Starting your own food truck

By Lily Bellow and Jackeline Pou

A new trend is sweeping the food world from coast to coast: food trucks. And many cities are even changing their laws to keep up with this growing business. This past Tuesday, Los Angeles passed an ordinance that would require the city’s 9,500 trucks to post letter grades imposed by health regulators. And just like restaurants, L.A. trucks can now find themselves out of business with a grade C or lower; potential violations include dirty counters and unwashed hands.

(Watch our video: Street smarts: The proliferation of gourmet food trucks.)

The new law may seem like a setback to some food truck owners but it’s also one of the surest signs of how these new businesses (once considered fringe) have become part of the mainstream commercial culture in many American cities. Despite the new regulations, owning a mobile business still has many advantages, including comparatively low overhead. The average cost of starting up a brick-and-mortar restaurant can be $100,000 to $300,000. That includes the costs of a wait staff and ventilation systems that mobile vendors simply don’t have to worry about.

Depending on where you live, the cost of owning a successful mobile restaurant can be as low as $30,000 and can run as high as $80,000. But while you might think that running a food truck is as easy as pie, don’t be fooled. While the initial start-up cost is lower, the truck biz comes with its own set of problems. Costs include a vending permit, employees, food (of course), and the truck itself, as well as the depot where it’s kept. And in some cities, you have to factor in the rent of a commercial kitchen.

In Chicago, for example, vendors aren’t allowed to prepare food inside the truck­­ — although that law could soon change. And if you so desire, renting a commercial kitchen will allow you to serve up a lot of food, especially if you live in a big city. Another hidden cost is parking tickets. Many truck owners see parking tickets and fines as part of the overhead. (Fines in New York City can be as high as $1,000.) The best place to find this information is probably from your comrades-in-arms: Talk to fellow truck owners in your area to determine how damaging fines in your city can be.

Photo: Flickr/Adam Kuban

Still interested in started up a gourmet food truck business? Now that you have a sense of the overhead, we thought we’d break it down a little further. Here are the five things you Need to Know to start your own mobile food business.

First thing’s first.
You need a concept. Korean BBQ tacos. Designer soft-serve ice cream. Artisanal hot dogs. These are all catchy concepts that have proven successful on the street. Take a walk around your city. Do some Yelping. What’s missing? Is there a popular cuisine you can find in a restaurant that hasn’t yet hit the streets?  Maybe there’s even something delicious that isn’t being served anywhere at all! Has anyone cornered the gourmet breakfast market? Is anyone satisfying that late-night fried chicken craving? Do you live in an area somehow devoid of cupcakes? You get the idea.

Now you need a truck.
Whether you decide to rent or buy, the cost will vary greatly. Some truck owners scored their trucks online — in fact, a quick search will yield dozens of websites facilitating the sale of used catering trucks. Word to the wise: on eBay you can find a “mobile kitchen” for as low as $5,000, but as any experienced eBayer knows, these deals aren’t always as sweet as they sound. Elsewhere, fully loaded vehicles can run up to $60,000, so before you blow five grand on that impulse bid, do a little research and make sure the product is up to snuff. New York truck owner Oleg Voss found a short cut: “We bought a truck from Pennsylvania, it wasn’t that expensive. The actual truck itself cost us about $6,000.  The expensive part is actually just retrofitting it.”

Get a permit.
It may seem like all you need is a truck and good food, but it isn’t that simple. First, contact your city or county health or environmental department to determine licensing requirements for a mobile vendor. In Philadelphia, a permit is only $150, but in bigger cities like Los Angeles a permit is $695. In New York City, a permit is technically $200, but good luck getting one. New York City has a cap of 5,100 trucks on the streets, but there are an estimated 10,000 vendors in operation — meaning most truck owners find themselves buying a permit on the black market. The cost of a black market permit can run as high as $15,000.

Photo: Flickr/Ricardo Diaz

Develop your brand identity.
As with any other business, branding is key. Most of the successful food trucks you find on the streets are tricked out; they don’t look like your average dirty water hot-dog cart. Spend some time working out your title, your logo, even your color scheme. When your business is mobile, it should also be eye-catching to draw a crowd.  And speaking of crowds — don’t forget to go ahead and register a Twitter account so you can announce your route and your menu; some trucks even take advance orders.

