Fresno, CA: Valley Street Vendor Suppliers see BIG Increase in Sales

Darrell Jones of Custom Concessions works inside of a trailer at the Fresno business Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Custom Concessions, which manufactures food trailers and portable barbecue pits has seen an uptick in business with the popularity of food trucks around the nation. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

By Bethany Clough | The Fresno Bee

Darrell Jones of Custom Concessions works inside of a trailer at the Fresno business Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Custom Concessions, which manufactures food trailers and portable barbecue pits has seen an uptick in business with the popularity of food trucks around the nation. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

Fresno’s flourishing food truck scene is benefiting more than just the people selling lunches and the customers eating them.

One Fresno-based company that makes concession trailers has doubled the number of workers in its shop and had sales jump 30% in the past year as entrepreneurs jump into the trendy food business.

The growth of Quality Custom Concession & BBQ Trailers is an example of the ripple effect that happens when a new industry that is relatively easy to get into becomes popular.

The 11-year-old company started making barbecue grills, then evolved into building trailers that sell everything from shaved ice to gourmet meals. Though they aren’t true food trucks — the mobile kitchens are towed by pickup trucks — that part of their business has picked up significantly in the past four years, said David Martin, who does sales and marketing for the company.

“It got more popular and more popular,” he said. “The more we built, the more we saw a market for it.”

Arnold Barajas of Custom Concessions works on an exhaust fan near the alcove that used to be the stage for the old Marigold Ballroom in Fresno Tuesday, September 4, 2012. Custom Concessions manufactures custom food trailers and portable barbecue pits. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

Fresnans might recognize the Summertime Pies and K’s Pasta trailers — both sell their food at the Manchester Center farmers market at lunchtime on Fridays. Quality Custom Concession built both.

They’re part of the burgeoning mobile food scene, a $1.5 billion industry that has grown at an average rate of 8.4% per year over the past four years, according to research firm IBISWorld.

The trend has grown locally as customers seek out fresh and unique foods, and scorn processed foods, said Tim Stearns director of the Lyles Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Fresno State.

“Certainly the uptick in the demand for street vendors is helping a lot of their upstream suppliers,” said Nima Samadi, an IBISWorld senior analyst. “It’s been a boost for a lot of these manufacturing firms that create the carts and equipment that’s used within these trucks and also the industries that supply them with food.”

A custom food trailer is shown in the Custom Concessions warehouse in Fresno Tuesday, September 4, 2012. The company manufactures food trailers and portable barbecue pits and has seen a recent uptick in business because of the rising popularity of food trucks around the nation. CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

Other local businesses have benefited from the trend, too.

For Fresno-based Carlin Manufacturing, sales of the mobile kitchens — both trucks and trailers — it makes for big-name brands like Taco Bell have grown 15% to 20% over the past two years, said Ralph Goldbeck, one of three partners in the business.

The company closed its Fresno plant in 2003 and moved manufacturing to the Midwest, but it maintains a 10-person design and sales office here. The growth inspired Carlin recently to add two people who design the trucks and trailers to its Fresno office.

And Quality Custom Concession has passed business along to J&E Restaurant Supply, ordering its trailer-size refrigerators, griddles and other equipment from the downtown Fresno business.

The mobile food business is relatively easy to get into, accounting for some of its recent growth, Stearns said.

“It doesn’t cost a lot of capital to … get a barbecue pit trailer,” Stearns said.

Entrepreneurs avoid many of the expenses and pitfalls facing brick-and-mortar restaurants, he said.

As people struggle to find work, many are increasingly turning to the mobile food business as a source of income, he said.

“The appeal is the cost to get into the industry,” said Robert Thomason, a member of the Mobile Food Vendors Association’s board of directors.

Costs range from $895 for a small barbecue trailer to $100,000 for a top-of-the-line food truck.

“A lot of our customers, this is their new dream,” said Mark Cifranic, Quality Custom Concession’s office manager and a sales person.

Many are laid-off workers or people coming out of retirement.

Quality Custom Concession is creating prototypes in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. Not cheap, but within the budget of entrepreneurs who tap their retirement or other savings, Cifranic said.

John and Sherry Liles of Summertime Pies bought a 20-foot trailer in Southern California that originally was built by Quality Custom Concession. They hired the Fresno company to remodel it.

“They completely gutted it,” putting in new sinks, a refrigerator, freezer, two deep fryers, oven and stove and grill, said John Liles.

The couple came out of retirement to run Summertime Pies, saying they needed an additional source of income. Now they visit several locations per week, selling baked and fried pies and empanadas from a window in the trailer.

Quality Custom Concession is increasingly remodeling trucks and trailers, some of which are bought out of state and need work to meet California and county health requirements, Cifranic said.

About half of its business comes from local customers and the rest from outside the area.

Quality Custom Concession’s roots are planted firmly in the Valley, however. The company — located on Hedges Avenue, near Blackstone and Olive avenues — got its start when owner Durbin Breckenridge, who runs a meat-processing plant across the street, got involved in a barbecue-building and catering business.

Its first concession trailer was built for Del Rey farmer and author David Mas Masumoto, who wanted a mobile kitchen to serve food from while entertaining on his farm.

“All of a sudden, we had people calling us,” Breckenridge said. “We picked up from there and the rest is history.”