Food Trucks are here to stay (or go; a benefit of operating on 4 wheels), but many trucks have parlayed their mobile success into concrete locations with addresses and working plumbing. Here are the best truck-to-table operations.
1400 E. Union St.
The Vibe: Chef Josh Henderson's new restaurant in Capitol Hill is more than just a roomier version of his vintage Airstream trailer that serves high-end comfort food — there are floor-to-ceiling windows, industrial fixtures, and a 2 a.m. closing time.
What to Order: Pork belly and waffle; grass-fed burger smeared with bacon jam and crumbled blue cheese.
1412 Harvard Ave.
The Vibe: You'd think SPAM-based dishes would be a hard sell even on the street, but Kamala Saxton and Roz Edison's mobile Korean-meets-Hawaiian fare converted so many canned-meat cynics that they needed to open a brick-and-mortar spot. Keeping things consistent, they modeled the intimate new space in the Capitol Hill neighborhood after their truck (nicknamed Big Blue), with the same navy color pattern — but they now serve beer.
What to Order: Aloha slider with tangy slaw and teriyaki-slicked grilled Spam; kimchi quesadillas; miso-ginger-chicken tacos.
1212 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
The Vibe: In two years, the must-visit mobile outpost serving pork-centric sliders has grown into a full-fledged sandwich shop–cum–hangout. The Southeast Portland eatery also has a buzzing beer garden in its parking lot where you can sip 13 craft brews on tap.
What to Order: Pork-meatball bánh mì dressed with sriracha mayo; herb-coated fries with pork scraps and peppers.
Big Gay Ice Cream
New York City
125 E. 7th St.
The Vibe: If you mix artisanal ice cream with exotic flavors (like wasabi-pea dust, curry, and cayenne), they will come. That was the lesson learned by Douglas Quint and Bryan Petroff, whose popular truck is now an East Village storefront.
What to Order: Vanilla ice cream with dulce de leche, sea salt, and chocolate dip; vanilla ice cream and toasted curried coconut.
900 E. 11th St.
The Vibe: Barbecue prodigy Aaron Franklin first customized a trailer to smoke his glorious meats, but after less than two years he upgraded to a homey, cement-floored joint. The waits have tripled to three hours, but at least now there's air-conditioning.
What to Order: Marbled brisket; smoked seasoned pork spare ribs; plump, snappy sausages; potato salad; pinto beans.
Food Truck Facts:
Food trucks are small business incubators and are growing into brick-and-mortar businesses. Many talented chefs with great concepts but without enough money to open their own restaurant opened a food truck to bring their cuisine to their communities. In our area, dozens of food trucks have grown into brick-and-mortars — and many brick-and-mortar businesses have opened food trucks to expand into new markets.
FOOD TRUCKS ARE CREATING JOBS
At a time when bank lending to small business has become harder to come by, food trucks are supporting and creating new jobs. In addition to working with other small businesses such as commissary kitchen owners, fire service providers, mechanics, bookkeepers, and local food purveyors, these food truck small businesses create new full-time jobs right here in our community.
FOOD TRUCKS ARE A GREAT USE OF PUBLIC SPACE
Food trucks are one of the most efficient uses of public space. The same parking space that can be used by just a few in an afternoon can be used by more than 100 people having lunch from a food truck. And by bringing food directly to the people, food trucks help reduce congestion.
City Governments Sometimes Make Bad Laws
As the popularity of food trucks continues to grow in Washington, city governments all around the state have been updating and/or creating new codes specifically for mobile food vendors. Some cities have done a fantastic job, and some have not. A frequent concern expressed by some city council members is that food trucks will be competition for existing brick-and-mortar restaurants in their city. Additionally, it’s not unusual to have a couple of local restaurant owners testify before the city council to express concerns about having to compete with food trucks. (A few other completely unwarranted concerns by restaurant owners are discussed below in the “Food Truck Myths” section including: food trucks not paying their fair share of local taxes, business licenses, fire permits, or undergoing the same level of scrutiny by the health department).
The role of city government is to serve the interest of the citizens of that city, not create laws specifically to protect one type of business from having to compete with another type of business. Protecting businesses from free market competition is inappropriate and arguably illegal, and has triggered dozens of lawsuits all around the country. Limiting the food options in the city, in order to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants, is a betrayal of the will of the citizens. Obviously everyone agrees that the food trucks would be very popular, or there wouldn’t be any concerns about competition with restaurants.
At some point, city councils must decide if they want to obstruct perfectly legal businesses just to calm the unwarranted and overly-hyped concerns from restaurant owners, or bring their city into alignment with most every other city in the state and offer their constituents a wide range of creative and delicious dinning options.
From Food Truck to Restaurant – kBird Opens Thai Restaurant
Cooking on a truck is a culinary challenge unlike any other. You have limited space, limited ingredients and a shorter window of time to get an order out the door… or window should we say. Occasionally a successful truck will stretch their wings and move into a brick and mortar location. With that usually comes more complex recipes and increased menu items. Earlier this year kBird announced the move to a fixed location and this week they opened the doors.
