Meals on wheels in Abu Dhabi with move to license food trucks for restaurants

Already-licensed restaurants or catering companies wholly owned by a UAE citizen or with a local partner will be allowed to expand operations through mobile vehicles.

The Melting British Cheese truck on the Corniche in Abu Dhabi. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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Abu Dhabi will begin licensing food trucks to existing restaurants, according to the Department of Economic Development (DED).

Already-licensed restaurants or catering companies wholly owned by a UAE citizen or with a local partner will be allowed to expand operations through mob­ile vehicles, the DED said in a statement.

Mohammed Al Mansouri, the executive director of the department’s Abu Dhabi Business Centre, said that interested companies will need to get initial approval from the DED’s Commercial Protection Directorate, which mandates locations that may be used. “Moreover, there are certain specifications to be observed by vehicle manufacturers as they should be exclusively designed to practice such an acti­vity,” he said.

Once this is approved, the application will go to the Permits and Advertisements Section for the final permit. The DED is currently developing software that will cover the various steps for obtaining the licence as part of the e-services package provided to clients practising commercial activities throughout the emirate.

However, this does not mean an explosion of novel culinary delights on wheels in the UAE, according to Dubai-based The Foodsters, a mobile food and beverage company.

The requirement of having an existing restaurant or catering licence, which is a large investment, skews the essence of the food truck industry as seen in the mat­ure market of the United States.

Food truck revenue in the US was around US$1.2 billion last year, with more than 4,000 trucks taking to the streets, according to Mobile Cuisine. But the UAE is only seeing a replication of a mall’s food court at events featuring large multinational conglomerates, said Reema Shetty, co-founder of The Foodsters.

“People who want to go into the food truck business don’t have the capital to invest in a restaurant or kitchen,” she said.

The company currently has six food trucks that operate throughout the UAE, including Abu Dhabi, and will add another four by November. “Today even if you have a licence [in Dubai], you can operate in Abu Dhabi,” said Ms Shetty.

While the company is licensed in Dubai under restaurants and catering, it can have a food truck at events in Abu Dhabi, such as du Arena, as long as a letter of invitation is obtained by an event organiser and presented to the Abu Dhabi authorities.

“Once you build the truck, it takes a few weeks to get the licence and every time there’s an event you have to get another licence,” she said.

The Foodsters will continue to target mobile food services, which currently make up 40 per cent of the company’s revenue. “We create home-grown brands from scratch and will never invest in retail,” said Ms Shetty, adding that their success is because people know that if they don’t eat when they see them, they will never find them in a food court.

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