The movie Chef makes the food truck business seem simple. You buy a truck, rig up a stove, and viola! You’re in business! The reality is, of course, more complicated than that. Still, for the foodies and chefs out there, starting up a food truck is a much easier path to culinary success than hoping to be discovered and chosen to head the kitchen of a super fancy or famous restaurant. If you love cooking, baking, and feeding people, here are the factors you must consider before you sell your first cup of coffee.
This seems obvious, right? With the food truck craze showing no signs of dying down, finding a truck with cooking and baking capabilities is easier than it used to be. For one thing, you can buy them pre-made instead of having to trick out your own van and hoping nothing explodes. Still, ready to go food trucks are not cheap and there’s no average cost. A food truck can cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars (for the kind that look more like kiosks and pop-ups) to thirty thousand dollars (for the kind that is super fancy with lots of bells and whistles). If your credit is reasonable, you should be able to take out a loan for an actual truck and pay it off with your truck’s profits. If you don’t have great credit (or are just starting to build your credit), a short term loan or an alternative payday loan can help you cover the cost of a cart or kiosk and you can work your way up to something larger.
What do you want to serve? Here’s a handy tip: food trucks do not do well if they try to go too far into the realm of the esoteric or gourmet. You don’t have to resign yourself to burgers and brats but try to be realistic about your offering. For example, if you don’t have running water, you’ll probably want to stay away from soups or pastas. It’s also good to serve food for which ingredients are plentiful. Yes, people are more forgiving to a food truck that runs out of a food than a restaurant. Still, you don’t want to have to rely on an ingredient that is expensive or hard to find.
Where will you set up your cart or park your truck? Unlike how the business looks on TV and in the movies, you actually can’t simply park your truck literally anywhere and start serving. Most cities have very specific zoning laws surrounding food preparation and service–where it can happen, how it has to happen, health codes, etc. Check in with your city’s licensing board to find out where the proper zoning is located and take your pick of what’s available.
The best locations are, of course, places that see a lot of foot traffic but that don’t have a lot of restaurants or food options nearby. Think college campuses, stadium parking lots, fairgrounds, business districts. A shopping district will likely be full of cafes and eateries so the competition will be pretty stiff, but if you can corner the market for your cuisine somewhere else, why wouldn’t you do that?
Solo or Commune?
Food trucks are so popular now that many food truck owners are banding together to purchase larger lots and plots of land on which their trucks will operate. They rig up electrics and water stations and everybody chips in for the expenses. They often arrange the carts in a line or a circle and then place seating in the open spaces. It’s like an outdoor food court.
There are a lot of benefits to this arrangement. It’s cheaper than having to pay the city directly for independent electrics, sewer, etc. It also helps bring in customers who might not have otherwise happened across your truck. And, of course, there’s the camaraderie.
That said, for some, going solo feels like the better option. This way they are only liable to themselves if they have trouble affording operating costs, etc.
The food truck business can be grueling. In the beginning, you might be tempted to try to run your truck all by yourself. This is a bad idea. For one thing, it reduces the number of customers you can serve. For another, it will mean shackling yourself to your truck without a break during your operating hours. You should have at least one other person to help you out with taking orders, handling the cash, etc. If you can afford it, hiring another cook to help you split up the days is also a good idea.
For the independent foodie entrepreneur, a food truck can be a fantastic business. Just make sure you consider all of your costs and legalities first.