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National Restaurant Association - Food trucks: the wheel deal

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Food trucks: the wheel deal

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Pepe Food Truck Photo Courtesy of Scott Suchman

The food truck trend continues to accelerate as entrepreneurs use them to enter the restaurant industry and sometimes spin off brick-and-mortar operations.

Established restaurants, especially fast casual operations, also are launching food trucks. In fact, 19 percent of fast casual restaurants say they are very or somewhat likely to launch one in the next year or two, according to National Restaurant Association research.

Thinking about hitting the road? Consider these tips to ensure a smooth ride: 

  • Decide whether to jump on the bandwagon. A food truck can help you reach new customers, but it comes with unique challenges. Those include weather dependency, tight quarters and mechanical breakdowns. “Don’t launch a truck just because it seems like everyone else is doing it,” says Rob Wilder, who runs the ThinkFoodGroup’s Pepe food truck in Washington, D.C., with partner Chef José Andrés. “Make sure you have a clear picture of what you expect to achieve.”
  • Know the rules of the road. Research your city’s codes and regulations regarding food trucks. Many municipalities have permit and parking laws. Some require operators to prepare food in a commissary before serving it from the truck.
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    Susan Feniger, Border Grill Truck
    Take your new venture on a test ride. Before buying a food truck, Border Grill owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger rented one. The test was successful, and they now own two trucks that complement their brick-and-mortar units in Santa Monica, Los Angeles and Las Vegas.
  • Consider a trailer. While they lack the mobility of food trucks, trailers are less expensive to buy and have fewer liability issues, says Hoover Alexander, who operates Hoover's Texa-Mexi-Que Trailer in Austin, Texas, near his brick-and-mortar Hoover's Cooking.
  • Develop a limited menu. With space at a premium, the menu needs to be lean and streamlined, Alexander says. Keep on-site preparation simple because often only two people can staff a small trailer or truck, he says. Chris Hodgson, who operates Hodge Podge and Dim and Den Sum trucks, says his offerings are mostly “scoop and serve” items, such as macaroni and cheese, fried chicken and veggie chili. “Speed is the name of the game,” he says. After appearing on the Food Network’s “The Great Truck Race,” Hodgson launched Hodge’s restaurant in Cleveland.
  • Be a gourmet on the go. Consumers crave chef-quality food in a grab-and-go setting. Hodge Podge dresses up its mac ’n’ cheese by using goat cheese or incorporating truffles. Andrés features Spanish sandwiches, such as the “Butifarra Burger” (fresh pork, roasted peppers and aioli), on his Pepe truck. 
  • Design your truck/trailer to match your concept. Maximize your space by designing your kitchen to meet your menu needs, says Roaming Hunger founder Ross Resnick, whose company connects entrepreneurs with truck builders. Budget $80,000 to $100,000 for a new build, he suggests, and a bit less for a retrofit.
  • Capitalize on your brick-and-mortar kitchen. Use your restaurant’s kitchen for prep work. “One of our units acts as a commissary,” says Mike Rypka, who operates 18 Torchy’s Tacos units in Texas, including one trailer. Reduce food waste by being conservative when you stock your truck/trailer for the day, says Alexander. “If we run low, we just call the restaurant to ask for more.”

 

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