If you ask Little Rockers what is the most under represented ethnic food in the area (and we have), you usually get Thai. Little Rock needs a solid Thai option and is about to get it now that kBird is turning their successful food truck into a restaurant. So we were really excited about the new space.
kBird has been serving up quality Thai street food since 2012 offering favorites like pad Thai, fried rice, and various curry dishes, and has become a favorite at many food truck meets. Owner Richard Glasgow focuses on fresh food that holds to the traditional Thai recipes.
We stopped into their new location today at 600 N. Tyler in Hillcrest, which will be open from 10:30 – 6:30, Monday through Friday.
Glasgow is hoping to keep things low key as they start up. You can see signs of that philosophy everywhere. There is no sign outside the small restaurant tucked away in a residential area of Hillcrest on the corner of Tyler and Woodlawn. Inside you find a just a few tables, some bar stools, a basic counter, and very few decorations.
What will keep this place from being low key however is the seriously good food he is cooking up. We grabbed his standard Thai fare a pad thai, and it is easily the best thai option in town. All fresh ingredients, a good spice, and an overall fantastic balance of flavors. I’ve had Thai in a lot of great Thai cities like San Francisco, from his initial offering this would fit right in.
The menu for now is simple, just the dishes he frequently served on the truck. Except the menu to grow over time. I am personally hoping for some Thai beverage options like Thai tea, and Glasgow said he hopes to have a Vietnamese coffee soon which is also a great drink.
Along with kBird, Southern Gourmasian should be opening their location in downtown Little Rock soon, which will feature our favorite food truck dish in the city. The challenges that chefs have to overcome on a truck to make quality food is a lot of the reason why I think we will see a number of successful restaurants come out of the local food truck community. Be sure to come out to our food truck festival, Food Trucksgiving, this Saturday in Bryant to taste what some of the future great chefs in the city have to offer.
Food Trucks Spawn Brick-and-Mortar Restaurants - Recipes
By Meera Nagarajan // February 9, 2021
Popular Korean food truck K-Bop opened a brick-and-mortar space at 6120 Delmar Blvd. in mid-December. After co-owner Hye Keeley saw that Guerrilla Street Food was vacating the space, she and her partners, Yuduck Lee and Dae Lee, knew that this was the perfect spot to open K-Bop.
"We had been looking for our own place because we had to use a commissary kitchen for the truck, which we shared with 15 other vendors," Keeley said. "It was always occupied, which affected our service times." Keeley read that Guerrilla Street Food's space on Delmar Boulevard was closing and recalled going there before shows at the Pageant. "I really liked the space, and my partners and I thought it was perfect," she said.
After a quick renovation, the space is now cheerful and yellow with fun decals covering the tables and walls. K-pop music videos play on the TVs. They have 49 seats inside (under normal circumstances), with patio space that they hope will seat 35 when the weather warms up. The space also serves as the kitchen for the food truck, which continues to operate two to three times a week around town, including 9 Mile Garden.
The new menu retains popular dishes from the truck, like the teriyaki chicken and the spicy tofu bop, while adding some new items like tteok-bokki, a popular Korean street food dish made with rice cakes and fish cakes in a housemade gochujang sauce. "It's my favorite street food – in [South] Korea everybody loves it and we can eat it anytime. So we want people to try it and like it too," Keeley explained. Also new to the menu is their bibimbap, featuring chopped vegetables (some raw, some pickled) served on top of white rice with a choice of protein, like their spicy tofu or spicy chicken, served with a fried egg and gochujang sauce. In the future, noodle dishes may be incorporated into the menu.
The Best Food Trucks in Nashville
Hoss' roster of gourmet burgers includes its signature offering - stuffed with cheddar and topped by bacon, onion crispers and hickory-smoked BBQ sauce, along with The Italian Job, which mixes a mozzarella and pepperoni-stuffed beef patty with hot sausage, then covers it in marinara, hot peppers and onions. Endless special burgers also rotate on and off, keeping Hoss' food truck one you should be visiting daily.
Music City World Tour
Nashville may lay claim to a distinct local flavor, but it's the international influence here that makes it a true global dining scene. Perhaps even more than the brick and mortar restaurants, Nashville's food trucks push exotic cuisine ever further into the mainstream, enriching the entire city - starting with your own palate.
Nashville Hot Chillin'
Dessert trucks in Nashville rank amongst the best in the Southeast, but it's the cold stuff in particular dominating hot days and late nights alike, cooling down tempers and waking up appetites. Track down these trucks to get cool relief worth craving.
Other Notable Food Trucks in Nashville
The Best and Worst Cities for Operating a Food Truck
A new index unveils the places food truck owners should love&mdashand hate.
Over the past decade, food trucks have emerged as such a trendy part of foodie culture that we often overlook the fact that operating one isn’t as simple as throwing pierogis in the back of a station wagon. Food trucks face different regulations than brick-and-mortar restaurants, but these regulations can vary significantly from state to state and city to city. It’s a lot to keep track of. But now, a newly released index and report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation has cleared up some of the confusion by ranking 20 major American cities based on how friendly they are for eateries on wheels.
