Q+A: The Roaming Dive

Peter Stewart created The Roaming Dive after touring the US, and realising that the food truck culture in New Zealand was missing something he experienced while abroad - the cuisine he calls "dude food". We chatted to Pete about his time in the truck and what he has learned from inside 'The Dive'.

FS: Who are you?
TRD: Peter Stewart, 26, from Auckland.

FS: What prompted you to create the Roaming Dive?
TRD: Ironically, the urge to create a business in the food industry started during a two-week juice diet where I effectively starved myself and was hungry for 14 days straight. All I could do was watch copious amounts of food shows on youtube and different food blogs, and started creating a list of food which I was keen to make after the juicing had stopped. This had an impact on the menu I created and there are still items on that list I am yet to try out. I fell in love with food trucks in California while studying in San Diego. I returned from the States really keen to get into the business whilst the NZ market was still young.

FS: How has the Auckland mobile scene changed since then?
TRD: There are more private companies setting up to manage events for food stalls and food trucks - the council is still resistant to address a well-known and celebrated worldwide industry, but the Auckland market makes up for it by coming to events put on by the likes of Silo Park and different event managers. Kiwis like to see small companies grow and support them and that's made obvious by relentless customer feedback both good or bad.

FS: What has made the dive such a key ingredient in your life that you had its image tattooed on your leg?
TRD: It was a very big decision to 'go for it' and during busy seasons there is no real time to look back. I have been operating for 18 months now and have gone through some serious highs and some serious lows. Highs include well-known kiwi chefs applauding the food and award wins, and lows include the truck breaking down a day before a wedding in Puhoi (fortunately with the help of an extremely sympathetic mechanic who worked through the night, we were operational in time) or not meeting targets and goals. However, the truck is such an extension of me and something that I still look at and think 'it's pretty damn cool' that on my first anniversary on the truck, I asked a very good customer who is a tattooist to replicate the truck on my leg. As soon as we had that conversation, there was no going back.

FS: If you weren't Pete the fries slinger, what would you have been?
TRD: My previous jobs have included: sales in automation, slinging single bed cabins, creating a very weird method of selling xmas trees and even a stint in repossession. It's a tough question, although I have no doubt I would slinging something and under my own steam too. I have the bug of making my own way and creating my own business that I'm afraid makes me a tremendously bad employee.

FS: If you could share three important lessons from getting the Roaming Dive on the road, what would they be?

  1. Recognise that although its a rather cheap method to enter the market there are a lot of hidden costs - you must have an end plan and you must be working for something greater than the truck itself.
  2. Be careful when buying the truck - if it breaks down, you break down.
  3. Sell what your market wants to eat. Chefs and cooks can get caught up trying to push something that they know is good but doesn't draw the customers. With a truck, typically you have a few hours within an event to sell and make your money - there is no time to teach the market. They've already bought themselves a burger, or pizza or what ever it was they saw and liked.

FS: Why did you decide on a truck and not another setup?
TRD: For me it was all or nothing: I knew that having the truck would open me up to more opportunities and draw a certain crowd. I also was hell-bent on mimicking the US method. I did budget up a caravan and found the difference in cost not hugely different in the scheme of things.

FS: What international food trends is Auckland lacking?
TRD: Although Coreano is right on the money, I love Mexican fusion so more of it!!!

FS: What is the best drop to wash down a plate of sliders 'n' dive fries with?
TRD: A beer. Dive food is dude food - get a slider in one hand and a lager in the other.