Wandering out of Beirut’s bars or clubs, perhaps feeling a bit merry from one too many drinks, you have a number of options for where to get late-night grub. But if, out the corner of your eye, you see a large yellow truck with two LED lights waiting patiently on the side of the street, you may have spied Lebanon’s newest late-night dining option.
“Spuds” is Lebanon’s first mataam mutajawel, or food truck, having hit the road on March 14. This mobile potato bar offers five different variations of the baked vegetable, with a diverse assortment of toppings from leeks to rump steak. Prices vary from 6,000 LL ($4) to 11,000 ($7.33).
The company is hoping to attract university students during the day, but the majority of its trade will be at night, whether at festivals or at bars or clubs. “After the party, after drinking a couple of drinks, you are hungry, and you want to eat something fast,” Andres Gerges, Spuds’ co-founder says. “There is a choice. You can go nasty or go healthy,” he says, claiming that their offerings are better for you than the usual late night hot dogs and other fast food that Beirutis love to get their hands on.
While maybe not as healthy as the other options, the bacon potato is proving popular
Globally, the food truck concept has been around for decades, but has grown rapidly in the past decade — so much so that New York even has its own syndicate, The New York City Food Truck Association, with 50 members. Gerges himself was inspired to start a food truck in Lebanon from his visits with friends to Spain a few years ago. “We were partying in Barcelona, and we went out of this crazy club and we found this guy outside making baked potatoes with all the fillings,” he says.
This rapid global growth of these meals on wheels has been caused by the increase in social media. With a simple message posted on Facebook or Twitter, customers can know exactly where to go to get their dinner. “Without social media, we cannot run,” Gerges says. “No one will know where to go, no one can follow you on the map.”
But the customer always comes back for the potato. Executive caught up with the Spud Truck in Mar Mkhayel to try their offerings. Gerges recommended the “Bacon”, which is a hearty 200-gram potato topped generously with bacon, mushrooms and cheddar cheese — the nutritional value may be a bit exaggerated, but no doubt this loaded potato satisfies the palate.
Further down the road
Although Gerges did not disclose startup costs, he expects to break even in six months, before profits in a second truck with a totally different offering. “As for revenues, we have been selling around 100-150 potatoes a night,” he says.
Between Gerges and the chef and co-founder, Michel Achkar, this means a lot of labor. Gerges is currently driving the truck and assisting in the preparations, while overseeing operations, but he hopes that in the near future he can hire a driver who would assist Achkar.
And while a loaded potato may keep us warm at night for now, Gerges says that the current menu, “the winter menu” (lasting from November to May) will have to be changed for the hotter months. They are working on a summer offering with a few lighter, cooler items such as sandwiches. It was not immediately clear to Executive how the humble potato will play a role.
With the advent of a new type of food offering in the country, are wandering restaurants going to pop up across Beirut? It is still too early to say, but Gerges thinks the market could grow rapidly: "We encourage [competition], why not have a street with 10 food trucks?"