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leaving Braintree for new challenges

The Giant Coca Cola Can on the layby | the German business couple and their food truck business impacted by the recession continue to move forward. Regina and Stefan Schenkelberg said goodbye last Friday to the layby that facilitated a trading pitch for the business they’ve known for the last 36 months. „We have our bills to pay but are not making the profit to support those expenses here in rural Essex.“ they explained when asked why they are not satisfied of trading locations in and around Braintree.

couple's passion for the business
“A lot of trading days in the rain, freezing cold or sunshine,” said Stefan as he embraced Regina.




They see it as a challenge; Just a few days ago they celebrated 500 days out serving finest food:



THE LAY-BY #A131 #off Great Leighs

At the beginning lorry drivers were their almost only customers, later more and more cars pulled in to sample their good traditional German food. Then late last year, the effect of the recession was felt and plans were made to relocate the ‚mobile kitchen operation‘ to London. Street food vendors may be taking a hit at the moment, but adapting to this recessive climate gives them staying power to survive. No one complains when things are going well; however, a sharp decline in the demand for tasty but slightly more expensive cuisine has left us scratching our heads. Ironically, the greasy burger business is on the up rise, Stefan said when asked by one of the customers three weeks ago why that was that yet another burger van parked on that same stretch on the A131 just yards up the road from their layby.

“It’s hard,” Regina said. “You have lots of good memories and we made quite some good friends in Braintree, over in Harwich at the bootsales. It’s a lot of hard work to set up the ‚can‘ in the morning to be most attractive to our customers, but we will surely come back for some events in Essex. For our customers who loved our food we like  to remind you that we also operate an online store and we will soon be able to add more products, such as the most wanted German Xmas Stollen”

The couple bought the food truck business 3 years ago when they were 47 and 45 years old. The trailer had been owned by Coca Cola Enterprises and used as a promotional trailer to promote their soft drinks.

The ‚can‘ has recently undergone some refurbishment to smarten up the appearance as it became a bit tatty over the years.

smartened up
decorating the coke can

Their marathon, seeking prosperity:
“We struggled for some years after we left our homeland back in 1994. Becoming involuntary victims of crime in Germany it has been not at all easy for us and we are still in the marathon seeking prosperity in life. I worked as dishwasher, factory worker and for the last 9 years before we opened the food truck business in freelance editing, translation and management consultancy. It’s been what we call our own way in resuming normal lives,” said Stefan noting that their oldest son, now an undergraduate student enjoying a gap year by supporting the family business, was only 3 years old at the time when they left their homeland and their youngest son, born in Ireland, knows the food truck business since becoming a teenager.

As for the future of Gourmet Express Mobile Catering, the Schenkelbergs don’t want to confirm yet where they will have their trading pitches. Chesham was good fun but realistically for them the area around St Albans offers far greater growth opportunities and they will be keeping Chesham markets as an opportunity, so it remains on the back burner. It will be a couple of new trading spots close to where they will be moving near St. Albans and of course they will attend a couple of Chrismas markets.

However, they know from experience it’s not feasible to continue trading on the highways for them.

“Coming winter we’re looking at more options,” Stefan said. “ Just buying a building and turning it into a restaurant would be too expensive.”

After a couple of hurdles they had to overcome they are now looking to move at the end of this month. The question of when The Giant Coke Can will be re-launched in Hertfordshire will be answered soon; Regina said they’ll likely decide by the first or second week of November this year. Either way, she wants people to know they’ll survive.

“We’ll be fine,” she said.