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Industry Profile: Food Trucks

- Friday, September 14, 2012

As the American public evolves to a fast pace and high efficiency lifestyle, many entrepreneurs' dream of owning a restaurant has likewise adapted. The recent trend of Food Trucks appearing in parking lots and street corners in urban areas is a clear response to our culture's growing need for on-the-go services. While fast-food chain restaurants and street carts have long benefitted from a busy culture, today's entrepreneurs are recognizing a desire for more exciting, and palatable, solutions.

The initiator of the Food Truck revolution, and by far the most successful endeavor to date, Kogi BBQ, belongs to Chef Roy Choi, famous for his fusion Korean-Mexican cuisine which he first offered from a mobile kitchen to the L.A. public in 2009. Chef Choi brings fresh innovation to traditional concepts such as Spicy Pork Tacos and Short Rib Sliders, creations that are quick to produce, but skillfully crafted to please the senses. Many trucks offering high-end or gourmet menus profit from customers who may not venture into a fine dining restaurant for their lunch break but find the food truck alternative more accessible (and more affordable.)

Even lower-end food trucks choose highly specialized concepts to set themselves apart from the crowd of quick fixes. One Chicago food truck, Southern Mac and Cheese, has turned the simple American comfort food into a popular novelty through their rotating menu of creative varieties. There is even a truck called Fido To-Go, which targets health-conscious/on-the-go pet owners, selling dog treats made with natural ingredients, including gluten free options.

Successful food trucks are highly integrated in social media networks, utilizing tools such as Facebook and Twitter to inform customers of hours and locations, as well as search websites dedicated to providing maps and listings of local food trucks. As a newcomer to the urban food scene, food trucks must make themselves known and accessible to their fast-flowing consumer base.

Start-up costs of food trucks widely vary depending on whether an entrepreneur decides to buy their truck new or used, previously fitted with the necessary equipment or needing renovations. Cost is also heavily dependent on the locality of the business. Certification fees, insurance requirements, and parking regulations vary by state and can pose significant challenges to those wishing to introduce their food truck to the market. Parking is also a challenge that every food truck owner will face. Every local parking department will have different regulations regarding where trucks may park, how long they can park, and who they can park next to. In many cities, including Chicago, food trucks are not allowed to park within 200 feet of stationary restaurants as a means of protecting the traditional establishments.

However, one recent development in Chicago's food truck regulations has many entrepreneurs excited about the increasing feasibility of operating a truck in the city. July 25, The Chicago City Council approved an ordinance allowing cooking to take place on board food trucks, a convenience that was previously not allowed in the city. Prior to the ordinance being passed, cooks had to prepare their food in a stationary kitchen before relocating to their selling spot, limiting the quality and range of product possibilities. This new allowance promises that Chicago may see soon a greater presence of food trucks in our midst.

For more information on starting your own food truck business, including estimates for startup costs and helpful tips for understanding your competition, visit this resource

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