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.
It has been a boom for the industry, as visitors will seek out specific trucks. When the popular Food Network show Eat Street filmed in Columbus, Ohio, we were able to get some perspective from behind the wheel of a local food truck owner, Keith Smith, owner of The Green Meanie. He gave us his thoughts on the food truck phenomenon.
What made you decide to open a food truck?
We decided to start a truck 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 owning a business allowed, 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 typically have a “core”, but enjoy having fun with specials and new things we find.
What are some challenges that you face?
The most challenging thing about a food truck is the space constraint. Although it is a full-sized 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 and fundraisers.
What kind of foodservice needs do you have that you wouldn’t have in a traditional restaurant?
Typically, we spend a lot of time shopping for food as opposed to having it delivered. 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 in the past few 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 that 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 a small or no 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.