The Technium

Street Food Trucks


Street food in the rest of the world is fantastic — as good or better than what is served inside four walls. Street food in the US can also be fast, inexpensive, and very good. Not just tacos. I’ve eaten at great food trucks in San Francisco, Portland, New York. Why don’t we see more of them? This is a serious question. Do they not make enough money? Are they thwarted by restaurant lobbies? Overzealous health codes? Nervous neighbors? I can’t believe there is no market for them. Why aren’t food trucks everywhere?

Or food carts?

Update: From the comments there is a suggestion of a website devoted to promoting food trucks. Looks useful: Mobile Food News.

LetruckBuntruckCurrytruck

All in San Francisco ^

SmoothietruckThaitruck

Both in Portland ^

Snacktruck

In New York City ^




Comments
  • Gabriel

    Food Truck Culture is alive and well in Los Angeles. The scene abounds with unusual ethnic combinations like Korean-Mexican, which took off several years back. Business and competition in mobile dining are both on a radical upswing in the midst of this recession. Office parks ae swarmed at lunchtime, and savvy culinary marketers tweet their locations outside a hipster bar here, a street festival there. Personally, I prefer being waited on, but it’s an undeniably big trend.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Any idea of why it is not more common? Are the trucks making money?

      • http://waxy.org/ Andy Baio

        I don’t think it’s so much a problem of profitability as unwanted competition from restaurants, who often can’t compete on price, variety, or quality in areas that are otherwise underserved. The result is that they complain to city officials or the police, and chase them away, as they did on L.A.’s Miracle Mile:
        http://articles.latimes.com/2009/aug/24/local/me-wilshire-food-trucks24

        In Santa Monica, a food cart lot opened with great success and was shut down on its second day, citing zoning issues that didn’t allow specifically for “food truck use” (it’s since moved to a new location):
        http://laist.com/2010/01/05/photos_the_santa_monica_gourmet_foo.php#photo-1

        In Chicago, cart owners aren’t allowed to park within 200 feet of a restaurant or unwrap/alter food at all within the truck:
        http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704008704575638842201629742.html

        Unlike the constantly-mobile LA food trucks, Portland carts are allowed to be stationary, giving them effectively permanent addresses for them to build their reputation online and via word-of-mouth. The lax permit regulations have fueled a massive explosion of cart “pods” — groups of 5-20 carts — here in Portland, but even that can change quickly if the city bows to pressure from restaurant groups:
        http://www.oregonbusiness.com/articles/78-january-2010/2775-cash-and-carry

        • Kevin_Kelly

          Thanks Andy. That answers a lot of my questions. Seems like their growth will therefore depend on citizens pressuring cities to permit them.

        • http://markrvickers.com Mark Vickers

          Nice job doing the research. Thanks.

  • Adam

    Ithaca NY, a college town of just 30,000, supports the two best food trucks I’ve tasted – Hot Truck and Louie’s Lunch (both on Cornell campus). The movement seems to be alive and well with college students…

  • Cmmayo

    FoodShark in Marfa TX is a stellar example of a small business using social media such as facebook and twitter to build a surprisingly large customer base. It seems to me that this requires communications skills not every one has, however. It will be intesting to see how this evolves.

  • http://iacircle.com/ InterActive Circle

    There is the demand for them in Minneapolis, but the ordinances kill them. It’s a long tedious process to get a permit for a food truck. Food stands are wildly popular at our state fair, yet we can’t get them on the streets.

    • George Lowry

      Sacramento, CA has similar ordinances. I have to believe that the local Restaurant Association or Chamber of Commerce lobbies for such ordinances.

  • Kirk Holden

    Austin TX has enough food trucks/trailers to supply Midland and Abilene which are underserved. Like that’s gonna happen… These are not vibrant communities because no one, not a single citizen in all of West Texas cares about being vibrant. Or they would be by now.

    • George Lowry

      “not a single citizen in all of West Texas cares about being vibrant. ”
      James McMurtry wrote a song on that very topic: “Levelland.”

  • Guest
  • http://rallythecause.com ScottyHendo

    Food trucks are on the rise and are encountering different obstacles in different locales. Business licensing, health codes and consumer habits each play a role. But that’s changing, especially with companies like Jack in the Box getting into the food truck business.

    I attribute their recent growth to the confluence of the tight credit market and gourmet/local slow food movement. Clover Food truck in Cambridge, MA & South Station in Boston came about because the tight credit market made it impossible to get the capital for his new traditional restaurant. Instead, he opened the truck, expanded to a second and is new opening that traditional spot.

    Food trucks are definitely trending. When I published this post about this year’s SXSW and how food trucks could be a model for social innovators, it became the highest trafficked blog post this year – due mainly in part to being picked up by WordPress’s Freshly Pressed.
    http://rallythecause.com/2011/03/16/sxsw-2011-lesson-food-trucks-as-a-model-for-social-innovators/

    People are passionate about their favorite food trucks. I expect this to became even a bigger trend and welcome the creativity it represents. For sure, when I travel the country and the globe, I seek out great food carts and trucks. It’s one of the best ways to understand and experience the local culture. Every town and country has a street food they’re proud of – Amsterdam’s herring sandwich or Strupwaffel, for example.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      If food trucks made good business sense — which is what I think you are saying — then the reason we don’t see more of them must be regulations of some sort. That we can change.

      BTW, in parts of the globe where there are a lot of food carts, there are also lots of restaurants.

      • http://rallythecause.com ScottyHendo

        Yes, the business model doesn’t fit nicely in most existing municipality codes. The codes will change because of the economic benefit they’ll bring.

        And food lovers will enjoy the higher density cluster of food options they will spur – cars, trucks & restaurants.

  • MobileFoodNews.com

    Glad to see such interest in the Mobile Food Industry! Come and visit MobileFoodNews.com for the current “SCOOP”!

  • http://twitter.com/jasonmlange Jason Lange

    They’re all over Los Angeles these days…perfect for a city of cars..

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_2IJGN5ULQF5GDRKUWMTV5NE65Y Jim

    Denver has a vibrant and growing selection of street food, including innovative “foodie” fare, like truffled macaroni and cheese balls.

    http://www.austinfarmtotable.com/2010/09/road-trip-discovering-food-truck-heaven.html

    Some trucks are affiliated with a “four wall” business, and some are stand alone.

    Some change locations daily, and use social media so customers can locate them. E. g. :

    http://www.facebook.com/thedenvercupcaketruck

  • http://yakshaving.net/ ash bhoopathy

    Out of curiosity, what is it about Food Trucks or street food in particular that provoked this article? There are other manifestations of the same theme, e.g. popup restaurants, subscribing to individual chefs, supper clubs, dinner co-ops that are starting to take hold.

    Generally though I agree with you, I’ve felt for a long time (particularly being vegetarian) that there are a dearth of dining options. When I was in India for a short period of time starting an office there, I was amazed by how much variety in street food and small shops there were to eat at..

  • http://askthetrucker.com/tag/lone-mountain-truck-lease/ Lone Mountain Truck Leasing

    All food trucks are nicely designed with good graphics. I also tested their foods and some foods are excellent in the taste.