Food carts and trucks are bringing life and varied cuisines to the streets. In Los Angeles, for example, people drive miles to get to certain trucks and then wait in lines. Now some fullservice restaurants are joining in, purchasing or leasing trucks outfitted with full kitchens. Trucks follow set routes and/or park at street fairs, college campuses, football stadiums, zoos, and office parks (some of which require permission). The trucks are often wrapped with the restaurant’s graphics, turning them into huge mobile advertisements, and tweets and emails inform customers of their locations.
Mary Sue Milliken, co-owner, Border Grill, Santa Monica, CA, says they like to take their taco truck to places where there’s a captive crowd, where food is not readily available (e.g., little league games, the LA marathon, artwalks) and use it a lot for charity events. Dwayne Belialkoff, owner, Violetta, Portland, OR, bought the “Rollin’ Etta” truck early this year to keep his staff busy when Violetta’s opening was delayed. “It’s been an instant hit – the truck’s been voted as having one of the top five burgers in town, and it’s been a great way to stimulate interest in Violetta in advance of our opening,” says Dwayne. The trucks are also ideal for catering private and corporate events. “We’re catering a lot of onsite corporate meetings as companies have cut back on offsite meetings,” says Julie Shenkman, co-owner, Sam’s Chowder House, Half Moon Bay, CA. “Our ‘Chowdermobile’ is very dramatic – we prepare lobster clambakes in a big wooden steamer, and everyone gets involved watching the preparation. And, if we’re on private property, alcohol can be served.”
THINGS TO CONSIDER: Leasing or buying. Border Grill chose not to commit to buying initially; instead, they leased a truck for $3,500/month and they’ve just ordered a custom truck for $150,000. Violetta found a used truck online for $30,000, as did Sam’s. Learning the nuances of health and transportation departments’ rules and regulations can be challenging and time consuming, advises Julie. Mary Sue adds, “We’re a company that walks the straight and narrow, so we’ve taken the time to learn all the regulations.” All three have eco-friendly policies and are committed to sustainability – not only for food product, but for the truck itself, including running the trucks on recycled cooking oil, having garbage cans built in, recycling plastic and glass, and using compostable/biodegradable packaging. For all three trucks the menu choices reflect the popular menu items, which is another way the trucks also help to market the restaurants. The number of staff on the trucks varies. Border Grill staffs two to seven on its truck, depending on where it’s going. “People waiting in line makes us crazy – we’ve even sprung for a wireless, handheld POSitouch order/payment device on our new truck,” says Mary Sue. “The faster you can service people, the more you can serve – volume is key when you’re serving quality food at low prices.”
May 17, 2010