The romance and reality of running a food truck
Anyone with a boring 9-to-5 job and some culinary talent has at some point probably dreamed of opening their own food truck.
Just think of it: Hitting the road, hanging out at music festivals, making delicious food, being your own boss.
While running a food truck does involve all those things, it also means plenty of not-so-dreamy things like parking tickets, health permits, hefty payments to event operators, mechanical repairs and sweaty, hard work.
This is what Jill Moskites learned on the road. As one-half of the team operating with husband Josh, she has been making divine grilled-cheese sandwiches on the go for almost eight years.
Along the way the duo has garnered accolades like Best Food Truck in Hartford, Best Grilled Cheese in Connecticut – and Jill even became a champion on the popular TV show “Chopped.”
“It’s an exciting life, but you have to be willing to work hard, because it’s incredibly difficult,” said Moskites, who now operates three mobile locations and one brick-and-mortar restaurant.
It took the couple a full three years before they saw the operation as a viable, standalone business.
Many other would-be chefs harbor the same dream. There are now more than 4 000 food trucks in US, according to market research firm IBISWorld.
That means an annual growth rate of 7.3 percent over the last five years, for an industry that brought in almost a billion dollars in 2017.
So how can food-truck dreamers drive their way to steady financial success? A few road-tested tips:
Do one thing, and do it well.
Most food trucks go wrong trying to generalize. “I have personally seen 15-20 trucks come and go just in my own town, because they didn’t really know what their concept was, and were just flying by the seat of their pants,” said Bruce Smith, owner of Chick-N-Nooga in Chattanooga, Tennessee, whose truck serves his specialty fried chicken.
When you have settled on a home-run dish, then you can develop your brand by building Twitter followers, posting mouth-watering Instagram pics, partnering with other local brands and making media appearances.
Start small with the truck.
Your natural instinct will be to buy the biggest, best food truck out there. Part of this expense will depend on your location, and regulations.
But get something reasonable - or consider renting or leasing to start.
The Whey Station started with a beater. “Other trucks used to laugh at us, because ours was so ugly. But an hour into the event, when lines started forming, they weren’t laughing anymore,” Moskites said.
Be wary of events.
Event organizers have begun to see food trucks as cash cows, skimming a big part of their take. That makes it almost impossible to make a buck - and if you have to hike your prices to break even, that risks alienating your loyal fans.
“Watch out for any event that is taking over 20 percent of your money,” said Smith. “Some are even charging 30 percent or more these days. I would just steer clear of those.”
Calculate all costs, not just some.
Non-food costs will probably take you by surprise.
Fuel, labor, insurance, permits, power usage and parking all add up.
Since every event and each town requires its own permit, the Moskites dropped allot on permits in a single year.