Scope out a good spot.
Repeat after us: location, location, location. “Business is all about location. You don’t have a good location you’re stuck,” says Los Angeles truck owner Jose Perez.  Maybe there’s one corner that’s totally unoccupied, although you might want to ask yourself why. If there’s already a place where underserved hungry crowds naturally gather (college campuses, concert venues, subway stations), you’ve found your spot. In New York City, for example, one truck serving up Kosher food has cleverly stationed itself outside the largely Jewish B&H photo superstore. If your truck caters to the bustling, grab-and-go-on-your-pathetic-excuse-for-an-office-lunch-break demographic, find a busy office building. If your city is already inundated with mobile vendors, though, you might want to work out a rotating schedule. Be mindful of your fellow merchants: You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes!

It’s important to note, however, that the street-food movement is more than just a quick way to make a buck. “Some of these street truck owners have no connection to the food they’re serving,” Zach Brooks of the popular food blog MidtownLunch.com told us. “That’s not what street food is all about.” Like any good product, the most important ingredient is love.

If you aren’t quite ready to start a business of your own, but all this talk about gourmet street food has got your stomach grumbling, here are a couple websites where you can find food trucks in your area:

www.mobilecravings.com (for a general list)

www.midtownlunch.com (NYC)

www.bingfoodcarts.com (Portland)

www.roaminghunger.com/la (Los Angeles)

 

Comments

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/MaJoe-Guy/100001020797175 MaJoe Guy

    the best food truck in our area (Texas) is in Marfa…The Food Shark. Best food around, and the outdoor public dining space on Donald Judd-inspired tables can’t be beat.

  • http://truckrental.net/ truckrental

    i really like to have my own food truck. food truck that will serve healthy foods.

  • http://twitter.com/MobileCuisine Mobile Cuisine

    If you are interested in following the mobile food industry nationally, check out my site Mobile Cuisine Magazine. http://mobile-cuisine.com

  • http://truckrentals.net/ truckrentals

    nice suggestion ,, i think many  can learn about on how to start a food truck ,, and also for them to have an easy move if they want to  take this part as their business.

  • waterchick

    This is the first stop on a big dream for me and I feel like it’s helpful, but since I would like to open up in New Mexico, it’s hard to find info for this state.  I have only seen 2-3 trucks out here total. where do I go for info in this state.?

  • Mls72

    If anyone is looking for a food truck contact me, I have a 2009 Ford F350 with custom catering body coming up…mls72@comcast.net 717.919.3763

  • Mls72

    If anyone is looking for a food truck contact me, I have a 2009 Ford F350 with custom catering body coming up…mls72@comcast.net 717.919.3763

  • Peggy

    We have a 2009 Ford F350 with Custom Catering Truck Body coming up at a bank repo auction in Pa. you can find me at rvbrokering com

  • Peggy

    We have a 2009 Ford F350 with Custom Catering Truck Body coming up at a bank repo auction in Pa. you can find me at rvbrokering com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Melissa-Schank/660556006 Melissa Schank

    Hi, I was wondering how much you were selling your food truck for, the details and your location, I live in Philadelphia. I tried to contact you email but it wouldn’t go through for some reason. Contact my email: tub57088@temple.eduThanks,Melissa

  • http://www.movingtruckrental.net/ hezelcrowns

    for more info ,, just have their site ,, to  those who are interested , i am sure that this kind of business is in to  the taste of the people , 

  • Nonna10333

    Im in central florida where are you located?how much are you asking and what is in the truck?

  • Nonna10333

    Im in central florida where are you located?how much are you asking and what is in the truck?

  • Nonna10333

    Im in central florida where are you located?how much are you asking and what is in the truck?

  • Nonna10333

    Im in central florida where are you located?how much are you asking and what is in the truck?

  • Fenway66

    Does anyone know what towns in southern new jersey allow food trucks? I called the zoning office and they were quite unfriendly about me even asking questions…seems they dont even want to entertain the idea in my town…but im hoping maybe other local towns feel differently…

  • http://truckrental.net/ truckrental

    truck rentals company enable you guys to make your moving days better ,, for your better way of leaving ,, 

  • http://truckrental.net/ truckrental

    truck rentals company enable you guys to make your moving days better ,, for your better way of leaving ,, 

  • http://truckrentals.net/ truckrentals

    star it with a positive way of moving trough trucks ,, for your sure and secure way of moving.

  • http://truckrentals.net/ truckrentals

    star it with a positive way of moving trough trucks ,, for your sure and secure way of moving.

