Food Trucks For the Streetwise
Tip #1: Having a restaurant is a great start
Photo (above): Dave Krolak, Cas’ Pierogi & Kielbasa, New Jersey
The food truck’s allure is an appetizing proposition. If you are confident about your food, your customer and your brand, let us help steer you in the right direction.
Dave Krolak, owner of Cas’ Pierogi & Kielbasa food truck in New Jersey, started with a dream and a passion for pierogi. After reading everything he could find on the industry, Krolak contacted trade organizations and because the business is so supportive of new competition, he sought out and found expert advice from a thriving food truck owner.
Amol Dixit, Hot Indian Foods, Minneapolis
The food truck community was also instrumental in helping Amol Dixit grow his Hot Indian Foods brand from early mobile success in 2013 to three flourishing restaurant locations in Minneapolis.
“Visit lots of food trucks as a customer to get ideas of what you'd like to do,” recommends Dixit. “We received so much help from other food truck owners in finding a commissary, locating the best place to park and understanding how to get presence at important events.”
J Wold, Da Lobsta, Chicago
As the most popular food truck at Taste of Chicago for the past two years, Da Lobsta owner J Wolf appreciates how lucrative a high-profile event can be. He calls the food truck purchased a year after the 2013 opening of Da Lobsta restaurant “the best decision I ever made.”
The key is a unique offering, he continues, and for beef-obsessed Chicagoans, lobster rolls are a largely untapped market. Having previously owned a restaurant in Los Angeles, where food trucks were on the fast track, Wolf saw their selling power firsthand.
“My restaurant would be half full, but when a lobster truck pulled up, the lines would wind around the corner,” describes Wolf. “I was excited to bring the experience to Chicago.”
When he arrived in 2013, city regulations were quite restrictive, but the next year, the laws changed to allow cooking on food trucks and the scene blew wide open. Wolf seized the opportunity to get rolling and bought and retrofitted a former delivery truck.
Buy or lease?
While many opt to purchase, experts suggest that operators consider their geography before making this critical decision.
“If there are a lot of miles to cover between gigs, leasing may be a good option to consider if you are concerned about excessive wear and tear, or if you want to test your concept,” says Food Truck Empire founder Brett Lindenberg. “If you own a restaurant, you will likely have good catering and event leads and may be better off owning your truck or trailer.”
“I learned quickly, when you get into the food truck business, you are also getting into the vehicle maintenance business,” says Krolak. “Your business relies on a big rolling restaurant and if things go wrong, it can shut down your entire operation.”
His advice: “Take a course in truck and kitchen maintenance and form great relationships with a mechanic and towing company who know how to get things up and running quickly.”
Lindenberg says the other significant expenses are regulatory fees and for non-restaurant owners, the cost of a commissary for food preparation, cleaning and parking. “That can become expensive, so adding a food truck to an existing restaurant operation is ideal.”