River Cottage Australia

How To Start Your Own Food Van

So you’re thinking about buying a food van and hitting the road?

Here’s some advice from Paul and the experts that can save you a lot of time and trouble in getting your own food van going.

Why do it?

A food van allows the freedom of taking your food pretty much anywhere, from a market, or a festival to a great street-side position and letting the crowd find you, like the Mandalay Bus.

What you need to know

  1. Think about size: Bigger allows you more room to work and store food and equipment but it is very cumbersome to maneuver and will affect the overall weight and fuel costs. Your towing vehicle will have a maximum towing capacity and the van itself will have a maximum weight the chassis and brakes can take.
  2. Structurally safe and roadworthy: This should be your first priority after buying your van. Once roadworthy you are able to tow the van to workshops to have equipment installed and further modifications or repairs made.
  3. Hygiene: Before you can start selling food out of your van you need to have it comply to standards, inspected and pass your local food authority where you are based and also where you plan to sell food. For us it was: www.foodauthority.nsw.gov.au

In short, we could have no porous surfaces, we needed sealed floors – including going a few centimeters up the walls where they joined, two sinks in total; one for washing hands and a separate one for food preparation.

Also, when serving, the person handling money should not handle any food.


  1. Power: Our van runs on 15 Amp power which can be attached from on-site mains via extension lead or you can use a generator. Generators can be noisy and output fumes which your customers might not love.
  2. Cooking Facilities: Our van was fitted out with a gas flat-top stove that allowed Paul to cook directly onto and also place pots and pans on-top of. The oven was electric as they are generally more accurate and reliable.
  3. Refrigeration: Our van came with a regular fridge already installed but an under-counter fridge would make better use of the space.
  4. Ventilation: A range hood was installed above the stove to assist with extraction of smoke, a removable skylight was also cut into the roof to assist with the smoke and also help keep the working area cool.
  5. Work space: Stainless steel work tops which meet the interior walls and a splash back behind the stove allow for hygienic and easy to clean work spaces.


  1. Bigger is not always better when it comes to choosing your van, size will impact weight, which will impact towing –costing you more money in fuel and it makes it harder to maneuver into your cooking positions.
  2. Workflow is everything when you are serving, having people on dedicated roles so that speed and consistency are optimum. Paul was always cooking and never handling money or orders.
  3. There is a limit to the kind of food you can prepare in the food van and how much of it you can do, one of the main reasons for this limit is down to prep space and washing up. When Paul cooked at SAGE Markets, The Hamlet in Canberra and for the Monster Street Party in Narrandera he needed a commercial kitchen to prep as many elements beforehand. Even seasoned pros like the Mandalay Boys with a huge double decker bus need an offsite prep area.

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