The streets of Cairo have seen food trucks in all shapes and sizes, with many of them now being converted into small mobile restaurants.
Things began with the attempt by their owners to escape the spectre of unemployment, particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic. Then the development grew into a trend for many Egyptian young people seeking to establish small businesses and convert microbuses and personal cars into trucks selling food and beverages.
Although the number of food trucks is increasing daily, many of them are not authorised, as licensing procedures and legal requirements can still present a challenge for their owners. The situation remains unchanged despite the stipulations of Law 92/2018 on mobile food units.
Difficulties in enforcing the food truck licensing law on the ground have prompted several MPs to submit a draft amendment to the law that aims at easing the issuing of licences. Mohamed Kamal Marei and 60 other MPs propose amending some of the provisions of the law to facilitate applying for and speeding up the process of issuing such licences.
Speaker of Parliament Hanafi Gibali has referred the project to parliament’s Medium, Small, and Micro Enterprises Committee, and local, constitutional, and legislative issues are now up for debate.
Marei, the chair of the committee, told Al-Ahram Weekly that “amendments to Law 92/2018 have become necessary because of obstacles in its executive regulations. We are proposing solutions to the complications faced by food truck owners through our amendments.”
“These include the possibility of getting a licence from the Enterprise Development Agency through its one-stop shop, which will facilitate procedures. We also plan to include food truck owners among the payers of a flat tax and not a tax that can be randomly determined. This means that they can pay the equivalent of LE1,000 if their sales are up to LE250,000. We will also facilitate obtaining permits for water and electricity at low cost.
“We aim to address one of the most significant obstacles to licensing food trucks by negotiating with the new urban communities to give them licences, as they are refusing to grant any. We will seek to obligate the governorates and local development entities to determine specific locations on the streets for stationing food trucks. And we will subject them to a time limit according to the new amendments, so that if this period is exceeded, this will be considered as implicit approval by the local development authorities.”
Such amendments could reduce the problems that food-truck owners may have in getting licences, said Hani Ramadan, who is in charge of such issues in the Road Al-Farag neighbourhood of Cairo.
“Since the issuing of the law in 2018, we have obtained a presidential directive to enable young people who want to turn their cars into food trucks,” Ramadan said. However, restrictions in the current law designed to avoid crowding and traffic congestion cannot be overlooked. “This means that a food truck must be placed approximately 200 metres away from a restaurant or another food truck. They must also be away from a mosque, a church, or a school, and this is not always easy to achieve on congested main streets.
“When we receive a request to license a food truck, we find out where its owner wants to put it. We then notify the traffic police to ensure that its presence at this location is not obstructing the traffic. We also take into account the importance of finding a bustling location to maximise sales and profits for the owner. Finding the right place may take time, which in turn slows down the authorisation,” Ramadan said.
“The procedures are numerous and complex, and some of them might even undermine a project’s success,” said Mahmoud Azzam, the owner of a sweets and beverages cart in Cairo.
“For example, one of the specific conditions for placing the food truck is that it should be in the same square as my apartment. This is not advantageous for me because the area in which I live is neither busy nor money-making, whereas food trucks should be placed in crowded upscale areas to maximise profits.
“There is also the difficulty of fulfilling the complex requirements of the General Authority for Investment (GAFI) regarding food trucks. It requires two basins, one for sterilisation and another for general use, among other security and safety requirements. But it these were implemented, there would be a need for a much larger truck.”
“I would like to see the government form a special committee to discuss the problems that vehicle owners face and resolve them so that we can obtain licences more easily and quickly,” Azzam said.
GETTING A LICENCE: Amr Helmi, a food truck owner in Cairo, expressed a different point of view, however.
“I put in a lot of effort to get the truck’s licence, and I met all the requirements. I even used the vertical space above the truck to install an extension box that connects to the truck adding more space to the original length and allowing me to add the necessary basins and a heater. I placed the water tank in the extended vertical space to meet all the GAFI’s requirements because I want this vehicle to be the first in a series of trucks one day.
“But I ran into another issue in the area where I am working, and I am always being issued with fines and police reports for occupying the road with no chance of getting a permit to park in the same spot.”
Despite the fines that Helmi pays, “it is still better for me to go on in this way,” he said. “Whatever the fines, the rent for the shop opposite me is some LE15,000 per month. The annual cost of a food truck licence is LE5,000, so this project is better suited to me.”
Karim Abdel-Alim, the owner of an attractive food truck serving drinks, said that “despite my attempts to obtain a licence, I have had difficulties as I did not follow the approved shape of the truck when designing mine. I believe that to make a food truck successful, it has to be designed in a way that captures people’s attention.
“I worked to achieve uniqueness in my design, and in fact the majority of food truck owners modify them by themselves or in the traditional workshops in the Bab Al-Sheariya district of Cairo. But I wanted my truck to be made by a specialist car engineer, which took a lot of time and effort.
“I started out by buying a classic Volkswagen transporter, and then I spent about seven months searching the market for its original components. I finally found the original handles and steering wheel. Even though I did not intend to drive the truck, I wanted to return it to its era. I painted it black and white with a leather roof to reflect the vintage look and to catch my customers’ attention and make them feel distinguished.”
Adel Mossad, a car worker, said that “since the issuance of the law authorising food trucks, my team and I have been preparing trucks that conform to the specifications of the GAFI. The results are so precise that some customers bring specialists to inspect the food truck and obtain approvals as soon as I have finished working.
“According to the specifications, an anti-bacterial tank, basins for washing, and food preservation facilities are required. In addition, we follow insulation and safety measures to avoid fires or electrical short circuits.
“Although many food trucks on the streets today do not meet the requirements for a licence, there are some procedures that a food truck cannot work without, even temporarily, until licences are issued,” said Said Abul-Enein, head of the extension department in Road Al-Farag.
“Our department inspects food carts in the neighbourhood to ensure that workers have the required health certificates and adopt food safety rules. They must install a water tank and a fridge and keep food labels, such as the packaging of any processed meat with the production and expiry dates on it.
“The health inspector in the neighbourhood of my food truck visited me and praised the cleanliness of my truck and my commitment to wearing gloves while preparing meals,” Azzam said.
“I also made sure to obtain a permit from the electricity company where my food truck is stationed.
“Even though the law was passed more than four years ago, only a small percentage of truck owners have obtained licences,” Ramadan said. “Some truck owners rent a private space in a commercial mall or a petrol station to park in without obstructing the traffic.
“I am trying to rent the spot where I park in the street as a private parking space,” Helmi said. But this solution is not available to Azzam. “The area where I want to park is not available for rent, as I want to station my truck near a private university or a shopping area to get a lot of customers,” he said.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 5 January, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly