FIRSTHAND - Food Trucks: Fad or Fortune?

Food Trucks

Food Trucks - love 'em or leave 'em, it's hard to ignore the fact that these small-op, mobile restaurants are trending in popularity, especially in hip cities like NYC, Chicago, Portland, Houston, and our own Louisville. Whether you're outfitting your own truck, buying second-hand, or having one customized by a company como lomo food truck like C.R.A.F.T. or Vending Trucks, a food truck offers the opportunity to be your own boss and share your passion for great food literally at street level. Like any dream, however, running a food truck is a lot of work and it is important to head in with eyes wide open. To help give some perspective, we recently interacted with Vic Cardenas, a chef from Salt Lake City and former operator of Como Lomo Peruvian food truck, as he shared some of his reflections on the mobile movement, noting the challenges and opportunities for those looking into starting a food truck.

Prima - Some people have looked down their noses at the food truck movement as a flash in the pan. Is this a fad?

Chef Vic - Yes, it is a fad! But if you know what you're doing, there is longevity in this business. Very few people do know what they're doing in this business and will not find longevity. In my area, sushi and pho restaurants are a pretty big fad. Sure, sushi and pho will always have a demand but I highly doubt 70% of these new sushi or pho places are going to be open 5 years from now.

Prima - What niche do you think food trucks fill? Is it about delivering awesome gourmet tastes or merely offering cheap prices?

Chef Vic - Most food trucks are missing the point. Street food should be cheap and awesome. Most of the food trucks in my area are in the same category... in that they miss the point. When I was doing my food truck, como lomo kabobs I was making food that was extremely flavorful, looked great and was a lower price point than my rivals. The reception I had for my truck was extraordinary. I was busier than the most popular and well known food truck here most of the time (when I was right next to them) and people were giving me great feedback. I was blowing their minds! It was like Salt Lake City finally had a great food truck and everybody was "getting it". I'm sad that I have had to leave my customers. I really don't think there is another food truck here that could fill my shoes.

Prima - You have an obvious love for the Peruvian cuisine you prepared. I guess that is part of the appeal of running your own truck, eh? Sharing como lomo pork sandwich your passion and getting to see the effect on your customers?

Vic - It's all about Peruvian cuisine! The food is INSANELY good. It's become my specialty. You should have seen the look on my customers faces outside the food truck! People would be waving their arms up in the air and their eyes rolling back into their eye sockets... LOL ... I've never really seen that before in any of the other places I've cooked.

Prima - A lot of our readers like the idea of having their own gig and pursuing their culinary passions; but break down the numbers. Is there enough money in a food truck to make it financially viable?

Chef Vic - The money was working for me. I was just doing lunches for the most part. I started to do a few dinner hours and "after" hours but it was never solid for me. A typical lunch for me was doing between $500-$700 gross. I was working with my wife so effectively (in a way) we had no labor. My food costs ran usually only around 20-25%. I was only spending about $70 a month on propane! That stuff is cheap! My first commissary was only $170 a month. No utilities. Although I had a few problems with my first commissary and moved to one that charged $400 a month after that. The $400/month place had a closed garage bay and a security gate and a great kitchen so it was well worth the move. The cheaper place I was parking outside and I had constant problems with electricity and refrigeration needs and no kitchen to use.

A few hours of prep in the morning and a 2 hour lunch (always busy) was all the hours I was putting in. I was working 4 days a week and working on filling in 1 or 2 other days with solid spots and looking into getting solid spots for dinner. The money worked for me and I am confident that if other things didn't get in the way, I'd still be doing it and making good money and I'm sure I'd be the most popular food truck in SLC at this point... Leagues above the rest.

Prima - So, follow up on that. What size team could a food truck support? Two? Three?

Chef Vic - 3 guys can't make a living in this business. 2 however, is a more realistic option.

Prima - Did you have one permanent place you would park your truck or did you follow the mobile model and park your truck at different sweet spots?

Chef Vic - I had considered finding a permanent location. I think it would have worked better for me... I was moving around to all the "popular spots". I was following your typical "gourmet" food truck business model that we have here in SLC. Office buildings, mobile food courts, and a few popular venues and private parties.

Prima - You mentioned "other things" getting in the way. Why did you decide to sell your truck?

Chef Vic - It didn't work out due to family issues and the logistics of it. In other words, it was complicated.

Prima - Fair enough. Thanks for sharing your perspective with our readers!

Do you have experience operating a food truck? If so, do you agree with Chef Cardenas's assessments? We'd love to hear some feedback from around the country!

If you are outfitting a truck, Prima has the equipment you need with unbeatable prices and excellent service! Check out our refrigerated prep tables, reach-ins, griddles, charbroilers, and fryers. If you need help finding anything or have questions, call, email, or chat us and our professional customer service team will be happy to assist you!

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