Just a few years ago an ice cream or taco truck was the only mobile food experience available, especially if you lived outside a metropolitan area. Today, food trucks are almost commonplace with a variety of creative cuisines for any palate.
The newest area of expansion is the cell phone lot at your airport. “The trend started with the Tampa International Airport, which began inviting food trucks to park at its lot in December 2012 during a curbside parking rule transition. That program worked out so well, a different food truck pulls in the cell phone lot each weekday.” They can now be found at airports from Indianapolis to Los Angeles.
Their popularity has only increased with the start of the popular Food Network show Eat Street in 2011. It has been a boom for the industry as visitors will seek out specific trucks. Recently, the show filmed in Columbus, Ohio, and we were able to get some perspective from behind the wheel from a local food truck owner. We got in touch with Keith Smith, owner of The Green Meanie, to get his thoughts on the food truck phenomenon.
What made you decide to open a food truck? How long have you been in business?
We decided to start a truck [two years ago] because we are very passionate about food and cooking, but opening a restaurant was more of a financial risk. We still wanted the flexibility and creativity allowed by owning a business, and this was a way to get into the local food scene, test the waters and see what the response to our cooking would be on a smaller scale.
What is your favorite thing about cooking in a food truck?
The most rewarding thing is the opportunity to watch customers’ reactions of enthusiasm and excitement when they are handed their food. It is gratifying to be able to interact with people who take the time to find the truck and genuinely enjoy the food. Another great thing is the ability to be more creative with the menu. We do typically have a “core”, but like having fun with specials and new things we find.
What is your least favorite thing?
The most challenging item is the space constraint. Although it is a full commercial kitchen, the space is small and you can only have so much food on hand and so many people working at one time.
Where do you find most of your success?
We do a lot of corporate lunches as a steady source of business, but the most successful are private events for weddings, graduations, birthdays, fundraisers, etc.
What kind of foodservice needs do you have that you wouldn’t have in a traditional restaurant?
Typically, the biggest foodservice need is we spend a lot of time shopping for food as opposed to it being able to be delivered. As mentioned before, space is always a challenge. If the kitchen on the truck cannot accommodate the amount of prep required for a particular event, a commercial kitchen must be rented.
Where do you think the expansion of food trucks will go next?
The food truck scene has exploded around the country the past two years and continues to grow. With the upscale mobile kitchen gaining momentum, sales have increased where some trucks have started identical trucks to handle demand.
One new aspect is food truck pods have also opened, such as Dinin’ Hall in Columbus. These places have food trucks which supply food to a brick and mortar location on a rotational basis. This allows you to get variety from different trucks, but have a place to sit down and eat.
Along those same lines, some new bars have sprung up that are intentionally designed with no or small kitchen with the idea of having a food truck there to provide the foodservice.
Continuing to support local food and local small businesses has become popular. This development of understanding and embracing food trucks removes the limits to creativity and quality that can come from a food truck.
Food trucks may not be the right approach for all small business owners. They come with some of the same challenges as traditional restaurants along with some added hurdles. They do, however, offer the opportunity to perfect your craft, act on an idea and become a restaurant owner with a smaller investment risk.