Taco the Town

06 November 2017

Once considered a novelty modelled after the trending food trucks of Los Angeles, today the modern urban food truck has become a common sight in the Klang Valley. Three years since they entered the scene, we speak to food truck and catering business, Curbside Cantina to learn more about how they keep their wheels turning.

While Malaysians have always been familiar with the concept of roadside food vendors selling straight from their vehicle, it was only a few years ago that a new wave of modern food trucks started emerging. These trucks – typically emblazoned with the brand name and painted a bright, bold colour – made it possible for us to enjoy café-style food by the roadside. In no time at all, food trucks started trending.

Fast forward to 2017, and the food truck scene has reached a healthy peak; Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) even started the Kuala Lumpur Food Truck Feast in 2016, which turns Jalan Raja next to Dataran Merdeka into a food truck lane every first and third weekend of each month. That same year, TAPAK Urban Street Dining was also set up in the city centre on Jalan Ampang.

But the food truck trend wouldn’t have started without some local pioneers, who took the risk of serving meals on wheels, while driving their marketing through social media. Curbside Cantina, a Mexican food truck, is one of them.

Curbside Cantina first started in 2014, and has stood strong since. The food truck’s focus on fuss-free Mexican favourites such as tacos, nachos and churros – using quality ingredients – is likely the reason for their success.

The business is run by husband and wife team Awangku Irawan (Tubby) and Noreen Ramli. The couple are no strangers to the food business; they ran The Pink Sage (one of Kuala Lumpur’s earliest brunch cafés) from 2008 to its closure in 2011.

Curbside Cantina is run by husband and wife team Awangku Irawan (left) and Noreen Ramli (right).

“As they say, the proof is in the pudding!” says Noreen on what makes Curbside Cantina stand out. “On a serious note, we are serious about the food we make and take no shortcuts about it.”

According to Noreen, the fish tacos remain a crowd favourite and a permanent item on the menu, but they do introduce seasonal items to keep things interesting. For now, it’s the Baco – a play on their regular taco but using Turkish flatbread instead of tortilla.

In their early days, Curbside Cantina catered to the lunch crowd in certain business districts, but parking constraints and rising space rental costs lead them to shift to a fully evening schedule. However, having built their reputation, Curbside Cantina soon became a fixture of local music festivals and other events.

More recently, they were recognised by MyCreative Ventures, a government initiative to finance business ventures in the creative industry. MyCreative made Curbside Cantina its first culinary arts investee earlier this year. 

“The timing was kismet for us to grow our business,” says Noreen. “[We’re] very honoured to have our efforts culminate in this way, because when we try to do things in a different way than others might, it’s hard to tell if we’re doing it right.”

For now, you can find the truck on weekday evenings from 5pm to 10pm, parked on Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7 in TTDI, nearby their headquarters and dining facility. However, Noreen hints that pretty soon Curbside Cantina will revisit areas like Bangsar and Sri Hartamas again.

With investment from MyCreativeVentures, Noreen and Tubby were able to make improvements to both Curbside Cantina and their catering business Cantina Moderna, such as integrating a seamless bulk order and booking process, as well as a physical upgrade to the Curbside Cantina truck.

“[For catering, and deliveries] we've gone online with a webcart for small orders which we used to take on manually,” says Noreen. This means that a bulk order of Curbside Cantina’s famous fish tacos are just a click away, on curbsidecantina.oddle.me.

As for future plans, Noreen adds that the next big improvement will be rolling out Curbside Cantina’s second truck in December, which will make it possible for them to cater to more areas. Other than that, they also plan to build an app to better manage different segments of their services.

“With more and more agencies supporting and offering financing for mobile [food] operators, it's clear that mobile operations will be a staple and a new way of adding to the versatility and growth of the city,” says Noreen.

Find Curbside Cantina on Lorong Datuk Sulaiman 7, Taman Tun Dr Ismail, Kuala Lumpur on weekday evenings from 5pm to 10pm. For location updates, follow Curbside Cantina on Instagram. For bookings and catering, visit www.curbsidecantina.co.

Pitch your business with MyCreative Ventures at www.mycreative.com.my

By Syarifah Syazana
Photos by Teoh Eng Hooi

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