The project, dubbed Food Truck Nation, has been billed as “the most comprehensive study ever conducted on local food truck regulations.” Its report begins by noting that, despite brining in an estimated $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017—“still a small portion of the nearly $799 billion in expected restaurant sales for 2017,” but 𠇊 sizable increase from its $650 million in revenue from just a few years prior, and relative nonexistence in 2008”𠅏ood truck operators face a lot of bureaucracy. In fact, on average, food truck operators face 45 government-mandated procedures per year leading to $28,276 in costs on permits, licenses, and other legal compliances. “Without a greater awareness of the regulatory speed bumps to mobile vending, the food truck industry may be needlessly slowed, limiting entrepreneurial opportunity and consumer choice,” the report says.
So where is the system working best for food trucks? Portland, Denver, Orlando, Philadelphia, and Indianapolis are listed as the friendliest food truck cities, while Boston, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Seattle are listed as the most difficult.
To be fair to these cities, running a food truck is a multifaceted operation, so the rankings are constructed from three categories—obtaining permits and licenses, complying with restrictions, and operating a food truck𠅊nd some cities are far stronger in one area than they are in others. For instance, though Boston finished dead last in “obtaining permits,” once you have a permit there, complying with restrictions isn’t so terrible: The city ranked 7th.
One other important note for cities across the U.S.: the report only looked at 20 places. (Houston, Austin, Los Angeles, New York City, Nashville, Raleigh, St. Louis, Chicago, Phoenix, and Columbus are the 10 cites that landed in the middle.) So just because your city isn’t on the list doesn’t mean it’s not a food truck haven.
But overall, the ranking is secondary to the report’s main mission: “providing useful information and national benchmarking for public and private sector leaders to understand and improve their local business environments for this dynamic sector of the economy.” Relatively speaking, the modern food truck industry is still in its infancy, and it’s important for cities across the US to consider what’s happening in other areas to see if they’re doing is what’s best for anyone aspiring to serve gourmet stroopwafels out of a converted van.
Beloved Bosnian Food Truck Opens Brick-and-Mortar Restaurant in St. Louis
Balkan Treat Box debuts a 1,825-square-foot space in Webster Groves, a suburb outside of St. Louis, with wood-fired flatbreads, grilled beef sausages, and a Bosnian-inspired cheeseburger.
Inside Taft Street, a dark and smoky restaurant in St. Louis, chef Loryn Nalic remembers the moment she laid eyes on Edo Nalic, a Bosnian refugee who, a few years prior, had arrived in Missouri after fleeing his war-torn country.
“I walked inside this tiny restaurant, the blinds were closed, and there were guys smoking cigarettes,” Loryn says, who was working as a food sales representative. “It definitely didn’t feel like St. Louis. Once I opened the door, the sunlight hit Edo. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. The second I walked outside, I looked at my boss and said 𠆍id you see that guy? Wow.’”
Less than a year after their initial meeting, Edo received a deportation notice and Loryn jumped into action. “We had struck up such a close friendship,” she says. “It was either we get married or he𠆝 be forced to leave. I couldn’t let him go, so we got married but we didn’t tell anyone at first. We ended up falling in love, and the rest is history.”
More than a decade later, the Nalics are still very much in love –– both with each other and the restaurant they’ve waited years to open, Balkan Treat Box. The fast-casual spot, which will fittingly debut a day before Valentine’s Day in Webster Groves, a suburb outside of St. Louis, is based on their wildly-successful food truck, which rolled out in early 2017. At the permanent location, the husband-and-wife duo will serve Bosnian fare inspired by Edo’s childhood, including wood-fired flatbreads, grilled beef sausages, and a riff on a cheeseburger.
𠇎ver since we met, I𠆝 tell Loryn how much I missed the food from home,” Edo says. “That’s when she started teaching herself how to make different recipes. It’s not easy though. This food can be very complicated to make, but she nailed it. I knew from the beginning how much she wanted to open her own place, so it all made sense.”
Outfitted with a large metal map of the Balkans, the restaurant features a copper-plated wood burning hearth, perfect for making somun (similar to pita bread), and a charcoal grill and a gas-heated spit, where Loryn creates her version of doner, in which she cooks meat on the vertical split, grills until crisp, and seasons with dried Turkish chili pepper, cumin, and Aleppo pepper.
“The menu is a combination of foods Edo felt he was missing in the U.S. and foods I discovered through my travels,” Loryn says. 𠇎xecuting all of that on a truck wasn’t easy. Having a larger space will allow us to expand the menu, but right now we’re sticking with the classics.”
Before launching Balkan Treat Box, Loryn spent years in the kitchen learning from Edo’s aunt, who also lives in St. Louis. She even left the country for the first time in 2013 to travel to Bosnia, where she met Edo’s family for the first time and studied Balkan food from local bakers and chefs.
“I needed to go over there and get my hands dirty,” Loryn says. “I never traveled outside of the country, and there I was going alone while Edo stayed back to care for my children. It was wild, but exactly what I needed to understand the food.”
When the restaurant’s colorful 1,825-square-foot space opens Wednesday, customers will get the best of the Nalics’ food truck along with some new additions. Almost every item includes a doughy piece of somun, from Cevapi, a grilled sausage dish with kajmak (a creamy white cheese) to Doner, made with spit-roasted beef, chicken, or tofu and topped with onion, cheese, cabbage, and tomato. Then there’s Pide, a boat-shaped wood-fired flatbread with beef, chicken, or eggplant, and kajmak, ajvar (a spicy, pepper-based spread), and fefferoni.
