Tokyo food trucks get in gear
Nikkei -- May 23
It's a spring morning as seven food trucks pitch up by an office building in Ginza, where a few curious workers are already nosing around for lunch options. Run by husband-and-wife duo Naoya and Rieko Shibutani, the Pieni Kissa van is a big hit and queues quickly form to take advantage of its best-selling taco rice.

"Food trucks can be run at a relatively low cost," says Naoya, passing a steaming parcel to a hungry-looking salaryman. "We cannot afford to open a restaurant in Ginza but we can serve people here."

The Shibutanis' business is one of many on the books at Mellow, a food and technology startup that's helping Tokyo's nascent food truck scene get into gear. For a start, Mellow's database of what's sold and where has proved a useful resource for these entrepreneurs and many like them. "With the sales data we can have a good idea how much food we need to prep to minimize waste," says Naoya.

By noon the trickle of office workers has become a flood and longer queues are forming. Shodai Kawabe, 29, is busy doling out portions of lasagna and risotto from his green Subaru truck, while nearby Takako Tsumura is serving an aromatic south Indian curry. Popular fast-serving chefs can sell as many as 280 meals in a two-and-a-half-hour lunch service.

Eating on the go is big business all around the world, but in Tokyo it traditionally has been associated with poor food and bad manners. Mellow wants to change this, and is working with property developers to offer small-scale food entrepreneurs a chance to get their businesses motoring. What's more, these battalions of "kitchen cars," as they're known in Japan, are tempting the lunch crowd away from bricks-and-mortar alternatives in favor of colorful takes on vegan bento boxes, Okinawan taco rice and falafel.

Mellow's main sell is that it connects independent food trucks with places to park and building owners. The company was set up in 2016 but the co-founder, Masayoshi Ishizawa, has been in the business since the early 2000s. "Passionate food-truck owners are so attractive [to nearby businesses]," says Ishizawa. "Our purpose was to build a business platform for them." If you're a building owner, this rotating army of food trucks visits from Monday to Friday and plays a key part in keeping the workers in surrounding buildings happy.

News source: Nikkei
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