Creating an American Business

Top Challenges that Food Truck Owners Face

By Lisa Kaplan Gordon

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.

Business Hassles

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.

Money Crunch

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 week.

Power Problems

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 industry.” 

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 FoodTruckr that 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. 

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