  • Anonymous

    Good advice on factoring parking tickets into overhead, I hadn’t though of that.  One thing to consider in order to pare down costs would be to scale up from a hotdog-stand type operation to a full fledged truck.  I am interesting an opening up my own food truck and did some research that I posted here, http://www.openarestaurantnow.com/the-economics-of-food-trucks/.  I hope that helps anyone else that might be interested in opening their own truck!

  • http://www.movingtruckrental.com/ movingtruckrental

    through trucks i am sure that your business food truck business are in good,. 

  • Heather xxx

    have you made any progress? i’m also looking into s. jersey and mayb phila.? maybe we can make a request going together- or get a a petition?

  • Rono

    If you need food truck insurance check out the first national insurance program for mobile food trucks at http://www.mfvinsurance.com  Average savings 30% for General Liability and Auto Liability and Physical Damage.

  • PATRICIA

    how much@pattycool19@yahoo.com

  • Jimmieosborne

    i’m looking for a used food truck, jimmieosborne@aol.com; anyone in california, los angeles, having one contact phone 503-539-8107. 

  • Alexandermartinez810

    hello my name is laura i am looking to buy or rent a food truck in nyc if you have any information contac me at alexandermartinez810@gmail:disqus .com.
    thank you

  • Ricardo

    To whom it may concern:

     

    My name is Ricardo Blasco. I’m a foodtruck owner out of
    Miami, I’m selling my truck and I wanted to know if you are interested. If so,
    I will send you all the specs and pictures.

     

    Please contact me at ricardo@redkoilounge.com or call
    786-554-6713.

     

    Thanks

  • Ricardo

    To whom it may concern:

     

    My name is Ricardo Blasco. I’m a foodtruck owner out of
    Miami, I’m selling my truck and I wanted to know if you are interested. If so,
    I will send you all the specs and pictures.

     

    Please contact me at ricardo@redkoilounge.com or call
    786-554-6713.

     

    Thanks

  • Doglocalitycar

    Hi my name is ann I am looking to rent a food truck in the dallas/arlington tx area if any one has any info please email me at doglocalitycar@yahoo.com thanks xoxo and best wishes to all that trying to start a biz:)

  • http://skiptracingtool.com/ read it

    this is a wonderful thing to know ”
     Costs include a vending permit, employees, food (of course), and the truck itself, as well as the depot where it’s kept. And in some cities, you have to factor in the rent of a commercial kitchen’..more power

  • Talal Mahdi

    very good concept, nice to know, thank you very much.

  • Kristine Donald

    Thanks for all the wonderful info! I am looking to either rent or buy a food truck , please contact if you know of anything. I live in the Vancouver area.

  • Toey2 theworld@gmail.com

    Is your truck still available ? Where are you located and how much would you sell it for …thanks

  • patricia

    I would like to rent or buy a food truck,  please contac patricia as soon as possible

    Email pbaptiste63@yahoo.com
     

  • Anonymous

    The only food trucks I can’t stand are the ones that children run across traffic to get to, which blare their horns even during the dark of night to get them to do so. So…as long as you don’t put people in danger or blast unnecessary noise, I welcome you. If you provide organic/healthier options to the fast food joints, I think you will do very well.

  • T

    I’m in San Diego and would like to start a mobile Ice cream/ smoothie/sundae truck. I would like any information anyone can offer.

