Food Trucks Gaining Popularity
Entrepreneurs look for trends to start new businesses. Food trucks are a recent trend that is catching on. These mobile food providers are becoming popular all over the country, and are quickly gaining popularity in the Cleveland area.
The street-food business, that includes mobile food trucks and carts, is a $1 billion industry that grew 8.4 percent from 2007 to 2012. Seventy-eight percent of street food vendors have four or fewer employees. It is difficult to know for sure how many of these businesses there are in the country because they are growing so fast.
River Dog Café in Rocky River recently expanded into the food truck business. “We (co-owners Jennifer and Christian Barnes) wanted to expand our business and liked the flexibility a truck offered. It was a way to get our name out there and have some fun doing it,” according to Jennifer Barnes.
Food trucks have become popular for two major reasons: First, consumers are looking for an inexpensive, convenient alternative for breakfast and lunch. The quick service makes for a convenient meal that does not take away time from busy work schedules. Second, it has become quite trendy to eat from a food truck.
From the truck owner’s perspective, a food truck has much lower overhead. “It takes a lot less start-up money for a food truck versus a restaurant,” according to Tricia McCune, co-owner of Wok-n-Roll Food Truck in Cleveland.
Another attraction for the food truck entrepreneur is the ability to move the truck if a location does not work. As with any retail business, location is one of the major decisions that can make or break a business. Popular locations include anywhere a large number of people gather such as offices, shopping centers, schools, festivals, conferences, parks, and even empty lots near populated areas. As more food trucks appear the space available is becoming more limited.
“Restaurants are location, location, location, but when we find a bad location we just don’t go back there. On the flip side, it is harder for our customers to find us when we are open different hours and locations each day,” McCune stated.
Weather can be a challenge for the food truck business according to Judy Neel, owner of Stone Pelican Café in Norton. “One of the challenges is to decide where to set-up for business and which events to participate in. Many events charge a high fee and then if it rains the crowd is very thin— not many people want to stand in the rain for food no matter how good it is.”
Most food trucks started out carrying just sandwiches, tacos and burgers for the lunch crowd. Today, more sophisticated foods are being added. Gourmet food trucks are starting to appear as part of the evolution of this dining venue. Healthier foods, including vegetarian offerings are also becoming more popular. Most food trucks are run locally but now more are owned and operated by fast-food establishments and restaurants such as River Dog Café.
Making sure the truck is complying with local health department rules and regulations can drive up the costs of operating the business. The number of rules depends on whether the truck is cooking food or just serving food that was prepared elsewhere.
Neel said, “As far as regulations, each city is different but in general the regulations are basic food safety rules that apply to all restaurants; however, restaurants typically get inspected annually and our truck gets inspected almost every time we park.”
The increased popularity of food trucks has also led to more regulations. In the past, food trucks had a reputation for not being very clean or healthy but now the industry is more heavily regulated. “Don't be leery about eating off of our truck, the food is always fresh and our inspection reports are exemplary!” Neel said.
While the food truck business may look easy it can be very taxing. Typically owners work for several hours before and after the hours the business is open to customers. Many food truck entrepreneurs are spending time marketing their businesses on social media sites.
McCune stated, “Our hours are all over the place which means we have a lot of late nights followed by early mornings, leaving us constantly trying to figure out where we can crowbar shopping and prepping into our day.”
Barnes said a disadvantage of the food truck business is the uncertainty of how many people you may be serving on a given day. It can be challenging figuring out how much food to prep for different events. Also, “Staffing both a restaurant and the truck can be tricky” she added.
As with any other business, it is important to be different. For a food truck this can be done through a unique menu. More food trucks are specializing in specific types of food. Many are also creating themes to create a brand for their truck. Being clever and consistent can increase the customer base and may even draw some media attention.
The Asian menu at Wok-n-Roll food truck fits this trend. “We have never pulled up to a curb unannounced trying to sell food. It seems to work for some trucks, but we have a very niche cuisine,” according to McCune.
Rocky River resident, Dr. Perry Haan is Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and former Dean of the Business School at Tiffin University.
Dr. Perry Haan is Professor of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, and former Dean of the Business School at Tiffin University. Haan resides in Rocky River and can be reached at 419.618.2867 or firstname.lastname@example.org.