Christchurch, NZ: It Takes Two to Taco

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By Tess Mcclure  |  The Timaru Herald

IAIN MCGREGOR/ Fairfax NZ FOOD TRUCKERS: Tom Hibbard (left) and Tom Karstensen own Tommy Taco.
FOOD TRUCKERS: Tom Hibbard (left) and Tom Karstensen own Tommy Taco.

Three years on from the earthquakes, the inner city is still full of empty lots and buildings awaiting demolition. Established hospitality businesses have been slow to return to the CBD, but transient and portable businesses are flourishing – and a food truck economy has taken hold.

Most recent to join the ranks is Tommy Taco, a gleaming white converted delivery truck, which haunts the corner of High and Cashel Street.

For Tom Karstensen and Tom Hibbard, the food truck idea was the product of a night’s drinking – and Karstensen says it is “still a bit surreal” to see it emerging as a fully fledged business.

But real it is, and after a month of opening trade is strong.

On a busy day, Karstensen and Hibbard will send 200 tacos out the door in three hours – averaging a meal a minute.

In the first week, the truck sold out every day, and the pair were forced to double their meat order and take on four staff to keep up with demand.

Karstensen and Hibbard are unsurprised by the success, and say food trucks were an obvious choice for the city.

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“We’d both been foodies for a while, and experienced food trucks in Auckland, Australia and the United States. But it hadn’t really spread to Christchurch.”

Seeing a gap in the local market, they moved quickly to fill it.

The attraction of the truck was both the smaller outlay required and the flexibility of portable premises.

Karstensen says it’s particularly well suited to the changing Christchurch landscape – there’s not the risk of setting up shop in an area that could be robbed of foot traffic by road works or demolition. The truck can simply move with the concentration of people as the landscape of the city changes.

The truck had a past life as a fabrics delivery van, and took seven months of work to transform into its current incarnation.

But even fully customised and redesigned, the pair calculated that a food truck would “still cost only about a tenth the price of a restaurant”.

The truck currently requires seven days a week of food prep, accounts and paperwork, but the pair have plans to set up another truck once the day-to-day running of Tommy Taco can be handed over to staff.

“I don’t think Christchurch is ready for two taco trucks, so we might go for burgers,” Karstensen says.

Sauces are made up fresh every morning, and all the meat is free range – Tommy Taco invests more in their ingredients than your average roadside pie cart.

“We wanted to get it right first time. Sure, you carve a bit off your margins, but I’d rather sacrifice margins than quality.

“If you do it right, it’s definitely profitable.”

While the rainy weather “takes a bit of a toll”, they will continue running the truck five days a week through winter.

“It’s a bit of an opportunity for us as it’s a bit quieter to nail all our processes so when summer hits we’re ready.”