By Paolo Lucchesi | SF Chronicle
While tension grows between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants, some local trucks are parlaying their success into opening brick-and-mortar locations.
An actual restaurant – or even a casual cafe – is a way to keep finances in order and ensure long-term profitability, said Ryan Scott, who owns the 3-Sum Eats food truck and is planning to open a cafe in San Francisco’s West Portal neighborhood.
“I don’t want to solely survive on the truck, especially now with the weather,” he said. “I can’t have my bottom line affected if it rains. Brick-and-mortar is dependable.”
Scott uses the kitchen at Bruno’s in the Mission District to do most of his preparation and cooking for his truck and catering business. He’s also been serving weekend brunch at the restaurant for the last few months. The various outlets are a way to hedge his bets, he says. Akash Kapoor concurs. In 2009, he rolled out the first Curry Up Now truck to instant buzz. Earlier this year, he opened a restaurant by the same name in San Mateo and also added two trucks to his operation.
The restaurant’s income stays steady during weather swings, he says, while the revenue from the trucks can drop 15 to 20 percent between November and February.
Kapoor also points out other benefits to an actual restaurant. The expanded room has allowed him to expand the menu, including a children’s section, and perhaps offer beer and wine in the future. He also uses the restaurant as a training ground for new employees, rather than throwing them into the fire and constant long lines of the hectic food truck world.
“You’re very limited in the truck. In the restaurant, we can create a little more, and we do serve more people,” he said.
That said, Kapoor also believes his food trucks are just as expensive to operate as his small Peninsula restaurant. Both require tricky permit processes, and he says he pays comparable rent for the truck enterprises.
But perhaps the biggest reason food truck owners covet real restaurants is the kitchen.
Mobile food regulations require certified commercial kitchens be used in conjunction with all food trucks. These shared kitchens can often be expensive, out-of-the-way or crowded with fellow operators.
“For me, the main purpose was to get a commissary kitchen of our own,” said Jim Angelus of the Bacon Bacon truck, who recently inked a lease for a quick-service cafe in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.
“Selling stuff out the door is a bonus,” he said.
With some commercial kitchen rental rates hovering around $25 an hour, spending three to four hours a day in a shared space can add up. And elbowing others for ovens? That can wear on people, said Angelus. That’s why he, like Scott, wanted a kitchen of his own to complement the main attraction, the truck.
But the beauty of the food truck is the scheduling flexibility. Many trucks took Thanksgiving week off, with nary a protest. That’s hard to do with a brick-and-mortar space, where customers expect consistent hours of operation.
In the end, though, these operators agree the transition to a brick-and-mortar support system has been an important step in building their business.
“I’m covering my bases,” Scott said. “I want to make sure I have staying power.”