unique style, onto the takeaway cups. He plans to serve specialist ground coffee, and the key dish on the seasonal menu will be gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. Toast is hoping to be trading in the coming weeks, so keep an eye out on their social media to get the latest updates.
The Curly Stu, based in West Cork, serves hand stretched Neapolitan style pizzas from their custom-made horsebox. It was set up by professional chef Stuart Bowes, who has over 25 years of experience working in Michelin star restaurants and 5-star hotels. His obsession with Neapolitan style pizzas began four years ago. He purchased a wood fire oven, and started to perfect his skills, and began selling his pizzas in a rural pub, using the finest Italian and Irish ingredients. The pizzas were well received, and word got around, and this resulted in Stuart restoring a horse box and making his business mobile in 2020. On Fridays, they can be found in Newcestown in Mahoney’s pub car park from 4:30pm-8pm. On Saturdays, they can be found at Coal Quay market on Cornmarket Street from 10am-3:30pm, and on Sundays, they can be found in Cloughduv in the Spreading Chestnut pub car park from 4:30pm-8pm.
Now that restrictions have eased, and we have the freedom to travel throughout our country, it is more important than ever to support local small businesses. Let’s go out and support our favourites, and find some new food truck venues by supporting these local businesses!
I have only highlighted just some of the amazing food trucks we have here in Cork, and there are also many other Cork coffee boxes (serving coffee from converted horseboxes and vans) at various locations around Cork which will help you get your caffeine fix now that Covid-19 restrictions are easing. Remember these are small local businesses who are serving us fabulous coffee and treats, so no matter where you are, have a look around to support one. I guarantee they won’t be far away!
Food/Coffee Trucks to put on your list:
The Beanie Box, Gobby Beach in Ringaskiddy – @thebeaniebox76
Captain’s Catch, Castlemartyr, Glounthaune, and Clashmore – @the.captainscatch
The Dough Hut, Douglas Community Centre – @thedoughhut
The Ramblin’ Sole, Mahon Point Market (Thursday), Douglas Farmers Market (Saturday), Marina (Sunday, Thursday) – The Ramblin’ Sole
The Quirkey Kitchen, Barrett’s Bar on Innishannon’s Main Street – @thequirkeykitchen
Coastal Coffee, Crosshaven Walkway, Haulbowline Park Ringaskiddy – @coastal_coffee
Toast, Ballinlough Olde Faery Trail, which is due to open during this Summer – @toastcork
The Curly Stu, Newcestown in Mahoney’s pub car park from 4:30pm-8pm (Friday), Coal Quay market on Cornmarket Street from 10am-3:30pm (Saturday), Cloughduv in the Spreading Chestnut pub car park from 4:30pm-8pm (Sunday)- @thecurlystu
The Drip At the Warren, Warren Beach, Rosscarbery – @drip_at_the_warren
The Huck Truck, Cork Cricket Club, Mardyke Walk – @thehucktruck
Bean and Berry, Garretstown Beach – @bean_and_berry_
Guji Coffee Bar, Marina Market – @guji_coffeebar
The Tasty Bean, Currabinny Woods – @the_tasty_bean
Ozzy’s Coffee Cork, Garryduff Woods, Rochestown – @ozzyscoffeecork
By Emma Wilkinson