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1. What is a food truck?
Food trucks are restaurants on wheels, typically operated out of a converted van or trailer.
The interior is outfitted with the equipment needed to cook food, including grills, griddles, fryers, ranges, microwaves, and any prep and storage space. The customer orders at a window, and the food is cooked to order and served to go.
Because of space limitations, food truck menus are short but compensate with creativity. Trucks often focus on one or two specialties with intriguing and sometimes ground-breaking flavor combinations.
You’ll find everything from sushi burritos and Korean tacos to amped-up comfort classics like loaded fries and regional barbecue. Though food trucks change locations weekly or sometimes daily, the more established ones have regular itineraries they post on social media for devoted followers.
2. What is the history of food trucks?
The explosion of food trucks started during the recession of 2008, but they’ve been around for decades, tracing their roots to pushcart street vendors in the early 1900s.
Street vending provided legitimate work to a growing immigrant population, but street vendors sought new outlets as restrictions tightened through the years. The first “modern” food trucks coincided with the building boom of the 1960s. They parked at construction sites and catered to blue-collar workers who didn’t have many lunch options nearby.
Things largely remained this way until the Great Recession in 2008, when many people, notably Roy Choi of Kogi fame, turned to food trucks to make a living while providing affordable, high-quality food. Meanwhile, the emergence of mobile phones and apps like Twitter allowed trucks to share real-time locations with customers.
3. What is typically on a food truck menu?
When it comes to the menu, the sky’s the limit. But food trucks have one thing in common: portable eats made or prepped on-site that can be consumed easily and quickly.
Because the overall cost to operate a food truck is much lower than a restaurant, chefs can take risks, be more innovative, and test out new ideas.
For instance, some truck concepts are themed to one ingredient – like bacon-in-everything. Others offer creative riffs on one specific dish, such as grain bowls, fried-chicken sandwiches, tater tots, and even cassoulet. Global cuisines are often highlighted, particularly the fusion of two or three international flavors. Some skip straight to the sweets with dessert-only menus.
4. How do you start a food truck?
Location, location, location! Finding the best place to park is almost as important as the menu. Who are your customers, and where do they hang out? Once you’ve identified your target market, you can seek permits and permission.
Beyond the location, potential food truck owners need to treat the endeavor with the same seriousness and passion as a restaurant, which means creating a business plan and a brand identity.
A memorable logo and truck design (for instance, a truck wrap) will be essential to your marketing plan. Trucks connect with customers and gain loyal fans via social media, often using Twitter, Tiktok, and Facebook.
5. How much does it cost to start a food truck?
For entrepreneurial chefs, the allure is clear. It’s less expensive to open a food truck than a traditional restaurant, not to mention the flexibility of changing locations and menu items if sales go south.
Whether you buy or lease a truck makes a difference. Purchasing a new truck costs between $50,000 to $175,000 and may take months to deliver, whereas a used truck falls between $30,000 to $70,000.
But there are challenges involved in buying used. Turning a regular van into a mobile kitchen is no small feat, and even buying a pre-owned outfitted truck will likely require some upgrading. Less apparent expenses include licenses, parking permits, and rent on a commercial kitchen for prep and storage when the truck is not open.
6. Most popular types of food truck
Customers seek out food trucks to satisfy comfort food cravings. The most successful chefs put a unique twist on their menu items that can’t be found anywhere else.
You can order a plain grilled cheese sandwich almost anywhere, but one with pulled pork and special sauce will keep customers coming back.
Established restaurants are experimenting with food trucks to expand their reach to new locations and customers. The increased demand for healthier food is also impacting the industry, as more trucks offer vegan or plant-based menu items and better labeling of ingredients.
Food trucks are now a $2 billion industry. Whether it’s an incubator for a wild new concept or a truck tied to a commercial brand, mobile kitchens keep on rolling with innovations and delicious food.
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