Cairo food carts get street of their own

Street carts selling food, books and handmade products come together on Cairo's Street 306, a new, hip space that could become the Arab world's largest food venue.

al-monitor Customers buy food from carts on Street 306, eastern Cairo, Egypt, in a picture posted Dec. 21, 2018. Photo by Facebook/Street306.

Jan 10, 2019

Gameel Ahmed stands in his red, shiny food cart and hands noodles, fried chicken or sweet-and-sour soup to his customers. The 30-year-old left his sales job a year ago to pursue a new career in Asian street food.

Ahmed’s food cart is one of the many that offer different types of food, drinks and ice cream on Street 306, the new street food venue in Heliopolis, eastern Cairo.

The project is co-funded by the Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Development Authority (SMEDA), the Ministry of Investment and International Cooperation and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s brainchild, Tahya Misr (Long Live Egypt) Fund.

Tahya Misr Holding Company for Investment and Development established the Aswaq Misr Express for Development and Management to manage and operate the Sreet 306 flagship project, which is to become "the largest youth food complex in the Middle East."

Entrepreneurs who own a cart can rent a space on Street 306 for a fee that ranges between 40,000 Egyptian pounds and 70,000 pounds ($2,200-$3,900).

The project has so far provided loans worth 50 million pounds (roughly $2.8 million) to young entrepreneurs who want to start a micro business or develop their already existing startup. If they do not own a food cart, they can apply for a loan to buy one, get a license and a place to rent. The startups, such as Ahmet's Asian Street Grill, are given a license and a spot on Street 306 so they can launch or expand their business in food, beverages, books or handmade products.

Ahmed said he submitted his application in order to get a spot on Street 306 as soon as he heard of the project a year ago. “We have different kinds of Asian food and a great Filipino chef,” Ahmed told Al-Monitor.

On Dec. 21, ministers and civil society representatives attended the official opening of Street 306.

Nevine Game, CEO of SMEDA, which provides technical and financial support for the startups, told the local press that the project aims at providing venues for urban food carts. Game said that Street 306, which presently has 30 food carts, is expected to become the largest venue for food and beverage providers in Egypt and the Middle East.

Street 306 also provides a space for carts selling books and handmade items. Mohamed Aboelsoud’s Books Bike, which has been roaming the streets of Cairo since 2016, also got a spot on Street 306. “The goal of our project is to break the barrier between people and books,” Aboelsoud, the cofounder of the Books Bike project, told Al-Monitor. Books Bike provide the public with a large selection of books, including youth and adult literature, history books and art books.

Ahmed el-Shami, an economist and professor of feasibility studies at Ain Shams University, told Al-Monitor that the initiative launched by the government would not only create more jobs for young people, but it would also boost the national economy through the integration of the informal economy, by providing licenses to the small businesses that are part of the country's shadow economy.

“The informal economy is worth billions of Egyptian pounds and by integrating it into the national economy the country will hugely benefit financially,” he said.

In 2017, then-Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said that the informal economy was worth 1.8 trillion Egyptian pounds ($100 billion), or 40% of the gross domestic product.

In recent years, the Egyptian government has been supporting entrepreneurs and startups by providing training programs and financial support. In November 2018, Egypt also opened the first regional center for supporting entrepreneurship and innovation in the Middle East and North Africa.

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