  • Yaakov

    Looking for a food trailer or regular food van used..in sacramento ,Ca yaakov95821@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    FIRST OF ALL FOOD TRUCKS SHOULD BE EXEMPT FROM GETTING ANY PARKING TICKETS, PERIOD!! THAT IS A LOAD OF PURE SHIT AND A TOTAL RIP OFF!! THEY ARE GENERATING TONS OF REVENUE FOR THESE CITIES, SO THEY SHOULD NOT, NOT, NOT BE SUBJECT TO SUCH EXTREME TAXES, AND THAT IS EXACTLY WHAT PARKING TICKETS ARE. TAXES WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. THESE ARE OUR STREET WHICH WE PAY HEAVILY FOR IN TAXES EACH YEAR AND WE SHOULD NOT HAVE TO PAY TO PARK ON THEM. THESE ASSHOLE CITIES GET AWAY WITH THIS BECAUSE NO ONE HAS THE BALLS, GUTS, OR BACKBONE TO STAND UP TO THESE TYRANTS AND PUT A STOP TO CHARGING TO PARK ON PUBLIC STREETS!! IF THEY WANT TO IMPLEMENT A TAX, SURCHARGE, OR LEVY, LET THEM PUT IT TO A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE, WHICH SHOULD HAVE TO GET A 2/3′S OF THE MAJORITY VOTE TO PASS. BY LAW, ALL TAXES, LEVY’S, SURCHARGES, ETC., SHOULD HAVE TO BE PUT TO A VOTE OF THE PEOPLE, PERIOD!! CITIES GET AWAY WITH THIS NONSENSE IN LARGE CITY’S LIKE L.A. AND NEW YORK WHERE THE IS A LARGE POPULATION OF EXTREMELY PASSIVE WEAK-MINDED LIBERALS WHO LIVE THERE, SO THEY KNOW THEY CAN WALK ALL OVER THEM AND THERE WILL NOT BE ANY RESISTENCE. THAT IS THE WAY GUTLESS, GULLIBLE, BRAINWASHED, SPINELESS, AND WEAK LIBERAL IDIOTS ARE, STRAIGHT UP! THEY HAVE SYSTEMATICALLY RUINED, DECIMATED, WEAKENED, DAMAGED, AND DESTROYED EVERYTHING THEY DO AND EVERYTHING THEY TOUCH!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    IGNORE THIS GUY, IT’S A SCAM. IF HE WERE REALLY SELLING IT HE WOULD JUST LIST ON CRAIGSLIST IN HIS AREA. THESE GUYS ARE ALL SCAM ARTISTS WHO POST OUT OF STATE ADS. BUYER BEWARE

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    IGNORE THIS GUY, IT’S A SCAM. IF HE WERE REALLY SELLING IT HE WOULD JUST LIST ON CRAIGSLIST IN HIS AREA. THESE GUYS ARE ALL SCAM ARTISTS WHO POST OUT OF STATE ADS. BUYER BEWARE.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    AGAIN, THESE ARE SCAM ARTIST’S HONEY. WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU?

    IGNORE THIS GUY, IT’S A SCAM. IF HE WERE REALLY SELLING IT HE WOULD JUST LIST ON CRAIG’S LIST IN HIS AREA. THESE GUYS ARE ALL SCAM ARTISTS WHO POST OUT OF STATE ADS. BUYER BEWARE!!!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    IGNORE THIS GUY, IT’S A SCAM. IF HE WERE REALLY SELLING IT HE WOULD JUST LIST ON CRAIGSLIST IN HIS AREA. THESE GUYS ARE ALL SCAM ARTISTS WHO POST OUT OF STATE ADS. BUYER BEWARE

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Kim-Russell/100002151718850 Kim Russell

    IGNORE THIS GUY, IT’S A SCAM. IF HE WERE REALLY SELLING IT HE WOULD JUST LIST ON CRAIG’S LIST IN HIS AREA. THESE GUYS ARE ALL SCAM ARTISTS WHO POST OUT OF STATE ADS. BUYER BEWARE!!!!!!

  • joel hunter

    Hello

    my name is joel hunter form Uk i can help you in geting a food truck you can email me today at j.hunter@alo.co.uk

    thanks

  • Joseph Mancini

    it is very simple… don’t park illegally if you do not want tickets. Food trucks are not exempt from parking tickets, they are vehicles just like any other. So drop some friggin change in the meter, don’t double park or find an actual event to host. Quit your down with the man bitch session… p.s. the caps lock key is on your left

  • http://www.cafranchiseopportunities.com/canadian-franchise-association/ canadian franchise association

    No question, starting your own food truck business can be very profitable, as there are a lot of people who eat regularly at food trucks. It is also less expensive and includes lower expenses in comparison to a conventional restaurant business.

  • Lakeisha

    Due to the high demand of starting a food truck I created an e-course on how to write one in 7 days @ http://www.truckfoodfinds.com/food-truck-business-plan.html feel free to email me at truckfoodfinds@gmail.com with any questions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100005125754067 Tom Hardy

    So I think a van rental Chicago can only done by people who won’t violate those rules above… What’s the point of buying or renting a truck/ van if you can’t even drive one?

  • M. Perreira

    Don’t forget to secure a certified Kitchen if your food truck is not.

  • Bob Hope

    don’t own a food truck get a mobile shooting range
    http://www.thebullseyecompany.com

  • Mathew Weinstein

    A friend of mine wanted to start a food truck (serving just organic, local food in Oakland) and used crowdfunding to raise $20k and it worked pretty well. He used a site called Foodstart.com.

