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All about food trucks [moved from the California board]

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[We've moved this digression from this thread at http://www.chowhound.com/topics/407849 -- THE CHOWHOUND TEAM

We'll now I know what I want to do besides fly if/when we ever go back to the US. Where do the vendors have the trucks outfitted? Any idea about costs? Are they owner operators, or do one or two people own all the tricked out trucks? Do any use hook ups of any kind?

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  1. here you go, Sam, upper edge of the menu lists the truck maker.

    http://farm1.static.flickr.com/152/36...

    1 Reply
    1. re: toodie jane

      toodie, thank you. You have my mind watering.

    2. I've asked a few of the vendors where they acquired their catering trucks. So far, the used market in LA is the usual answer, purchased from a street vendor down there. Prices have ranged from $20K to $35K, requiring installment payments of two to five years. So far the folks I've bothered to ask all own their own trucks. El Kiosko's owner has 2 trucks, one for 5 years and the second one about 2 years. La Perla's owner has 2 trucks. I have not run across any of the stationary ones that run an electrical line from a nearby building, which is different from the ones I'm familiar with in Sonoma County. These are self-contained. Many run portable generators. When I noticed one that did not, I asked the operator, and he said that he has a break between lunch and dinner shifts when he recharges the truck's batteries. His food from the steamer was very hot, so I guess it works.

      Not verified, but I have heard from one source that the pushcarts are owned principally by two outfits. These are the person-propelled small carts, mostly selling paletas.

      7 Replies
      1. re: Melanie Wong

        Thank you. This is American small business at its best, and shows that the US is still a land of opportunity. The trucks cost about as much as it would to start up a bricks and mortar (?) place. Fascinating. I've been awed and appreciative of such vendors. And I've "'worked in the industry".

        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

          The street vendor program in Salinas was initially started to give people an opportunity for self-employment and to regulate the activities. More than once, a vendor will tell me that he likes being his own boss. Owning a capital asset rather than paying rent gives them the opportunity to take a couple months off in the winter time or for moms to work shorter hours. Others head down to Arizona to serve the field laborers there, probably the ones still making payments on their trucks.

          When I've asked about sales levels, the range of gross receipts has been in the $100 to $200 per day range. This is GROSS, mind you, with $150 considered a good day and the higher end for a weekend in the summer season. I was shocked at these numbers as the trucks I frequent in Sonoma County can pull in more than $1,000/day. In Santa Rosa, the trucks will often have an order-taker outside and two or three people working inside. In Salinas, sometimes there's just the owner, and sometimes one other working. I've only seen three trucks in Salinas that have four staff.

          So thinking about the likelihood of these vendors making the transition to brick and mortar restaurant businesses, maybe the few that own two or more trucks can sell them and come up with the capital investment to start-up and get through the first year. Plus they have the experience managing employees. For others, it's a much harder proposition. Also, I've done an initial search for commercial property vacancies in town and there's nothing in the automated listings that would be suitable for a small restaurant or walk-up taco window. Driving around the east Salinas area, I've not seen anything either from the roadway. Now I haven't walked door-to-door yet or worked with a local agent, but it does show the challenge of finding any space, let alone something affordable for the scale of these businesses.

          Here's a piece on the economics of street-vending in NYC.
          http://www.chow.com/grinder/2718

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            How long have there been street vendors in Salinas? I worked there about 12 years ago for a couple of years and would have loved them (or maybe they were in a different area than the main down town but I don't remember seeing them). There were some great little mom and pop restaurants there, though, and it was always hard to decide where to go for lunch.

            1. re: chowser

              Legally since 1957, I'm told although the large catering vehicles aka taco trucks might be a more recent phenomenon. So far, the vendor I've run into with the longest tenure is Celia Pineda, owner of Beto's Catering, who has been in the biz for 22 years. Several have been at this for more than 10 years. They operate on the east side of town in the Alisal district, out in the fields, or around the coolers and industrial areas off Abbott Street.

              Here are the two threads that can be a guide to our street food culture in Salinas for the next time you're in town,
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/409977
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/407568

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Those pictures in that first thread made my mouth water. How did I miss all that great food? I need to make a trip back there. Thanks!

          2. re: Sam Fujisaka

            "The trucks cost about as much as it would to start up a bricks and mortar (?) place."

            That's probably Colombia numbers what you have in mind, Sam.
            In the US, year of the Lord 2007, you won't make it with less than 10 times that number.

          3. re: Melanie Wong

            on the east coast there is a company called custommobile, in new jersey. they are one of the best builders. hot steam tables only require propane gas. the real issues with these trucks is sanitation and government permitting. many do not wish to tell you how much they are making, this is a cash business and most of the help is friends. the first thing to do is check with local health departments and also to arrange a clean out and storage facility for the truck and supplies. also local governments in terms of the permits and requirements for aux power, some places will not let you use a portable generator. some have limits on the propane tanks and how they are stored on the truck, the size of the chassie and the west coast issue of heat and cooling are vey important. most of the cities require that the truck be inclosed screened and that doors opening have screens. it is not a simple task anymore to start these business. a interior buildout can run between 32,000 to 100,000 easy; a used truck is only as good as the chassie and the engine and trans., they are normally only good for 75,000 to 100,000 miles. never buy a used vending vehicle until you know that it is complient in the area that you will be working in. many good shops will not work on retrofiting. make sure that the truck you purchase is listed with the dot are the law inforcement agencies will kill you with fines and inspections. i was in the business for 10 years and we did over 2,500 a day good luck.

          4. Interesting discussion. One thing to add, while trucks and vehicles are depreciating assets - it seems that a 10 y.o. truck sold after 3 years of use would still retain reasonable value...well a lot more then just paying out rent. Seems like you could also sell it fairly quickly if need be, padding the risk a bit.