- It is not cheap – Yes, a food truck is certainly less expensive than opening a restaurant but it’s certainly not cheap. You need $100,000-$150,000 to buy or lease a truck, fit it out to yours and DOH specifications, wrap it in your branding, obtain a permit ( it’s no secret the grey market prices are rising with the growing popularity of food trucks) and then have some cash for working capital. The operating costs are also steep especially maintenance , commissary parking fees and the inevitable multiple parking tickets each month. So before you get into it have a business plan & a budget and never be remiss to create monthly profit and loss statements.
- Early bird gets the worm – In the New York City food truck business a few minutes in the morning could be the difference between profit and loss. Between the parking restrictions, the limited number of office buildings that would allow a food truck to park in front of them and the spots taken by the delivery trucks there are not many lucrative blocks left for a food truck to park. If you don’t edge into a spot as early as 8am you are likely to be driving around in circles in the legendary NYC traffic and miss the lunch service. There are trucks that find creative solutions such as hiring a night driver to park and sleep in the truck till the morning crew gets there or parking a car overnight in their chosen spot but for most it’s about setting the alarm clock for the crack of dawn and never hitting the snooze button!
- Menu planning is everything – Leave aside the ‘white & hot” street food, most modern-day food trucks are run by skilled chefs/ operators offering gourmet cuisine . The trucks make great incubators for ideas but there are significant limitations to keep in mind while developing the menu. Unless you are operating out of a state of the art commissary, most of the food prep happens on the truck and the refrigeration on the truck is limited. You should plan no more than 6-8 menu items and use as many crossover ingredients as possible without being a one note flavor. Standing space is limited too so you have to think of how many crew members will your menu take to push through the lunch orders and how quickly. Last but not the least how easily does the menu transition from a lunch to dinner menu and can you continue service without returning to the commissary to restock.
- The dream team takes a lot more than dreaming of it– NYC requires each crew member on the truck to possess a mobile vending license unlike a restaurant where only one employee at each shift is needed to be food protection certificate holder. The demand for licensed employees far exceeds the number of individuals who possess it and licensing a new employee can take up to 6-8 weeks . So most times you will choose a less qualified employee and train them on the job just because they possess the license. And since it’s a truck, at least one member must possess a driving license and a clean driving record or your insurance shoots through the roof. Add to it the daily rigors of working in a cramped space outdoors in extreme heat or cold loading and unloading heavy boxes twice a day at least; you are not going to find CIA graduates lining up for the job! Choose wisely, train well and hold on to those that enjoy the job.
- Can you fight for your rights?– This is the unsavory side of the business. The stiff competition for business on the streets brings out the “mean girls” in vendors mostly over parking in sought after blocks. When we were out last summer , a very famous yogurt truck chain was notorious among truckers for bullying them out of spots by hiring goons to block customers from getting to the other trucks window. Then there is the turf war battle with the street carts that park on the sidewalk as well as the restaurants in the neighborhood. Before you hit the road, do your research . Drive around and see where there is an opportunity for you and avoid over crowded blocks. Study the parking pattern of competitors and avoid being on the same block as them on the same day of the week. Common sense will tell you that it cannot be good for business if two trucks parked next to each other offer similar type of food. Form good relationships with other trucks and support each other. But if you are faced with a bully truck then know how to stand ground or else this business is not for you!
Momos & Buns
Last year, we participated in what seemed like a never-ending calendar of food truck events and markets. As vendors, each event was special to us but as parents the most fun were the ones where our kids could hang out too. So here is an insider peek behind the top five!
When – Held every first and third Sunday from April to October, 11am-5pm
Where – Grand Army Plaza, at the entrance to Prospect Park, between the neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Park Slope and Crown Heights, near the 2,3,B, Q trains.
Managed by Dispatch NY, this is one of the most family friendly food truck events. The trucks are carefully curated to offer something for everyone so while the kids munch on grilled cheese the foodie you could be enjoying an arepa ! Big plus – they always include a dessert truck and the lines at all the trucks are never too long. The historic Soldiers & Sailors’ Arch and the Bailey fountain offer a dramatic backdrop and there are enough shaded areas to sit down and eat with the family. The proximity to Prospect Park zoo and Brooklyn Botanic Garden helped us make it an all day event with the kids many a times. A perfectly relaxed Sunday outing!
When – Saturday, September 20 2014, 11am to 6pm
Where – Down Newark Avenue in Historic Downtown Jersey City, near the Path train
Technically, its Jersey not New York but the event is such a blast that’s its worth checking out. There are bouncy castles, arts & crafts, music for the kids and local artisans selling wares worth buying, not made in China cashmere scarves & T- shirts as in most street fairs. The food choices between the trucks and the pop up stands are eclectic but reasonably priced. Also one of the few street fairs where vendors sell wine, beer & cocktails!
3. Vendy Awards
When – TBA , Sometime in September 2014
Where – TBA
Now in its 10th year The Vendys are the first street food event and competition series that provide a forum for vendors to compete for the title of best street food. The finalists arrive with their carts/trucks and prepare their best bites for Vendy attendees and judges. The event is ticketed but unlike some other events food and beverages are plentiful and so are the seating areas. The only downside is that the lines are really long so if you have kids go early.
On a side note, the nominees are mostly mom & pops that spend a substantial sum serving about 1000 free portions so do support them when you see them on the streets.
When – Fridays & Saturdays 7pm-1am
Where – 65 Banker Street, Brooklyn, near the G train
A night market in Greenpoint,it is super popular with hipsters but even if you do not don a beard, check shirt, beanie & combat boots and have kids in tow you will be totally deck here! The Bazaar is all ages but those under 17 need adult supervision to enter. Entrance is always free and it’s not busy if you go early evening – the kids will love to hear the bands do sound check, play some black night mini golf, try some cool eats and browse cool funky kids stuff sold by many vendors. Makes the kids feel all grown up!
When – Sep. 20 & 21, 2014
Where – New York Hall of Science, Queens near the 7 train.
Part science fair, part county fair, and part family festival, Maker’s Faire is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, crafters, educators, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs and commercial exhibitors. From robots to life sized mouse traps, its an amazing display of creativity and is bound to keep your kids engaged for hours. The food is not too shabby either- last year one of the vendors started slow cooking his paèlla on site a day before the event started !