Hospitality Business Magazine

The Lady’s got wheels

3 Third White Lady

Iconic takeaway caravan The White Lady is filling a gap in quality fast food at large events in Auckland. Veronica Johnston reports.

“People love The White Lady.”

“Our burgers are honest and our ingredients are fresh and prepared onsite. I’ve eaten thousands of them myself and I still love my grandfather’s recipe!”

Max Washer, owner of The White Lady in Auckland, is explaining why 50 years on he’s steered the popular food truck towards large-scale events.

“There is a lack of quality fast food especially at sporting, music and trade festivals. People are turning away from the traditional carnival-type foods and looking for new gourmet and alternative options.”

Started by Pop Washer in 1948, and now run by his grandson Max, The White Lady is possibly the oldest family-run hospitality business in Auckland.

In 1948 Pop Washer parked The White Lady downtown on Shortland St and started serving pies and coffee for the “6 o’clock swill and shift workers” recalls Max.

Family legend has it that all the councillors back then strongly opposed licensing The White Lady but the Masons and Catholics were on Pop’s side and they eventually won the battle.

The Lady sat on Shortland St from 1948 until 2006 when the BNZ tower reconstruction forced a move around the corner to Commerce Street where the caravan now presides.

Nowadays, the city’s growing number of eateries has prompted Max to take the Lady’s burgers to the people.

3 Eve and MaxA satellite caravan nicknamed ‘Eve’ parks up at the big games and music festivals while The White Lady holds the fort in Commerce St.

“We have catered for events for a number of years,” explains Max. “When we realised the popularity of The White Lady with the late night crowd and event goers, it wasn’t hard to see we could potentially run a great ‘event’ business.”

He says ‘Eve’ has quickly become a crowd favourite too: “We are busy, very busy! We must be doing something right.”

Auckland has eight street food vending licensees including Mr Whippy, The White Lady and Eve. New York City has 5000.

Max wants the Council to relax bylaws that restrict growth in the food truck scene. “I would love to see this change and welcome workshops with the Council.”

“Options are the spice of life and food trucks allow passionate people to offer their unique creations to consumers,” he says. “They create atmosphere and life from places where regular businesses are not interested in trading changing like the scenery of a play, a drab daytime business facade into a vibrant carnival.”

No doubt Max and his family have seen some eye-opening late-night sights in the last 50 years. But Max says most people are simply amazed the business is still running after half a century. People often say to him: “In my younger days, I used to eat at the White Lady all the time…” or “I remember one night in town when … and we ended up at The White Lady.”

Yes, the Washers are definitely doing something right then.