Boston: Running a Food Truck No Easy Trek

By Jennifer Heldt Powell | Boston Herald

When it’s been cold and rainy for four straight days in September, there’s nothing fun about running a food truck. Business is slow and your mind starts to wander into January and beyond.

Who will brave the chilly New England snows for a Vietnamese sandwich? Will there be a place to park the truck once the snow finally melts? Are you going to have to hire an entirely new crew?

Patrick Lynch generally enjoys running the Bon Me food truck on City Hall Plaza but admits he didn’t quite know what he was in for when he and his wife, Alison Song, signed up for Boston’s food truck contest last year.

“We had talked about starting a restaurant at some point, but we hadn’t got past talking,” he said. “It didn’t really become serious until halfway through the contest.”

The contest is part of an overall effort by the city to expand the local food truck industry.

It was a fast education, Lynch said. People may think that it’s easy to launch a successful food truck business, but that’s only because they haven’t tried it. Winning the contest and landing a coveted spot on City Hall Plaza gave Bon Me a boost, but the apparent ease of entry into the business belies the challenges that follow.

Whether or not it’s cheap to get started depends on your perspective. A new truck costs $70,000 to $120,000 depending on how much equipment you load into it. You also need to have a space to do prep work and store the food when it’s not on the truck. And, you can’t do the job alone.

Song planned to keep her day job and Lynch knew he couldn’t manage the truck by himself. They brought on a partner, Asta Schuette, and then they hired extra help. They’re now up to 17 employees.

Unlike a stationary restaurant, this one has to be loaded and unloaded every day, which adds to the labor costs. Also, it’s extremely weather dependent.

Revenue expectations were on track for Bon Me through June, and July and August were strong months. However, it remains to be seen how profitable the venture will be this year given the uncertainties of winter.

Over time, Lynch and Schuette have gotten to know their customers. They figured out which days are busier and how much food they would need based on the weather.

All of this knowledge will be useless if they can’t return to the plaza next summer. The permit for City Hall runs through October and then they’ll be considering other places for lunch.

They don’t know what will happen next summer. They do plan on maintaining their dinner spot at Boston University throughout much of the winter, and they’ll keep going on Saturdays to Copley Plaza as long as business there is good.

Although the business has its quirks, at the end of the day it’s in many ways like any other.

“The biggest issue is that once you start working on something, it’s hard to stop working on it. You’ve put so much effort into it,” Lynch said. “When you’re not working on it, you’re thinking about things you can do to make it better and it ends up consuming you.”