Food Truck Operators Roll with Hard Lessons, Find New Opportunities


Food Truck Operators Roll with Hard Lessons, Find New Opportunities - Kandessa

Regulatory issues can be tough on food trucks. That’s what Edward Song, founder of KorillaBBQ, the first Korean BBQ mobile operation in New York City says. Korilla currently serve up Korean barbecue-style fare via three trucks in the city. From Song’s perspective, the city's regulation needs to be scrapped and rebuilt.

He's not alone in battling legislation. A recent New York Times article brought to light heightened Police regulation of Midtown Manhattan locations where food trucks can legally park.

According to the Times, a recent New York ruling by Judge Geoffrey D. Wright of the New York State Supreme Court upheld a 1950's Department of Transportation law that prohibits merchandise from being sold at metered parking locations. The resulting enforcement has wreaked havoc on some culinary mobile operators that have long been building a clientele at specific locations.

Legislation enacted or enforced in cities that allow food truck vending is often a response to brick-and-mortar backlash. Suzy Badaracco, a culinary forensic expert and speaker, says brick-and-mortars feeling threatened creates one of two main threats to food trucks. "Local brick-and-mortars stir the pot to create new legislation against food trucks [since] government is reactionary to food trucks," she explains.

The real concern, she adds, is food safety.

"We’re hopeful that brick-and-mortar stores will also use food trucks to expand their brand. But we were mindful of their concerns." Mike Ross, Boston City Council.

PBS noted in a recent article that L.A. will soon require letter grade posting by its near-10,000 food trucks in service. Chicago doesn't allow actual food preparation on the truck, but that may soon change.

Technomic, a Chicago-based foodservice research and consultancy firm, says that food trucks are here to stay. Rolling with the punches and flipping lessons into opportunity is key.

Food trucks' three main challenges are navigating legislation, maintaining culinary expertise, and not understanding the full-year economics of operating a food truck, according to Kevin Higar, Director for Technomic.

"We’re hopeful that brick-and-mortar stores will also use food trucks to expand their brand. But we were mindful of their concerns," says Boston City Councilor Mike Ross. Just this April, Boston passed legislation creating a cohesive application process for food trucks and a more permissive environment.

Ross notes that Boston regulations won't allow food trucks with similar foods concepts to open near competing restaurants. Boston has also designated specific parking spots and locations for food truck operators to serve up their delights.

Creating a feel for global cuisine and authentic flavors, many food trucks have built-up an expertise for particular flavors and menus. Higar warns that food truck operators may want to expand their concepts beyond what they're known for. "Don't give into that temptation," he warns.

Badaracco also cautions operators not to ‘fuse and mix.’  She says, "If your food is Middle Eastern, Central American, or other than showcase authentic, regional foods, and don’t ‘fuse’ anything.  Consumers are right now in a playful, experimental mode, but want authentic, native versions of whatever the cuisine is."

Experimenting can also lead to taxing mobile food operations and reducing speed of service, says Technomic's Higar.

Not understanding the full economics of a food truck Profit & Loss statement (P&L) is also a risk factor for even the savviest of entrepreneurs. "What will happen when the bad weather days come? What happens when my truck breaks down? What can I do to expand my concept?" asks Higar. He recommends being proactive and points to lessons from Phoenix and New York.

The Wafels and Dinges food truck in New York City went retail. The concept now offers guests the ability to order products online: waffle mixes, toppings and sauces can all be had at the click of a mouse.

Sweet Republic in Phoenix has expanded its retailing truck business. In addition to the farmers market venus, its founders now do weddings and special events, according to Higar. Understanding consumer sentiment and the hard lessons experienced by the first wave of operators in a particular city better positions future operators to succeed.

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