New technology, growing fan base fuel mobile-food movement
Food trucks, which had revved up attendee curiosity at the past several National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Shows in Chicago, drove even more interest this year as the road-tested trend continues to demonstrate it has long-haul potential.
With suppliers offering such sophisticated extras as flat-screen televisions, satellite dishes and even wood-burning ovens, proponents of on-the-road feeding say the food truck vogue has moved further into the mainstream.
“Now we’re starting to see multiple-truck concepts, with some of them launching their second, third or fourth vehicles,” said Ray Villaman, whose Los Angeles-based company, Mobi Munch, is behind the Chairman Bao truck in San Francisco and the LudoTruck in Los Angeles. “We’re way past the idea of it being a fad or [wondering] whether it’s sustainable.”
Villaman said operators now have a number of options, such as whether to buy trucks new or used, or lease rather than buy, and whether to develop conventional menus and concepts or go cutting-edge. In addition, operators must make such decisions as whether to employ a commissary kitchen; how to develop a social-media strategy for the truck; and whether to focus on lunch routes, street festivals and events, or catering.
Food trucks are not just the focus of domestic attention, either. Operators from abroad are eyeing them as well, said Mark Sullivan, owner of the Pizza Truck Company of Bethel, Conn.
“There were a lot of Central and South American attendees as well as many from Eastern Europe,” Sullivan said. “They have growing middle classes. These trucks are an interesting angle for them.”
His Pizza Truck stood out for its 60-inch flat-screen televisions, satellite dishes for communications and the lower-tech wood-burning ovens.
The wide variety of options has led to a wide variety of price tags. For the Pizza Truck, “depending on the model, fully loaded they can range from $215,000 [to] as low as $165,000,” Sullivan said.
Show sessions also explored the growing truck trend.
Suzy Badaracco, president of Culinary Tides Inc., in a session titled “The Road Ahead for Food Trucks” said the Iraq and Afghanistan wars led consumers to seek comfort foods close to home. At the same time, the economic crisis of 2008 spurred dining customers to trade down, reduce restaurant visits, search out bargains and seek more local sustainable menus — all of which fit into the food truck image.
Villaman of Mobi Munch explained in a “Food Truck Nuts and Bolts” session that the recession’s pinch on development and operating capital also helped fuel the boom, which has seen the number of licensed food trucks in Los Angeles County, Calif., rise to 4,000.
Villaman said indicators signal “an important, permanent awakening toward the viability of food trucks as being legitimate, respected and attractive foodservice models.”
Other advantages of food trucks, Villaman said, include:
• They can serve as billboards for the brand.
• They appeal to social-network-savvy Millennials and influencers.
• They can serve as test outlets for brick-and-mortar restaurants.