Wheel appeal: Victoria’s tiny cart vendors
First came the food trucks, now bespoke tiny carts are new kids on the foodie block.
When the director of a busy Melbourne public relations agency made a batch of peanut brittle for her family at Christmas a few years back, she never thought it would be the start of a business venture.
Greta Donaldson now travels throughout central Victoria selling the sweet-tasting brittle from a cart she had custom-built in Italy.
“The brittle was a hit and the more I made, the more people told me I had to start selling it,” Greta says. She returned to her home town of Bendigo in 2015 and launched Bendigo Brittle the next year.
It went crazy. I knew people would love the brittle, but the cart just attracted so much attention.
“There is so much nostalgia around peanut brittle. People remember their mothers making it or their aunts ... and I just felt there was no other way to sell it than from a cart.”
When she traded at her first market in Bendigo on Australia Day 2016, she knew she was on to something. “It went crazy. I knew people would love the brittle, but the cart just attracted so much attention. It was beyond anything I’d anticipated,” Greta says.
She continues to run her public relations business from Bendigo and is among a growing number of Victorians operating mobile food and catering businesses from tiny carts, following the food truck craze which started in Victoria around 2010 and continues to thrive.
Andrew Webber from Carts Australia first came across food carts while on a trip to the US in the mid-’80s, but he says the inspiration for many of the carts he makes today comes from Europe.
“On the back of the trend for food trucks, we are now seeing people looking at other smaller and more affordable alternatives,” Andrew says. “Carts also allow people to trade at indoor events and the like, so can be a better option.”
Andrew says prices for a basic cart start at around $7000 and can reach $26,000 for a larger one with a hand basin and refrigeration. A food truck can cost between $100,000 and $200,000.
I wanted something I could get inside buildings and through doorways.
Geelong’s David Browning, who runs Mr B Coffee – a pop-up coffee, espresso martini and dessert cart – launched the business from a trailer in 2015.
“I wanted something I could get inside buildings and through doorways,” David says. His sleek cart is now popular at corporate functions, weddings and public events.
David, who previously worked as a barista and runs Geelong cafe A Spot For Joe, had a friend make the cart. “Clients book us because the cart looks so good. Even three years down the track, people are like, ‘Wow, that’s so cool’.”
Mornington chef Leanne Farrell, who runs Luvlee Gourmet Ice Cream out of a retro-inspired, second-hand cart that cost $7000, agrees the visual appeal of a cart is key. “My inspiration came from those cute little Italian gelato bikes, but I didn’t want to have to pedal it around myself,” she says.
Jan Palamara and her husband Rob first toyed with the idea of launching a mobile beverage business while travelling around the UK last year. “I kept seeing these cute little prosecco vans and I just thought they were fantastic,” Jan says. “When I came home I did a bit of research and came across The Little Bar Cart.”
We love seeing people’s reactions to the cart.
The Little Bar Cart originated in Perth and is a mobile bar custom-built to look like a classic vintage car. Jan and Rob are the business’s first Melbourne licensees.
“Rob and I are both in our mid-50s and were looking to do something a little bit different,” says Jan, who also works as an executive assistant. “We love being able to provide that old-fashioned style of customer service and I think, most of all, we love seeing people’s reactions to the cart. They fall in love with it. Just like I did.”