“We have so much more in store,” Loryn says. “We’re trying to create items that demonstrate what Balkan food means to us and offer something that reminds people of home. Most people don’t know this, but there are more than 70,000 Bosnians in St. Louis, making it the largest Bosnian population in the United States and outside of Europe. There are a lot of people to feed.”
Keep an eye out for newer items, such as Lahmacun, a Turkish-style flatbread, served flat or rolled, and layered with spicy minced beef or tofu, with parsley, lemon, and sumac the Plieskavica, a lkan burger” stuffed with cheese and kajmak inside somun and the Balik Ekmek, which is comparable to a grilled fish sandwich on somun.
“We would love to take this concept to other locations,” she says, “outside of St. Louis and Missouri, too. Maybe a small stall inside a food hall? We’ll see, but either way, we’re just getting started.”
Balkan Treat Box. 8103 Big Bend Blvd., Webster Groves. 314-733-5700.
United States Edit
In the United States, the Texas chuckwagon is a precursor to the American food truck. In the later 1800s, herding cattle from the Southwest to markets in the North and East kept cowhands on the trail for months at a time.  In 1866, the "father of the Texas Panhandle", Charles Goodnight,  a Texas cattle rancher, fitted a sturdy old United States Army wagon with interior shelving and drawers, and stocked it with kitchenware, food and medical supplies. Food consisted of dried beans, coffee, cornmeal, greasy cloth-wrapped bacon, salt pork, beef, usually dried or salted, and other easy to preserve food stuffs. The wagon was also stocked with a water barrel and a sling to kindle wood to heat and cook food.  
Another early relative of the modern food truck is the lunch wagon, as conceived by food vendor Walter Scott in 1872. Scott cut windows in a small covered wagon, parked it in front of a newspaper office in Providence, Rhode Island, and sold sandwiches, pies and coffee to pressmen and journalists. By the 1880s, former lunch-counter boy, Thomas H. Buckley, was manufacturing lunch wagons in Worcester, Massachusetts. He introduced various models, like the Owl and the White House Cafe, with features that included sinks, refrigerators and cooking stoves, also colored windows and other ornamentation. 
Later versions of the food truck were mobile canteens, which were created in the late 1950s. These mobile canteens were authorized by the U.S. Army and operated on stateside army bases. 
Mobile food trucks, nicknamed "roach coaches" or "gut trucks", have been around for years, serving construction sites, factories, and other blue-collar locations.  In big cities of the U.S. the food truck traditionally provided a means for the on-the-go person to grab a quick bite at a low cost. Food trucks are not only sought out for their affordability but as well for their nostalgia and their popularity continues to rise. 
During the 2010s the economic changes caused by the Great Recession, technological factors, and street food being "hip" or "chic" have combined to increase the number of food trucks in the United States.   The construction business was drying up, leading to a surplus of food trucks, and chefs from high-end restaurants were being laid off. For experienced cooks suddenly without work, the food truck seemed a clear choice, and a smaller financial investment than a brick-and-mortar restaurant.  
Once more commonplace in American coastal big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, gourmet food trucks are now to be found as well in the suburbs, and in small towns across the country.    Food trucks are also being hired for special events, like weddings, movie shoots, and corporate gatherings, and also to carry advertising promoting companies and brands. 
In 2011, USA Today noted that food trucks selling pricier food were gaining popularity across the United States, contrary to a common perception that food trucks are typically run-down and found at construction sites.  In 2009, New York magazine noted that the food truck had "largely transcended its roach-coach classification and is now a respectable venue for aspiring chefs to launch careers."  These gourmet trucks' menus run the gamut of ethnic and fusion cuisine. Often focusing on limited but creative dishes at reasonable prices, they offer customers a chance to experience food they otherwise may not. Finding a niche seems to be a path to success for most trucks. While one truck may specialize in outlandish burgers, another may serve only lobster rolls.  Food trucks are now even Zagat rated. [ citation needed ]
Gourmet food trucks can also offer a unique dining experience. With the rise of millennial diners, experiential dining has become more main stream, driving restaurant and food truck owners to create a unique experience for their customers. As food trucks are mobile, this provides an advantage to gourmet trucks to take their experience anywhere they may please. 
Tracking food trucks has been made easy with social media like Facebook and Twitter, where a favorite gourmet truck can be located at any moment, with updates on specials, new menu items and location changes.  In fact, it could be argued that social media was the biggest contributing factor to the breakthrough success of the gourmet food truck. 
Food truck rallies and food truck parks are also growing in popularity in the US. At rallies, people can find their favorite trucks all in one place and as well provide a means for a variety of diverse cultures to come together and find a common ground over a love for food.    On August 31, 2013, Tampa hosted the world's largest food truck rally, with 99 trucks attending.  The Tampa Rally broke its own record by bringing together 121 food trucks in 2014.  Chicago Food Truck Festival hosts over 40 trucks each year with 60,000 guests participating over two days in Chicago.  And food truck parks, offering permanent locations, are found in urban and suburban areas across the US.  
The popularity of food trucks lead to the creation of associations that protect and support their business rights, such as the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association. 
