Te Awamutu food trucks prove a hit

By Bethany Rolston

First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson and client services manager Lorraine Nicholson visited Te Awamutu in February to investigate our retail opportunities and facilitate a retail workshop.
First Retail managing director Chris Wilkinson and client services manager Lorraine Nicholson visited Te Awamutu in February to investigate our retail opportunities and facilitate a retail workshop.

Curbside Cuisine manager Tania Simpson says the weekly line-up of food trucks, which debuted on Friday night, was a hit.

The food trucks will fill 11 parks outside Regent Theatre every Friday night during winter months.

She says Curbside Cuisine will deliver what the retailers have asked - revitalise Te Awamutu.

"The event did everything I expected it to do, which was bring people into town. It was very successful."

And a retail expert agrees.

Chris Wilkinson is the managing director of First Retail - a Wellington-based company that specialises in helping cities, towns and businesses develop opportunities and drive performance.

He says Te Awamutu needs to take a fresh perspective.

In February he spent time in Te Awamutu at the invitation of Waipa District Council.

He led a workshop for Te Awamutu business owners and retailers.

They developed strategies to "lift performance, increase relevance and manage risk" for the Te Awamutu town centre.

He says those who attended addressed issues in Te Awamutu's retail scene.

"One of the things we saw with Te Awamutu is that it's got a fantastic daytime food and beverage offer but in the evenings it really struggles."

"They talked about how people would go to Hamilton and Cambridge for a meal or to socialise. We recognised that was a challenge.

"A lot of the stakeholders that came to the workshop were talking about having pop-up events and those other types of things that would get people re-engaging with the town centre."

"Curbside Cuisine wasn't something we brought to the table - it was already on the table when we were working with Te Awamutu."

He says the line-up of food trucks is an economically viable option for the town.

"Instead of having to opening a restaurant and pay an expensive chef etc, you've got a business that can open on a dime.

"If that's what it's going to take to re-engage people with the town centre, that's really good."

He says it will be good for businesses in Te Awamutu.

"It's going to help business for the likes of theatres and it will drive business into the pubs because Curbside Cuisine is not licensed."

Mr Wilkinson says Te Awamutu needs to "take a fresh perspective".

He says critics of the food trucks need to work with the event, rather than against it.

"Te Awamutu has huge opportunities - it's going to need to get some changed thinking happening. There'll always be legacy thinking happening - people who don't understand the dynamics of what drives provincial town centres.

"If the people that are criticising take some time and go and look at contemporary things that are happening in other parts of New Zealand, they'll see that these types of initiatives are actually really successful.

"People have to think wider, because the benefit is wider.

"It does take time and it does require some changed thinking."

- Te Awamutu Courier

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