Food trucks Meals on wheels

Erna & Co. started touring the area around Stuttgart in March 2011.
Erna & Co. started touring the area around Stuttgart in March 2011. | Photo (detail): © Erna & C

Small mobile restaurants are starting to catch on in Germany and they are often far more than your average snack wagons with Currywurst and Pommes. These so-called food trucks offer regional specialties and self-created delights.

Workdays begin at 6 a.m. for Andrea Übelhack and Peter Appel: slicing, dicing, peeling, mashing and frying. They offer five different meals and one dessert per day in their Swagman food truck – swagman is an Australian term for a migrant worker. The heartiest of dishes is called the Spezial, a mixture of mashed potatoes, slowly roasted pork or turkey, seasonal veggies and a creamy sauce with croutons on top. The other four meals include a vegetarian version of the Spezial, a savory soup, a healthy salad and a generously dressed sandwich on a Dutch crunch roll.

At 10 a.m. the duo has to have everything prepped and loaded and ready to hit the road. Well, Peter at least has to be on the road at 10 a.m.: Swagman No. 2 has been operating since November 2012 out of Nuremberg, 80 km away. His partner makes her rounds between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. stopping at five different locations in her hometown of Bayreuth. It was there that it all began in December 2011, and since then things have “developed wonderfully”, as Appel likes to word it. “It’s nowhere near as big in Germany yet as the rolling snack trucks trend in the high-tech business parks in the USA several years ago,” continues the 40-something entrepreneur who, like Übelhack, originally worked in the textiles industry. The conditions in Germany make that unlikely anyway. In southern Germany you can't just park your rolling restaurant on the side of the road and start serving customers. The only way to do it is to get permission from companies or private owners to ply your trade on their property.

High quality with a regional feel

The same goes for Erna & Co., which started touring the area around Stuttgart in March 2011. They serve Swabian specialties from maultaschen (something like a German ravioli) and potato salad to spätzle (Swabian pasta) and fleischküchle (meatballs). Founders Frédéric Bierbrauer and Florian Romer admit that the concept of offering restaurant-quality regional classics from a to-go truck was a risky one. It is an accepted truth that there is nothing in Swabia that people are more critical about than the “national” dishes, and of course nobody can cook them better than mama can.

“The first reactions we got were expectedly reserved. Instead of curiosity we got skepticism,” recalls Bierbrauer of the first weeks on tour. At this point, however, the two university graduates in business have put in the time and effort to convince their very finicky clientele. Erna is now a welcome sight at five permanent stops from Degeloch to Leinfelden-Echterdingen, and though the two confess to having no idea how to cook – they had no experience in hospitality previous to this – they both know very well what a good maultasche tastes like. So what did they do? They farmed out production of the Swabian delicacy to a trusted butcher who even helped them get the recipe just right.

Sweet summer sensation

Eva Langhorst and Deniz Kumru are only on the road in the warmer months of the year with their Mr. Whippy’s Frozen Yoghurt Truck. Their lovingly restored and remodeled classic ice cream truck (just 2 x 4 meters in size) may look like it comes straight from California, but in truth it is a British model with traditional pastel colors that causes a sensation even in Berlin, where nothing seems to surprise anyone anymore. Mr. Whippy took its maiden voyage in July of 2012, just in time for a late summer start, but because the van is dependent on external power – it has no auxiliary generator – Eva and Deniz typically have to set up at markets or events on the weekends. Like Swagman and Erna & Co., Mr. Whippy also uses Facebook to announce the locations on their seasonal frozen yoghurt route. In May 2013 the duo started to get their second year underway. The 31-year-old Langhorst is also hoping to get a second vehicle from which to serve up proper coffee for the caffeine-obsessed masses.

“Eatertainment” of the finest order

To offer more than just a nice meal at the most famous sights of the capital – that was Benjamin Thompson's idea for the Gourmet Liner, and the concept is now a reality: a luxury restaurant on six wheels where fine meals are not just prepared but also served in style. The gastronome invested about 500,000 euros remodeling a double-decker tour bus into an elegant haven of fine dining, with leather chairs, bars and a stainless steel kitchen. Up to 36 guests can sit comfortably on both levels of Thomson's mobile event location, which he now books all over Germany.

The tour program in Berlin, where the Gourmet Liner is based, includes a three-and-a-half-hour guided tour with a 3- or 5-course meal and an option for musical accompaniment from a saxophone or violin. Depending on the guests, sights may feature the Gendarmenmarkt for an appetizer, O2 World for the main course and Charlottenburg Palace for dessert. A champagne reception and a cigar stop at stand-up tables on the red carpet are included in the package. To sum it up: a food truck that has about as much to do with a snack wagon as a Currywurst has to do with filet of Kobe beef, and which certainly gives Germany's mobile restaurant scene a hitherto unique new face.