Mobile units an opportunity to increase income, marketing
Petro’s Chili and Chips may soon be coming to a parking lot near you.
Brothers Edwin and Henry Wong began dishing out chili and chips and other menu items from their new 16-foot mobile food truck late last week (built by MiamiTrailer.com), visiting various businesses and venues.
Taking advantage of one of the biggest industry trends of the year, the brothers – Edwin is 36 and Henry is 27 – are the first to franchise a food truck from Petro’s.
“When the decision was made to develop a food truck, we immediately signed up. It was a no-brainer for us,” Edwin Wong said.
The Wongs hope to have three trucks by the end of the year, including a larger one for events. They already are lined up to go to the Bonnaroo music festival next month.
“The advantage of having wheels is you can go to any location,” Edwin Wong said. “The great thing about Petro’s is it’s pretty simple. You’re just putting it in a bowl. The product itself is so mobile.”
The Petro’s food truck franchise works much like a traditional one but with lower up-front costs. The Petro’s truck, including franchise fees, is estimated to be a $75,000 investment.
For Petro’s corporate, the trucks are an opportunity to build brand awareness and market penetration. For instance, on their first day last week, 10 to 20 percent of the customers waiting in line had never tried a Petro’s.
The brothers are testing various locations including business offices, sport complexes, event venues and other areas and are using social media and texting to tell potential customers when and where they’ll be. They slowly will be expanding the menu to include nachos and other varieties.
“When it came rolling into town, we were all blown away. Everything we can do in our kitchen, we can do here. We think it will be huge for business in general. It’s like a moving billboard,” Petro’s President Dale Widmer said.
Petro’s already is looking to expand the food truck franchise to other areas including Dallas and Atlanta. Its sister restaurant, Gandolfo’s New York Delicatessen, under Georgia-based parent company Pool Restaurant Group, also launched similar franchises this year with more than a dozen trucks planned across the country in the coming months.
Scott Bryan, environmental manager at the Knox County Department of Health, said his department has seen a 25 percent increase in the number of mobile unit permits issued in the last year for everything from a large Petro’s truck to hotdog carts.
Bryan believes the economy is one factor for the increase. There are about 175 food trucks and carts in Knox County.
“We get a lot of people who are out of work and buying mobile concession trailers or carts and selling food out of them,” Bryan said. “It’s not as simple as it sounds, though.”
While it may be less expensive than a physical store, vendors have to follow the same regulations as a brick-and-mortar operation. And while permits are statewide, they must get permission from property owners and special permits from some municipalities.
Dain Pool, director of franchising for Pool Restaurant Group, said he believes the food trucks will go the way of the fast casual restaurant segment, which has led industry growth over the past several years.
“When the fast casual restaurants started coming out, everybody said it won’t last. Now, it represents 80 percent of restaurant growth,” he said. “I think the same thing will happen to mobile trucks.”