For decades, food on wheels was limited to the ice cream truck. Everything else was considered sketchy or taboo, and the fare was limited to hot dogs, pretzels and other mystery meats. But ever since Roy Choi’s Kogi BBQ brought food trucks from “roach coaches” to cuisine on wheels, the mobile food industry has been gaining a mile a minute. It has earned so much attention that National Geographic featured the phenomenon in July of 2015.
For entrepreneurs like Choi, the timing couldn’t have been better. Just as the 2008 economic downturn made it harder for restaurateurs and chefs to do business, Choi’s food truck arrived on the scene to make quality, creative dishes affordable for both the chefs and the customers. Owning and operating a food truck is significantly cheaper than a brick-and-mortar location, which means the food is priced lower as well. It’s a win-win! Add to this the emergence of social media as an advertising tool, and you’ve got the prime conditions for a new industry to thrive. It didn’t hurt that Choi’s Korean twist on Mexican tacos provided an irresistible flavor fusion.
If L.A. had a song, you’d hear it in the first bite. If L.A. had an anthem, you’d find it in your first meal. – Kogi BBQ slogan
Choi, and food truck owners across the country who followed his example, uses social media to gain a following, update their locations and post mouth watering pics that make customers want to track them down. Technology has answered in kind in the form of apps like Roaming Hunger, which tell you what food trucks are in your area based on your location. If this article makes you hungry, feel free to use it to find a food truck in your vicinity.
The food truck industry has consistently been on the rise for the past eight years, bringing in $1.2 billion in 2015. With 4,130 trucks on the road that year, that amounts to $290,556 per truck. With no extra staff necessary to prepare, serve, and clean, profits and expansion are easier to come by. Today, Kogi BBQ consists of five trucks, each with its own name and territory.
So, what is this surge in food trucks doing to the restaurant industry? Eating out certainly took a hit in 2008 just as food trucks gained traction, and restaurant and club owners are not big fans of their customers foregoing their offerings for the food trucks parked just outside. But according to the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index, they’ve been slowly gaining back their ground and holding steady. While this does not match the unmitigated growth of the food truck industry, things are about to even out.
With every new industry comes a new set of laws to ensure sanitation, safety, and oversight. In the coming years, food truck growth is expected to slow as regulations catch up with the surge of popularity. Battles between legislators and food truck owners have already begun in the Washington, D.C. area, Tampa, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles. In response, organizations like the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association have formed to create a “code of behavior” and keep things “neighborly” between vendors, cities, and customers.
Interested in starting a food truck of your own? Mobile Cuisine Magazine provides a list of food truck laws by city as well as other handy resources.