Everybody loves food trucks. They’re easily accessible, they’re fun and, most times, the food they serve is delicious. Question is: as a young restaurateur, does it make more sense to open your own food truck or is opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant smarter? Does the larger investment make for a more sound and stable business? Or is the low operating cost of being a mobile foodery, a place to grab a quick bite, the safer way to go? The food truck craze that we’re currently living in was initially popularized by Chef Roy Choi and his Kogi Korean BGG food trucks, which combined traditional Korean food with Mexican food. Then the scene exploded. Due to the successes of food trucks in major cities such as Los Angeles, Houston and New York, they have been ever expanding on the cultural map. Now we have food truck festivals, food truck television shows like “The Great Food Truck Race,” and they’ve now become a staple of any sort of festival or gathering, from tech conferences to folk and electronic music festivals.
Initially viewed with cautious optimism, many consumers now take it for granted that food trucks are a viable, completely legal and safe place to dine. They’re regulated, codified and well promoted thanks to patrons who are more than happy to get the word out via social media. Walk through any downtown business area across the nation and you’ll find a handful of food trucks selling breakfast, lunch and dinner. Food tucks are commonplace. No longer a novelty, they’re small, niche and officially part of the culinary ecosystem.
But the luster of the nouveau has worn off just a tad. Nevertheless, food trucks still present a great opportunity for any entrepreneurially minded chef with vision and a good, unique product people will find delicious. Getting a food truck stocked, licensed and permitted does require a fair bit of investment (and frustration) but that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to what it takes to get a full-scale restaurant operational. This means a great many food truck chefs can be the masters and commanders of their own culinary destinies with few to no investors to have to worry about. Moreover, food trucks offer greater flexibility and control in ways restaurants do not. If they’re not performing well in a particular locale, they can move to another. Try that with brick and mortar. And, if a certain dish isn’t wowing the customers, making adjustments is easy considering there’s probably only two of three people on the line to inform. Do that in a full-scale restaurant and we’re talking pre-shift meetings and training the front-of-house staff. With innovation being the norm, one overly eclectic taco won’t do you in. The younger demographic and lower cost puts the expectation on novelty and fun, less on providing the superb experience one is bound to expect when they’re shelling out $100 bucks or more for dinner.
One still must maintain a very tight rein on the controls. Social media needs to be spot-on and connections rigorously and tirelessly maintained. Cleanliness, freshness and level of service needs to be impeccable. Because food truck customers are younger and very piped into Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and the like, one negative experience can have a dramatic and lasting effect on growth. So, if you do it, commit and get that crew in tip-top shape.
Looking for adventure? Want to cook what you want to cook? It isn’t too late to steer your own ship, or rather, your own food truck. If you’re ready to work hard, like change and appreciate unpretentious creativity over sophisticated refinement, the food truck just might be your way to go.