Food trucks are a relatively new addition to Sri Lanka’s culinary scene, with independent food trucks first making an appearance around 2015. Now, five years later, there are a few more food trucks dotted around Colombo, each with their own distinct offering, slowly building food truck culture that could potentially one day rival that of New York City.
Crepe Runner is one of these revolutionary food trucks, offering a selection of sweet and savoury crepes designed to take people on a unique gastronomic journey. The Sunday Morning Brunch caught up with Crepe Runner Founder Abdus Salaam to learn more about Crepe Runner and its journey from a single food truck to a chain of three locations.
What made you start Crepe Runner and why?
Food trucks were in their infancy in mid-2015, and I saw that many of those businesses had issues with quality, branding, and service. I sensed that the market was missing something and if executed properly, it could become a real success.
In 2016, my passion for food trucks grew as there weren’t many around. The initial idea was to serve “waffle-burgers” and plans were in place to launch a food truck called Waffle Runner. Plans changed though when I visited Melbourne and had sampled crepes from a French brand serving locals there. The taste and recipe were just perfection.
I knew then that I had to bring crepes to Sri Lanka, and Crepe Runner was born. I researched and adjusted until I found recipes that suited Sri Lankan taste buds and went all in.
I launched Crepe Runner as the first food truck to serve sweet and savoury crepes in the streets of Colombo with the capacity to serve 200 crepes a day.
I was fascinated the first time I saw crepes being served in the streets of Melbourne. There were long lines of people waiting to get their hands on crepes and I just knew it had to be something special.
The second I tried one, I knew I wanted to bring it to Sri Lanka. They tasted incredible and the packaging was innovative and made it easy to eat. I really wanted to serve something different to the local market, and to me, the first bite of a crepe takes you to France, swirling you in a world of flavour before bringing you back
Tell us about the energy and the team behind Crepe Runner?
My team consists of people who, like me, understand the importance of hustle. The whole team is qualified with various degrees and qualifications, from CIMA to MBAs (masters in business administration) and beyond. But we all understand and promote the hustling mindset. It started with my brothers and friends, and the team at Crepe Runner functions as one family now. We are open to all cultures and races when it comes to recruitment, particularly of students and those with day jobs looking to be more independent.
Crepe Runner journeyed from one food truck to three outlets. How did it happen?
I believe in the “art of not giving up”. Crepe Runner was just a raw idea and converting it to reality was exciting. The whole concept had to be designed and the hardest part was to plan operations as we were new to the food industry. We had to learn by trial and error, but it was worth the risk. Effective business operation is key. If not planned effectively, we lose our edge. The food industry is an entirely different world and is super competitive.
As a business, Crepe Runner’s vision was clear and we stuck to our instincts and supported it with analytics and scenario-based planning. The plan was to control the supply chain and systemise everything. We had to live and breathe planning, execution, and development. We never compromise on the quality of our ingredients and we took customer service to the extent where we educated the customers on how the product would be, how it could be customised, and how it was served.
We launched Crepe Runner in January 2019 and it created just a ripple in the market. It was a learning curve for the whole team, and we worked hard to meet our targets. The hard work paid off and Crepe Runner gained popularity, becoming the talk of the town.
We then launched our second outlet in Mount Lavinia, another opportunity which our team used to grow and become stronger. Demand grew to the point that we launched our third outlet at Cool Planet Maharagama earlier this month.
The passion of the team makes this kind of growth possible, as well as always remembering our core operating values and using them as a guide.
What makes Crepe Runner special?
We truly believe that the customer is king. We take all feedback very seriously and continuously develop and improve.
Crepe Runner exists because of its service and the product itself. Who doesn’t love posing with a crepe in hand? Customers love sharing emotions and we have disrupted the market by giving them something unique to share.
We treat our customers as a part of the Crepe Runner family. Every order is based on relationship and trust and is not transactional. If you still have not visited us, you are missing out on a whole lot of fun and the best crepes in town.
What were the challenges you faced when building a food business?
The competition of the food business is a challenge, but one that we treat very positively. Where is the fun in it if there is no competition?
Every market has its own problems and if you really invest the time, you will find solutions that convert these problems into opportunities and be able to cater a marvellous solution whilst adding value to it.
Crepe Runner was built from scratch. Sourcing raw materials was a challenge because the availability of certain products was exceedingly rare. Hygiene and product processing is also key in a restaurant business. Employees go through a training period and are given lots of practical knowledge and education.
How did the pandemic hit Crepe Runner? What was it like?
Like every business, Crepe Runner had to halt operations temporarily due to customer safety, employee safety, and government regulations. Nevertheless, we reacted proactively and were able to restart operations quickly.
It was tough but (we) faced it positively and attacked the situation from a business perspective. It is important for every business to have a contingency plan and be able to make quick decisions to sustain the business when faced with a threat.
Our passionate team gave it their all to keep business alive with uncompromising service. There is no excuse in the food trade. You have to show up and you have to perform.
What advice would you give young entrepreneurs starting out?
Business is more than a normal routine for me. I look at businesses as brands and I believe that they must evolve and not grow informally. There is a saying: “First build a brand. Then you are in business.”
Entrepreneurship comes from within; no one can imitate or fake it. You need to work for it regardless of its limited possibilities or doubts. Most people tend to wait for things to happen in life. My advice to individuals is to make things happen. Start from some place, from some point, and keep at it. If you are passionate enough, no one can stop you.
Be passionate, be obsessed, and be willing to show up and compete no matter how many times you fail. Don’t leave any room in life for regret five or 10 years down the line. Seize the day.