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Food Trucks Serve Busy Urban Diners, Introduce New Chefs, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The recent boom in food trucks is largely attributed to a shift in urban consumer taste and a rise of food industry entrepreneurs around the time of the Great Recession (late 2007 to mid-2009).  With the help of social media, food trucks went from constructions site fixtures to staples of urban dining.  While Los Angeles-based Kogi Korean BBQ is seen as a starting point for the food truck boom back in 2008, a number of other major U.S. cities saw increases in food trucks around the same time.
As a food industry business, food trucks also offer a low-investment alternative to store fronts with easier, walk-up access and a lot of operational flexibility.  As a result, food trucks are often owned by groups typically less represented in restaurant ownership, such as minorities, women, immigrants, and LGBTQ entrepreneurs.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCC), 80% of Chicago’s food trucks are minority owned.
In 2020, food trucks were estimated to have brought in $1.24 billion in revenue (down due to the Coronavirus pandemic).  As established components of the urban food landscape, food trucks are expected to see continued growth over the long term.  They are also predicted to transform from mere mobile food locations to more traditional food industry roles such as catering, food fest participants or promotional popup stalls for trucks owned by brick-and-mortar restaurants.  The open-air aspect of food trucks make them a good tool for social distancing as well in the wake of the Coronavirus pandemic.
Food trucks have also taken on extremely unique aspects that sometimes escape brick-and-mortar restaurants, especially large national chains.  Many see food trucks as integral components of a community and are even cited by cities as part of tourism campaigns.  The ability of food truck owners to create highly experimental dishes at a low price also help to differentiate food trucks from restaurants in a positive way.
One of the biggest issues facing food trucks is regulation.  Depending on the city, regulations and startup costs have increased in recent years.  Because of the local nature of food trucks, regulatory hurdles do not always reflect national trends on business friendly/unfriendly areas of the country.  The biggest factors are a city’s commitment to community building, urban renewal, and susceptibility to restaurant group lobbying.  According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, starting a food truck business is easiest in Denver, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia and most difficult in Washington, D.C., Seattle and Boston.
Food trucks that are able to find viable locations do not have to worry about many of the restrictions on seating and capacity affecting restaurants.  An app set up by the National Food Truck Association has also been a great benefit to food truck operators by making it easier for them to connect with customers.  Even with the advantages however, food trucks are still suffering as a result of Coronavirus-related public health restrictions and are likely to be hit as hard as many other small businesses.
Cost to set up a business:  Set up costs for a food truck can vary widely by geographic location.  Overall, the greatest expense is for the truck itself, which can range from $50,000 to $200,000.  According to USCC, the cost of obtaining permits and licenses range from $590 in Indianapolis to $17,066 in Boston.  In more food truck-friendly locations, permits and licenses usually cost between $1,000 and $1,200.  In addition to cost, the number of actual permits needed can vary significantly.  San Francisco and Boston require a food truck operator to go through 32 separate procedures before they can start serving, while Denver requires only 10.  Food trucks can also face a highly restrictive or open environment, depending on location, with Denver and Philadelphia having the fewest restrictions and Washington and Minneapolis having the highest number.  Overall, no one city has a complete advantage in startup cost for food truck operators, but there are a few, such as Denver and Philadelphia, that certainly have supportive environments for operating a food truck.
Typical yearly income:  A number of factors can impact the annual income that a food truck reaps.  A recent survey by Food Truck Empire of over 300 full-time food truck owners showed that 85% brought in $100,000 or more in annual gross income, while 21% brought in more than $200,000 in gross income.  Net profits can depend on a number of factors, such as location, overhead costs, fees, and how many meal services are prepared and how many days a food truck operates.  Although operating a food truck requires a significant amount of time, for some it has huge advantages to owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant.  Many out-of-work chefs and failed-restaurant managers turned to food truck ownership as a low cost, back-to-basics way to earn a living that many felt was more advantageous then putting up the capital required for a traditional restaurant.

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