Food trucks are subject to the same range of concerns as other foodservice businesses. They generally require a fixed address to accept delivery of supplies. A commercial kitchen may be needed for food prep. There are a variety of permits to obtain, and a health code to observe. Labor and fuel costs are a significant part of the overhead.  
Legal definitions and requirements for food trucks vary widely by country and locality. For example, in Toronto, Canada, some of the requirements include business and liability insurance, a Commercial Vehicle Operator's Registration for the truck, permits for each municipality being operated in (downtown, various suburbs), a food handler certificate, appropriate driver's licenses for drivers, assistant's licenses for assistants, and a health inspection. 
As the rising number and popularity of food trucks push them into the food mainstream, region by region, problems with local legislators and police reacting to new situations, and brick-and-mortar restaurants fearing competition, have to be worked through, in some cases creating significant business uncertainty.    Chicago long held the distinction of being the only city in the United States that did not allow food trucks to cook on board, which required trucks to prepare food in a commercial kitchen, then wrap and label the food and load it into a food warmer. In 2012, under pressure from food truck owners and supporters, including the University of Chicago Law School, regulations were changed to allow on-board cooking, however, controversially, food trucks are required to park 200 feet away from any restaurant, which virtually eliminates busy downtown locations.   
In the US, specialized food truck outfitters offer comprehensive start-up services that can include concept development, training, and business support, in addition to outfitted trucks.  In the US, food trucks are a $1.2 billion industry.  By 2017, the US food truck industry had surpassed $2.7 billion. 
Expansion from a single truck to fleets and retail outlets has proven possible. Los Angeles-based gourmet ice cream maker Coolhaus grew from a single truck in 2009 to 11 trucks and carts, two storefronts, and over 2,500 retail partner stores by September 2014.  
The libertarian Reason magazine states that in US, cities, food trucks are subject to protectionist regulations designed to prevent them from competing with brick and mortar restaurants. For example, in Chicago, a regulation prevents food trucks ". from selling food within 200 feet of brick-and-mortar restaurants and, hence, prohibit them from operating throughout the city's downtown area", which critics have called an "anti-competitive" rule for food truck operators. 
In 1936 the Food Code spread its regulatory umbrella to include food trucks as a result of their introduction to society. 
Food trucks have unique health risks compared to regular land-based restaurants when it comes to food safety and the prevention of foodborne illness. Most food trucks do not have access to adequate clean and hot water necessary to wash hands or to rinse off vegetables, as required by most health codes or regulations.  
In June 2017, The Boston Globe reviewed the 2016 city health records and found that food trucks had been cited for violations 200 times, with half of the violations being minor in nature and the other half being serious violations. When compared to fixed location restaurants, the city closed nine of the 96 licensed food trucks in 2016 and closed only two out of 100 restaurants. A majority of the serious violations were related to the lack of water and hand washing.  An earlier study showed that Boston food trucks, on average, received 2.68 violations per inspection between 2011 and July 2013, while restaurants received 4.56 citations for violations per inspection. For "critical foodborne violations"—defined by the city as activities that contribute to foodborne illness, such as improper labeling of ingredients—food trucks and restaurants were roughly equivalent, with 0.87 violations per inspection for food trucks, and 0.84 for restaurants. [ citation needed ] .
Food trucks and restaurants – a symbiotic relationship
While many limited service restaurants are clearly interested in expanding into food trucks, veteran food truck operators are using the skills they develop on their food trucks to open brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Photo courtesy of iStock.
With food trucks gaining popularity, many restaurants are finding that it makes more sense to join them than fight them.
That much was evident from a panel discussion session I moderated on driving sales with food trucks at the Restaurant Franchising and Innovation Summit in Dallas last week.
The panel featured three food truck owners who shared their insights on how they drive sales.
|Jae Kim takes a question.|
- Keith Hill, co-founder of I Love Bacon in Huntsville, Alabama, a food truck specializing in bacon recipes.
- Kyle Hollenbeck, owner of Aioli Gourmet Burgers & Catering in Phoenix, Arizona, specializing in burgers.
- Jae Kim, founder of Chi'Lantro in Austin, Texas, a Korean barbecue restaurant, food truck and catering company.
The men gave insights on every aspect of the business from finding good locations and business management challenges to meeting government regulations.
The questions the attendees asked about how to succeed with food trucks indicated that many restaurant owners are anxious to join this growing channel. Most of the attendees were from fast casual franchise organizations that were seriously considering adding food trucks to increase their brand awareness and at the same time cash in on the growth food trucks are experiencing.
But the expansion isn't only happening one way.
The panelists indicated that food trucks offer an excellent learning ground for opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant. All three of them have or will have brick-and-mortar restaurants in addition to their trucks.
Hill, who launched his first food truck in 2014, is now working on his first brick-and-mortar restaurant. He initially saw the food truck as a practical way to get into the foodservice business. He said it made more sense to spend $50,000 to start a food truck as opposed to having to spend a lot more to open a restaurant.
Now that he has two trucks and is looking to grow, his business plan has changed a bit. He thinks he can operate a restaurant with fewer employees than it would take to operate three food trucks and make more money.
While the hour-long panel discussion covered a variety of topics, one take-away was that there are various approaches to running a food truck business.
