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When I was a kid, the only
“food trucks” I knew were the Good Humor truck that sold popsicles to suburban
kids in summer and the hot dog and soft pretzel carts that dotted downtown Manhattan.
The food truck industry has
exploded since then. Now, trucks are everywhere selling everything from shaved
ice to pork Cubanos. Food on wheels has swelled to a $1.2 billion industry,
growing at more than 12 percent over the past five years, according to February
2015 statistics collected by Statistic Brain ResearchInstitute.
These days, more than 4,000
trucks sell food throughout the U.S. But the life of a food truck owner is not
all cheese fries and powdered donuts. Food truck vendors must deal with
problems that plague both restaurateurs and fleet owners. Either the shrimp
delivery is late, or the transmission is acting up and the parking permit is
about to expire.
It’s enough to give a food truck
owner agita. Here are more challenges
that food truck owners face.
Starting a business is hard
when it’s planted in one place. But when the business rolls over city, county
and state lines, then understanding and abiding by each municipal code can be
head-exploding. You must research local rules governing food handling, of
course, but also bathroom locations, commissaries, parking laws, permits, truck
inspections and zoning – and they can all change when you move your truck up
the street and over a town line.
In Los Angeles, for
instance, a food truck parked over an hour must provide access to a bathroom
within 200 feet of the truck; in Boston, bathroom access needs to be within 500 feet.
Operating a food truck is
way more expensive than it looks. Start-up costs typically amount to about
$90,000 (including the $85,000 truck), and it generates an annual income of
about $290,000. Not only must you pay standard restaurant costs, but fuel costs
are at the mercy of fluctuating gas prices; and since food trucks get only
about 7 miles per gallon, operating costs can vary tremendously from week to
Many trucks have multiple
generators supplying power since they usually aren’t able to plug into the grid,
and it’s often hard to find a location where you can set-up portable generators
safely. They must be far away from the truck to protect customers and staff
from loud noise and carbon monoxide poisoning. And if it rains or snows, you
must cover generators to prevent electrocution. A GenTent, which attaches to and shields portable
generators, is a great solution to that problem. Here’s what an Illinois food
truck and GenTent owner said.
“As a food
truck service based in central Illinois, we experience a great deal of
inclement weather and need to rely on our portable generators to operate in any
conditions,” says Daniel Krause, owner, The Cracked Truck. “We purchased many
GenTents to keep our generators fully protected from the elements and found it
extremely easy and quick to assemble and disassemble. Now we can ensure
uninterrupted business by operating our generators without worrying about them
being ruined by rain – a great advantage for anyone in our service
No Rest for the Weary
It doesn’t take long for a
food truck owner to realize that his boots must be on the ground all day, every
day. Expansion means dividing time between trucks, which, some owners complain,
hurts productivity and quality.
Matt from Scratch Truck
told FoodTruckrthat he didn’t realize that his comfort
food truck would demand his attention 7 days a week, 11 hours a day. “If my eyes are open, I am working on the
business in some capacity,” he said. “It is all-consuming. I
love it, but didn’t realize there would be so much to do all the time.”
Something’s Always Breaking
Mechanics will always
betray you. If the stove’s not acting up, then the engine’s running hot or the
propane tank is suddenly empty. You can spend half your life putting air in
tires, filling gas tanks and performing other maintenance tasks that a truck
and professional kitchen require.
In the end, owning a food
truck is a great way to indulge your inner foodie for a fraction of the cost of
opening a restaurant. But owning a food truck isn’t a walk in the park, though
that might be a perfect location to sell cold drinks. Being forearmed about
possible problems will help you decide if food trucking is right for you.