  • Bruce S

    I started out renting because I couldn’t afford to retrofit. After 8 months or so I had made enough to get what I needed. It’s worth it if you dont have the cash. The people I rented from started a website because it’s a popular way to go: http://www.foodtruckrental.com

  • TheStoneAge

    I’m from the tip of Texas and there are a lot of unhealthy delicious taco stands. I want to get our people to start eating healthier and would like to open up a paleo food truck in the city considered to be the most obese. It’s going to be a challenge so any pointers out there?

  • manny rivera

    thanks for the info. god bless you

  • Anonymous

    align yourself with a demographic most likely to support healthy foods like fitness areas, colleges lunchtime in business districts etc.. but most importantly make sure your brand communicates the healthy difference between it and the alternative. Rent a space during as many year round festivals as you can.

    Canvass your city and figure out when and where to be. If Texas is anything close to Philly then you’ve got your basic food trucks out around lunch time and the specialty trucks around the college, tourist and hipster areas at prime times including the really good ones that position themselves in strategic areas in the middle of the night when bars and the general nightlife are heading home.

    There’s this Mexican truck I ran into while leaving the bar a few years ago in (northern liberties) Philly. It was like 3 trucks in a row every weekend my firend who lives around there tells me plus people are drunk and heading to a diner or home and smell nothing but good food outside. they make a killing.

  • Anonymous

    you shouldnt try to sell a way of life, just sell good food.

  • gps

    unfortunately in a city that is obese, selling healthy can be very, very hard task. I’m from Florida and in my area it is a lot of people who eat unhealthy, but it’s how you prepare the food and the quality of ingredients you use that helps determine how healthy the food is. When I was in culinary school the best thing that I’ve learned, in combination with being a fitness guru, is knowing what types are foods are better for you and what happens to certain foods when they are cooked a certain way. For example (in a nutshell) Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the best oil for you, that is when it is cold. When heated over a high temperature the molecules change and becomes unhealthy; a better alternative is using light olive oil, it’s less pure or use unsalted butter or animal lard rather than using vegetable, corn or canola oil to pan fry things. There are lots of ways to make great tasting healthier foods. You had mentioned unhealthy taco stands, well, think about fresh ingredients and minimizing commercially made spice mixtures, they are heavy with salt and many of them use MSG. Make your own spice blends. Another example is not to use hard taco shells because most of them fried in corn oil, try using soft shells and portion size makes a difference to. This helps you achieve your goal to serve healthier food.

  • rahim

    i would like to open a foodtruck in my city,dallas.there arent many here at all my mom and i wud be our own workers the rest will follow any advice for starters aside from what i’ve jus read????

  • LAFoodTrucker

    If you’re looking for a food truck to rent, try Mobi Munch: http://www.mobimunch.com

  • Laura Burrell

    At Discount Food Trucks, we have access to the most competitively priced food truck manufacturers, who assist with health department regulations and locating markets in which to operate. The Mobile Food business can be very lucrative, but it is HARD WORK. The people who put the time in, coupled with a niche market can see over $20-25K per month.

    Laura Burrell
    Mobile Food Consultant
    Discount Food Trucks
    http://www.discountfoodtrucks.com
    267-738-1656

  • Jonathan Wehle

    Shut up Kim. maybe he is on CL. There are people here looking to buy, seems like a good place to sell.

  • Andrea Townsley

    Sales or income?

  • Laura Burrell

    Food Trucks are making 20 – 25K Income. This comes with running your food truck as a Full Time Restaurant. Actually, when running the truck as a serious business, the income is higher. I am seeing Stainless steel carts bringing in sales of over $1,000 a day generating approximately 10 -12 K in monthly income.

    It is not necessary to plunge into the Food Truck – many people start with a large Stainless Cart. We maximize the space, cooking area, include a large window area and some of these carts fare better than trucks.

    Laura Burrell
    Discount Food Trucks
    http://www.discountfoodtrucks.com (Site under construction
    http://www.foodtruckandcartsale.com
    267-738-1656

  • MikeBFS

    Great article. All of the information was general, but very important to
    consider when starting a food truck. If you’re interested in starting a
    food truck and need capital.

    I can assist with funding. You can get up to 200,000 in as little as 2 weeks. Let me know.

    Contact me Mike @ http://bfs.ag/629328/2678