Two of the three panelists said they were using spreadsheet accounting, while one is using a software program, for example.
All said they are using mobile apps that allow customers to order and pay.
Knowing how to plan for events, inventory management, government regulations, food safety and employee recruitment were also topics of extensive discussion.
Given that the amount of business is not always predictable at food truck events, Hill of I Love Bacon said he asks people who have attended the events in the past – either the organizers or others who have attended – what to expect.
Hollenbeck of Aioli Gourmet Burgers & Catering said he asks the organizers how many attendees are expected and how many competing food trucks there will be. He also asks if any other trucks will be selling burgers, which is his specialty.
Kim of Chi'Lantro said inventory management on the truck is a challenge since there are a lot of uncontrollable factors. Sometimes he comes out ahead, while other times he loses money because he either runs out of food or doesn't sell everything he prepares.
There are special events in Austin, where Kim knows from experience how much to prepare, however. In some cases, he asks the event organizer for an upfront minimum payment based on an hourly return.
On the topic of government regulations, the panelists agreed that different cities have different rules and in some cases, different tax requirements. The panelists viewed regulations as a necessary task.
When I asked if regulations were doing a good job making sure the trucks are following safe food handling practices, the panelists said they were. I raised his point because it is an area that calls on the food trucks to be proactive as their industry grows.
On the topic of food safety, the panelists said that as food specialists, they place a priority on safety. Hill said he uses the National Restaurant Association's ServeSafe program, for example.
No doubt, many if not most of today's food trucks share a commitment to safety as part of their dedication to provide customers a satisfying experience. But at the same time, the industry needs to be proactive with food safety because as food trucks increase, so will the likelihood of safety problems.
The food truck industry has done a good job of maintaining safe practices to date, but for this to continue, truck owners should be taking the lead in seeing that workable regulations are enforced.
As for the biggest challenge the truck owners face – they were unanimous: finding good help. It's a challenge that all restaurant segments, unfortunately, understand.
Register here for our Restaurant Franchising & Innovation Summit, July 18-20 in London. Register here for the 2018 RFIS, April 9-11 in Louisville.
Elliot Maras is the editor of Kiosk Marketplace and Vending Times. He brings three decades covering unattended retail and commercial foodservice.
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America's 26 Best Food Trucks
While certain cities have emerged as major food truck hubs (think Austin, Portland and LA), they're hardly the only spots where you can score incredible meals on wheels. Join us on a road trip of America's best on-the-go eats!
Roti Rolls, Charleston, South Carolina
Not only is Roti Rolls consistently voted Charleston's best food truck, but for a time it was the South Carolina city's one and only food truck! To be sure, the "Green Machine" is always a welcome sight on the streets, serving roti parathas padded with Caribbean-, Asian- and Indian-inspired fillings made from locally grown ingredients. Think the Funky Farmer with coconut-green-curried local vegetables, the Thurman Murman with braised local short rib and Creole mac 'n' cheese, and the Shrimpin' Ain't Easy, featuring pickled local shrimp and butter bean chow-chow.
Fava Pot, Washington, D.C.
"Eat Healthy for a Good Cause" is the motto at Fava Pot, a beloved D.C. truck that's also birthed a brick-and-mortar business. That means every purchase of gluten-free fava bean falafel, antibiotic-free grilled Cornish hens sprinkled with sumac, and Egypt's vegetarian street staple, koshary (lentils, rice, chickpeas and pasta, bathed in spicy tomato sauce) goes to fund founder Dina Daniel's work with Coptic Orphans. Building on their Valuable Girl Project (a development program that empowers young women through educational mentoring), she currently sponsors Coptic Girl Rising, offering scholarships to gifted girls with college aspirations.
Nong's Khao Man Gai, Portland, Oregon
Nong Poonsukwattana immigrated from Bangkok to Oregon back in 2003, with $70, two suitcases and one badass recipe for khao man gai. And as it turns out, that's all she really needed to open one of the most-sought-after mobile food vending operations in one of America's most-food truck-obsessed cities. Not only has Nong been on the receiving end of major, high-profile press (everywhere from The New York Times to the Washington Post, as well as CNN, Ted Talks, Eater, Munchies and more), but she was able to open a restaurant too, on the strength of a single dish. All patrons need to do is order white or dark meat, from free-range chicken simmered in ginger, garlic and pandan. The chicken is served with a concentrated broth made from the poaching liquid, and jasmine rice toasted in the poultry's rendered fat.
Tot Boss, St. Paul, Minnesota
Who knew that those freezer-section potato nuggets could form the basis of an entire business? Yes, the tots at St. Paul's mobile spud slinger come courtesy of good old Ore-Ida, while the truck tends to indulgent toppings. Here, tots are wrapped in bacon, substituted for corn chips in nachos, tricked out like pizza, doused in gravy and cheese curds for poutine, and even styled into that Minnesota staple, hot dish &mdash a meat, veggie and canned-soup casserole paved with crunchy tots.
