first released 5th November 2012 – revised 3rd July 2013
article by Keith Harris, Chief Editor of newsmedianews.com
We chat with Regina & Stefan Schenkelberg of Gourmet Express Mobile Catering’s Giant Coke Can German Specialties Food Truck Celebrates One Year On The Road.
This past month, Regina Schenkelberg and Stefan Schenkelberg, the owners of Gourmet Express Mobile Catering, celebrated one year on the A131 road. Stefan admits that it’s been a long journey in their quest to master the ins and outs of both Essex street food scene and the world of self-employment and entrepreneurship. but it’s been a journey they have been proud to take.
The couple, the former real estate brokers, lost everything in their homeland of Germany when they became involuntary victims of crime and corruption some 18 years ago, have taken the leap early last year to food trailer owners and Stefan says that although there have been challenges, they have never looked back.
Influenced by the time Regina spent cooking with her mother, she brings those memories and flavours to life through her German inspired food trailer. Specialties include Wiener Schnitzel, Bratwurst with curry ketchup, Bockwurst, made from both Chicken & Turkey or pork, with potato salad. This fall, Regina promises that we will see more authentic food such as Curry Wurst as well as a variety of soups on the menu.
I talked to Stefan on the phone and he spoke very candidly about what pushes their fight against Braintree, what inspires their cooking, and what he thinks would be the best fast food meal.
What led you to opening Gourmet Express Mobile Catering’s food truck business and why using a spectacularly looking Coke tin shape?
It’s one of those things where you do it (my wife I should say!) as a hobby at first, and you are always that one person who cooks for everybody at birthday parties, friends always ask you to prepare stuff for baby showers, wedding showers, all that stuff I really just got to this point in my life where I thought, “I am either going to support tuning her hobby into a full-time job and career or we are never going to do it.” The choice of truck. Yes, this is a bit funny. We have been choosing a toilet shaped trailer but our car at the time wasn’t powerful enough to tow any such trailer so we opted to buy into this rather unusual shape for our fast food trailer business. It took us over six months to equip and then go through these rules and restrictions in order to have our trailer successfully examined by food and hygiene officials.
Stefan, what do you think is the best fast food meal?
That’s easy to answer. Certainly the one we are working on to offer. People will flock in as if there is no tomorrow when they hear we offer traditional German Curry Wurst and Pommes with mayonnaise. This is by far the most favorite ‘hot snack’ available in Germany. They love it with Pommes (chips).
- Kindly advise when you anticipate to be able to offer this Curry Wurst meals?
There are still issues to resolve to be able to complete the research for the best recipe of the sauce. People keep it as a secret so you have to dig deep to get to the bottom of it. Before my 50th birthday in March we’ll have it, I promise!
Stefan, what was as the American entertainer, Oprah would call it your “A-HA!”
(imagine Oprah voice) moment?
Having worked as dishwasher, factory worker, in freelance language translation and web design and as freelance management consultant since coming to England ‘The Giant Coke Can Venture’ has definitely beaten all my expectations and I love supporting my wife with my skills. I was preparing for another go in self-employment since we came to East Sussex and I attended many networking events and conferences in the London business start-up community. So I would listen to all these founders talk about their experiences and what inspires them. They always said and this is something that Mike (Southen), a respected business professional whose work is quite regularly published in the London Times, once said to me. “You know? When you want to start a business, it’s no longer a hobby when you want to quit your full-time job. You can’t pursue it unless you quit your full-time job.” He talked about how there is a difference between starting a business and creating something. People talk about doing “something” all the time, but very few people actually do it. I would see all these young entrepreneurs and it was really inspiring to be around all that energy. I was turning forty-eight when I considered going into the service industry having *tangible products to market and I thought, “if I don’t do it now I will never do it.” So that for me was kind of the moment where I realized that I had just had to make the leap or not. My wife has a real passion for cooking and baking so the question what industry we both would want to end up tackling was clear from the outset.
The trailer, Gourmet Express Mobile Catering, is celebrating it’s one year anniversary. What have you learned this year about Braintree’s street food industry (your home territory, because I understand you lived in Braintree since 2005)?
Well, we are actually eighteen months in business but 1 year on the road site (lay-by), located on the A131 off Great Leighs. It’s been a challenge on the one side and a fight on the other. Trading on a road site is tough business, for every food truck, not just us. I tried to find a pitch for one day a week on Braintree’s farmer market but failed because of these big stipulations and rules that we heard the town was enforcing. Rules that have made it very difficult for food truck owners to grow their business in Braintree and coming across that was the most frustrating thing I had ever experienced. Braintree is supposed to be ‘home ground’ where we live and work for now almost eight years. Coming off my job, all I wanted to do was to be an entrepreneur along with my wife and run our business without all these ludicrous restrictions in place. If we are going to be put out of business, it’s going to be because we have put out a bad product, not because of some government regulation, and we are not putting out a bad product. I had this moment where I thought “What did I get myself into?” We were working around the clock running a business, lobbying and even starting petitions. There were nights I didn’t go to sleep until 4a.m. and then back-up at 7a.m. again. I kept thinking, “What is this all for? Did we make the right decision? “Well” I said to myself, “monopoly is greed – competition is healthy.” This is not realized by these government officials who only welcome British food and British fast food vendors (as an example of their stall holders arrangements. Go look what Braintree offers when you stroll through their Saturday markets; Two burger vans. It is our good food that they think presents a danger for their burger vans, one of my customers, who used to only eat at burger vans before we opened our German specialities truck, pointed this out to me. I spoke to another food truck owner who experienced the same, he said: “You know, even though we didn’t win against the town no one wanted to fight them. You stood up and whether you run your business or you came and fought for multi-cultural food, you made difference.” It was at that point that I realized that even though it seems hard, you have to fight through those moments. If it were easy, everybody would be doing it.
What do you think about the food truck’s parking spots after the planned redevelopment of the Braintree bus park that the Braintree government proposed in a letter to answer your complaint?
Well, I have spent eleven months being very angry at the market management and I have accepted the fact that I have fought my best. Now we have to just figure out how we are going to continue to grow. However, I always look at everything with a grain of salt. They will say one thing, but behind closed doors, another thing will happen. I will say that the locations will be better following the redevelopment of the town and these are really ideal spots. It’s a good first step, but I’d like to see them open up more and more stands in the town’s market area. I think once they see the culture the food trucks can create, the town will be more open to allowing the trucks in. My only concern is that I hope they don’t try to make it difficult for younger food truck business to get into the scene versus the big chains.
Gourmet Express Mobile Catering
The Giant Coke Can can be found at a variety of street fests (Carnival) and booked privately for catering, wedding events, and corporate parties. Find out more about The Giant Coke Can on its website or via Facebook or Twitter.