Las Cruces, NM: Food Truck Revolution

Paul Faulkner, owner of Desert Dogs, serves a hot dog to a satisfied customer. His food truck can be found in the City Hall parking lot and offers an economical and quick lunch – hot dog, drink and chips for $3.

By Samantha Roberts | Las Cruces Bulletin

Paul Faulkner, owner of Desert Dogs, serves a hot dog to a satisfied customer. His food truck can be found in the City Hall parking lot and offers an economical and quick lunch – hot dog, drink and chips for $3.

Mobile food vendors expand in Las Cruces

Imagine, a little boy or girl is sitting in their living room playing a game, when all of the sudden a soft noise starts to play in the background. The sound gets louder and the tune is recognized as a familiar song. Perhaps the song is “Yankee Doodle” or “London Bridge,” but whatever it was, it means one thing – the ice cream truck is coming.

Though the ice cream truck is not as popular as it used to be, a new wave of mobile vendors known as food trucks have taken over the country, including Las Cruces.

Although not all of them are easily seen, Las Cruces has more than 65 active food trucks, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner.

According to Christine Logan, economic development and business assistance liaison for the City of Las Cruces, anyone serving food, even in a mobile unit, is required to have the same food service permit.

“Just like restaurants, the trucks are inspected by the environmental department,” Logan said. “Once the (owner) has a food handling permit from the state environmental department, they have to get a business license, which is $35 for a (restaurant) building and $40 for a mobile vendor.”

The building permit must be renewed every year through the city.

For Paul Faulkner, owner of Desert Dogs – a mobile hot dog vendor – the food permit comes at a crazy cost.

“It’s $200 a year, and I just don’t get it,” Faulkner said. “What I have is about the smallest food truck you can get. People don’t have to come and inspect my bathrooms or walkthrough my kitchen. I think the amount you pay should be proportional to the size of your truck (or restaurant).”

Though the permit process is the same, starting a food truck can be significantly easier than running a “brick and mortar” restaurant, said Jesse Addison, president of Jesse’s KCBBQ.

Addison said he thought about opening a restaurant, but decided he would start with a mobile barbecue truck first.

“I enjoy meeting people and talking to them, that’s why I like this business so much,” he said. “I am still held under the same scrutiny as restaurants, but I don’t have to deal with all their problems.”

Addison, who leases his spot at 230 S. Church St., said the key to a successful food truck is keeping the food and location consistent.

“I decided on a permanent spot to build clientele,” he said. “People expect to see the golden arches of McDonald’s when they round the corner, and people expect to see me at my spot. When they don’t, they start to panic. I have people calling and asking where I am.

“You also have to keep your food consistent and menu simple. For example, I don’t do French fries because I don’t want that hot grease flying around in my smalltruck.”

Keeping a simple menu also helps Addison keep a clean kitchen, which is inspected regularly.

When it comes to parking their business, Logan said a food truck needs permission from the landowner, and they are in business.

“They can stop in any actual parking spot,” she said. “If we are talking about an ice cream truck that stays mobile, then theyjust have to follow the same traffic laws as if driving an RV.”

Since it has been speculated that up to 90 percent of restaurants fail in their first year of business, perhaps a food truck is a safer bet. The cost of starting a food truck, depending on the size and city, can start around $10,000 or less. Of course, the more elaborate the truck and cooking gear, the greater the costs.

Faulkner and Addison agree that Las Cruces fosters a friendly food-truck environment, except for the summer weather.

“I don’t think I will ever get used to the heat,” said Faulkner, who moved here from New Jersey. “A hot dog stand is so common back East that I was shocked not to see one here. I think it works well, but that is because we have the best hot dogs in town.”

Though Addison does not have to directly deal with the New Mexico sun because he is in an indoor truck, he does cater to his outdoor guests with covered seating.