Bombay Food Junkies, St. Louis
St. Louis' first and only 100 percent vegan-vegetarian Indian food truck brings Bombay's vibrant street-food culture to the urban heart of Missouri. Alongside the omnipresent samosas, you'll find regional specialties like vada pav: spiced, chickpea flour-coated potato fritters topped with chutney and served on a fluffy bun. There are also wrapped roti sandwiches, such as faux chicken or paneer tikka, teamed with Indo-Chinese noodles or peanut carrot salad.
Micklethwait Craft Meats, Austin, Texas
Standing out from the pack in Austin &mdash one of America's food truck capitals &mdash is quite the accomplishment. And achieving it through barbecue in a state where pitmasters abound is an impressive exploit as well. The fact that Micklethwait's critically acclaimed meat emerges from a trailer (or more precisely, a miniature, screened-in smokehouse positioned mere feet away) is yet another victory. Alongside the all-important brisket, standouts include sausages like lamb, duck and garlicky kielbasa, cooked over post oak.
Blaxican Food Truck, Atlanta
Collard-green quesadillas. Blackened-fish tacos. It's everything you'd expect (and crave) from a truck that serves Mexican soul food. But the cheeky moniker &mdash after a nickname given to owner Will Turner &mdash and quirky concept aren't just about shock value. Besides keeping Atlanta patrons well satiated with shrimp and jalapeno cheese grits tostadas, tips from the truck and donations from the website go toward feeding needy residents throughout the city, through organizations like the Peachtree-Pine Shelter, My Sister's House Shelter and East Point Christian Church.
Gastros, Providence, Rhode Island
Rhode Island's only USDA-certified mobile food company, Gastros specializes in housemade charcuterie. That means there's not an outsourced sausage, sad stack of cold cuts or preservative-laden hot dog in sight. Consisting solely of heritage meats, all-natural casings and other top-quality ingredients, the offerings extend to Genoa salami and wagyu pastrami sandwiches, as well as bacon cheddarwurst and smoked chorizo deposited in brioche buns basted with garlic butter.
Mannino's Cannoli Express, Hammonton, New Jersey
Ice cream trucks are a dime a dozen. But if you're seeking a quick sugar fix in New Jersey, what could be better than on-the-go cannoli? Drawing on years of experience working at her father's restaurants (where she was often tasked with making pastries) as well a culinary degree, which inspired her to experiment with techniques and flavors, Gabriella Mannino Tomasello has really made the sweet Sicilian treat her own. In addition to traditional vanilla ricotta cannoli, there are inventive seasonal specials such as fresh blueberry and peach, maple bourbon bacon, pumpkin and caramel apple, and limoncello and fig.
Quiero Arepas, Denver
When you want Venezuelan cornmeal cakes (and just happen to be in the Denver area), there's no better destination than Quiero Arepas, run by a Maracaibo native. Not only is the entire menu naturally gluten-free (masa dough is grilled, split and stuffed with fillings like queso, plantains, black beans and shredded beef), but the truck is all about social and environmental responsibility: Produce, meats and cheeses are sourced from local farms, the low-emission vehicle is powered by natural gas, and you won't find lids, straws, plates, utensils or side cups on the premises, in an effort to remain as close to zero waste as possible.
Hero or Villain, Detroit
Whether or not good triumphs over evil (insofar as your order from Detroit's roving sandwich truck is concerned), you're going to end up with something pretty darn delicious. The Captain Planet is bound to please the environmentally conscious set, being composed of portobello mushrooms, roasted red peppers, caramelized onions and mozzarella on a pesto aioli-smeared hoagie roll, while the steak-and-provolone-piled Deathstroke is on a mission to clog your arteries.
Ms. Cheezious, Miami
No Miami bikini body is safe in the face of Ms. Cheezious and its out-of-bounds sandwiches. So much more than white bread cemented shut with plasticine squares of American, the molten grilled cheeses here include the Frito Pie Melt, with chili, jalapenos and corn chips on sourdough the Mackin Melt, made with house-cured bacon and Gouda mac 'n' cheese and even a S'mores Melt for dessert, coated with roasted marshmallow, salted hazelnut spread and graham cracker crumbles. And though the menu may sound joyfully juvenile, it's won Ms. Cheezious some very adult accolades, such as South Beach Wine and Food Festival's People's Choice Award for Best Food Truck.
Big Wave Shrimp, Haleiwa, Hawaii
In case you didn't know it, serving shrimp from a truck is an actual thing in Hawaii. And Big Wave Shrimp has ridden that crest right up to the top, luring lunchers in historic Haleiwa with plates of pristine white prawns tossed with garlic butter, dusted with lemon pepper or battered and fried until crisp.
Kogi BBQ Taco Truck, Los Angeles
A true OG, Roy Choi's Kogi (which hit the streets in 2008) helped kick off a nationwide obsession with food trucks, as well as the concept of Asian-inspired tacos. It also codified California as a true nexus of mobile vending and established Twitter as a means for businesses to build a rabid fan base, attracting 150,000 followers (and counting) on the strength of its short rib burritos, spicy pork tacos and kimchi quesadillas.
Flash Crabcake Company, Baltimore
Peddling crabs in Maryland is sort of akin to bringing coals to Newcastle. But if you're going to partake of the native crustacean, it's best to have your cakes made by a bunch of lifelong locals like the folks at Flash. And thanks to their established relationships with shellfish purveyors, the Gordon family (former restaurant owners) are able to keep their quality high and their prices low. A thoroughly streamlined menu &mdash think lump crab cakes, cream of crab soup, or crab cakes bobbing in cream of crab soup &mdash also means your order will be ready in a flash.
