Chef Venus Van Horn, Part Three: Five Tips for Launching Your Own Food Truck

It takes a lot to get a food truck rolling.

by Jonathan Bender |

It takes a lot to get a food truck rolling.

Consider this your primer on how to launch your own food truck. Chef Venus Van Horn, who shares the kitchen and wheel of the Magical Meatball Tour with partner Ceaser Reyes, has agreed to share what’s she learned over the past year.

On Monday, she talked about her first kitchen job after two decades of working in telecommunications and on Tuesday, she confessed her love for a bloody steak.

1.Estimate how much it will cost—then double it — That was the hardest lesson for us to learn. When we started this project we completely underestimated how much it would cost. The other truck operators I’ve talked to have had the same experience. We naively started this thinking it would be a little money down and a lot of money coming in. it hasn’t quite worked that way. There are lots of hidden costs in running an operation like this. Truck maintenance, commissary rental, insurance, licensing fees—not to mention the product loss in the event of something you can’t control such as a stretch of bad weather—all add up in a hurry.

2. Utilize Social Media. A large part of our success is directly due to sites like Twitter and Facebook. Neither Ceasar nor I are experts in this but we are learning and are amazed at how important it is to our business. We’ve had customers drive across the city to find us because they saw an update on Twitter. And in that vein don’t cut corners on your product, service or the customers’ experience, because social media supporters are not shy about posting their experiences and the word spreads like wildfire over the internet.

3. Get to know your health department inspector and your city’s codes. We were told this early on and it was invaluable. The regulations of food trucks are very strict and you don’t want to pull up to an inspection and discover that you put in the wrong type of sink, or that your ventilation system is inadequate. We asked a lot of questions, read all the codes and called our inspector before we installed anything. Plumbing and electricity need to be done by a professional.

4. Find your niche. You may be the most skilled baker in the city, but ask yourself, does the city really need another cupcake truck? Research restaurant industry trends and projections. Keep your menu small. We like to think of our truck as more than just a mobile food truck—we want to offer our customers an experience. Gourmet food trucks are a relatively new concept in Kansas City. Be creative and imagine ways to get customers to step out of their comfort zones and eat at your truck

5. Take care of your health.Food trucks are not a part-time business. They are physically and mentally demanding. You are on your feet 12-14 hours some days, in cramped quarters on non-level surfaces. There is heavy lifting, deep cleaning, and exposure to anyone who comes by with a cold or flu. The mental stresses of being the accountant, mechanic, chef, operations manager, and business owner can be taxing. It’s so important to eat healthy, get enough rest and get enough play. It’s hard to do, but so necessary, because as the owner of a food truck, you can’t afford to not be on top of your game.