Pierogi Wagon, Chicago
This cheerful yellow wagon "spreads the pierogi love" all throughout Chicago. And its pillowy Polish dumplings can be customized to your liking: bursting with white cheddar and potato, spinach and cheese, sauerkraut and mushroom or braised beef, and smothered with grilled onions, sour cream and/or bacon. They're also ideally served with a side of Polish sausage, or the sugar-dusted jelly doughnuts known as pączki.
The Halal Guys, New York City
What began as a humble New York meat cart is now a full-on global franchise (seriously, you'll find The Halal Guys in other locations from Wisconsin to the Philippines). Yet its midtown Manhattan location still attracts some of the city's longest lines for street food &mdash no small feat &mdash wooing office workers, cab drivers and tourists alike with gyro sandwiches and chicken over rice, slathered in proprietary red and white sauces.
Pho Nomenal Dumplings, Raleigh, North Carolina
The 2015 winner of Food Network's own The Great Food Truck Race, this Raleigh, North Carolina, favorite showcases the culinary experiences of two Asian-American women who grew up in the South. The name is one playful example of that, and the menu is very much another &mdash in addition to more straightforward fare such as pho (Vietnamese beef noodle soup) and pork-and-chive dumplings, look for cheerwine bulgogi sloppy joes, Taiwanese spaghetti and corn-dog banh mi.
I Don't Give a Fork, Newark, Delaware
Don't let the name fool you this mobile business is a real passion project. After winning a pitch competition sponsored by the University of Delaware, Leigh Ann Tona decided to go all in on her idea. And having nurtured it from a rickety cart purchased off of Craigslist to a full-on food truck parked at the Firefly Music Festival, she's pretty much emerged as Delaware's queen of fork-free eats &mdash sought out for her signature mac 'n' cheesesteaks and her fries dipped in ranch dressing and dusted with garlic powder.
Off the Rez, Seattle
Seattle is a food truck mecca, which means Off the Rez gets serious props for differentiating itself from the crowd. It's the only place in the city where patrons can get a taste of Native American cuisine &mdash most notably Indian fry bread. The puffy, doughy vessels can be enjoyed as is, or used to cradle fillings such as chicken chile verde, pulled pork or burgers, or even ordered as dessert, drizzled with honey, rolled in cinnamon sugar or dolloped with lemon curd, Nutella or jam.
Authentic Gyros, Miami
Served from a truck as blue as the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean, the gyros from Miami's Greek machine are definitely legit. Piled with spit-roasted lamb, pork or chicken, they're wrapped in fresh grilled pitas and showered with locally grown tomatoes, onions and housemade tzatziki sauce.
Yeti Dogs, Anchorage, Alaska
The common (and frequently true) perception of hot dogs is that they're jam-packed with mystery meat. Yet this Anchorage, Alaska, purveyor stands proudly behind its proteins, with good reason. All-beef sausages are merely a jumping-off point here look for links forged from reindeer, alligator, rattlesnake, elk and yak as well.
Burmese Bites, New York City
While it's possible to find fare from just about anywhere in the world in New York City, there are precious few places dedicated to Burmese cuisine. That explains much of the excitement around Burmese Bites, winner of the People's Choice honor in the 2018 Vendy Awards (honoring the city's best street-food purveyors). A primary cause of the fuss, though, is the incredible keema palata, which owner Myo Lin Thway learned to how to make from a trishaw driver, in his hometown of Hinthada. A flatbread &mdash formed from unleavened dough, swung in the air and slapped down repeatedly so it forms paper-thin, ultraflaky layers &mdash is wrapped around juicy chunks of chicken spiced with masala imported from Myanmar.
Streetza Pizza, Milwaukee
Quick &mdash name America's best city for pizza. Bet you said New York, right? Well, according to national media, who've declared Streetza "The #1 Food Truck in America" (Bloomberg Businessweek), one of the "Best Pizza Joints in the U.S." (Travel Observer) and "The Best Food Truck in All the Land" (Eater), Milwaukee may have stripped the Big Apple of its title.
Smoke Et Al, Nashville, Tennessee
As the name suggests, this Nashville favorite goes way beyond barbecue. Granted, the pit-smoked meats are unimpeachable, from hickory ribs to hand-pulled pork shoulder to brisket, either served as is or tucked inside of a taco. But the "Et Al" portion of the menu also deserves mention. Yakitori tater sticks (roasted, fried and skewered Yukon Gold potatoes glazed in Japanese grilling sauce), anyone?
Bang Bite Filling Station, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Enrique Guerrero is something of a culinary celeb in Santa Fe, since he's opened multiple popular restaurants (many of which have showcased what he calls his "Nuevo Hacienda Cuisine") as well as Bang Bite Filling Station, one of the area's longest-running food trucks. And while he's obviously got serious fine-dining chops, he's just as committed to serving up award-winning burgers. Take the Bite Burger, which raises the stakes on the beloved green chile cheeseburger, with jalapenos, serranos, poblanos and chipotles blended right into the meat.