1. Meals on Wheels—Food Trucks Can Be a Great Source of Charity
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans, food trucks were “invaluable” for feeding the “clean-up crews and construction workers who couldn’t leave their sites to dine out at the few reopened restaurants,” according to The Atlantic. After Hurricane Sandy, food trucks served over 100,000 meals to hungry New Yorkers, even offering 11,000 free hot lunches in just one day.
In Atlanta, the homeless shelter City of Refuge runs a food truck to fund its services (the nonprofit cooks up 12,000 to 18,000 meals a month). Every meal sold at the People’s Food Truck provides enough money to feed up to three people at its shelter. The truck also provides first-hand culinary experience for those at the shelter, giving them the skills to enter the restaurant industry. Meanwhile, Finnegans beer operates a “reverse food truck” in Minnesota: People donate non-perishable food and money to this roaming charity drive.
Unfortunately, not all cities welcome charity on wheels. Earlier this year, police shut down a minister in Birmingham, Alabama for feeding the homeless: He didn’t have a permit for his food truck.
2. Food Trucks are Just as Clean—If Not Cleaner—Than Restaurants
A new report by the Institute for Justice, Street Eats, Safe Eats, went over more than 260,000 inspection reports of food trucks, food carts, restaurants and other food establishments in seven major U.S. cities. In every single city surveyed—Boston, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Louisville, Miami, Seattle and Washington, D.C.—mobile vendors were just as clean and safe as their brick-and-mortar counterparts. In fact, food trucks and carts actually had fewer health and safety violations than restaurants in all of those cities, save Seattle, where they tied.
3. Food Trucks are an Almost Billion-Dollar Industry
A market research report by IBISWorld found that food trucks are generating over $800 million in revenue nationwide. Meanwhile, Intuit predicts that by 2017, food trucks will be doing $2.7 billion worth of business.
Maybe it is time to rebalance your stock portfolio.
4. Some Cities Mandate GPS Tracking Devices on Food Trucks
In what sounds like the NSA’s version of The Great Food Truck Race, Boston, Chicago and Cranston, Rhode Island all require food trucks to attach GPS tracking devices before they can vend. Food trucks are forbidden from selling within 200 feet of any brick-and-mortar restaurant in Chicago. So the devices help the city enforce that ban. But GPS devices can be off by as much as 30 feet. The Institute for Justice is suing Chicago over this particularly Orwellian form of crony capitalism.
5. Food Truck Food Is Incredibly Unique
Since it’s a lot cheaper to open a food truck than a brick-and-mortar restaurant, it means more entrepreneurs have the opportunity to experiment and whip up some really creative dishes like:
Reindeer sausage, from the Beez Neez food cart in Portland, Ore.
Lobster rolls from the Red Hook Lobster Pound truck in Washington, DC.
Probably the most outlandish dish was the Douche Burger in New York City.
The 666 Burger food truck was selling that burger for $666 (natch), which contained “a foie gras-stuffed Kobe patty covered in Gruyere cheese that’s been melted with champagne steam and topped with lobster, truffles, caviar and a BBQ sauce made with Kopi Luwak coffee beans that have been pooped out by some sort of animal called the Asian palm civet,” according to Bloomberg Businessweek.
6. Carl’s Jr. Started Out as a Mobile Vendor
Back in 1941, 24-year-old Carl Karcher bought a hot dog cart for $326 in Los Angeles. With only $15 in savings, he and his wife had to borrow $311 on their Plymouth. Selling hot dogs and chili dogs for 20 cents apiece, he made $14.75 on his first day of business. Less than five years after buying that first cart, Carl used the profits made from his hot dog business to open a sit-down hamburger joint. In 1956, Carl opened the first Carl’s Jr. restaurants in Anaheim and Brea, California. Today Carl’s Jr. has over 1,300 restaurants in 13 different countries.
Not a bad return on investment.
7. Food Trucks are Severely Limited in Dozens of Cities
Even though food trucks are very popular, way too many cities are overregulating these mobile vendors. Many of these regulations don’t do anything for consumers—they exist to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants from the competition.
IJ’s report, Street of Dreams, found that 20 major U.S. cities have “proximity bans,” which stop food trucks from selling near brick-and-mortars. (Of course, with that logic, Burger King should be banned to protect McDonald’s from competition.) El Paso once prohibited food trucks from selling within 1,000 feet of any restaurant, grocery store and convenience store, but scrapped that ban after IJ filed a lawsuit.
Unsurprisingly, bad laws can drive food trucks out of business. Chicago’s vending restrictions forced the Schnitzel King to close, though the owners are determined to avenge this regicide: They are still a part of an IJ lawsuit.
8. Food Truck Licenses Can Cost $20,000
Despite having over 8 million people, New York City only allows 3,000 street food vendors. Only 500 of those permits are issued to food trucks. Combining this cap with the enormous popularity of food trucks creates a permit shortage, with licenses fetching as much as $20,000 on the black market. That’s more expensive than what some trucks cost.
9. More Businesses Are Going Beyond Food Trucks
Being on wheels isn’t just for food trucks anymore. According to the American Mobile Retail Association, the U.S. has about 400 rolling retailers that don’t sell food. That number is expected to double by the end of the year.
Lia Lee owns one of those businesses. Her fashion truck, Street Boutique, is a former Washington Post delivery truck that now sells trendy women’s apparel and accessories. And she’s not alone: there are another half-dozen fashion trucks driving about in the Washington, DC area.
Other roving retailers include the Yarnover Truck, a “mobile yarn boutique” in Southern California, Bark Bathe & Beyond, a dog grooming van in upstate New York and Renewal Retreat Onsite, an RV-turned-day spa for the San Francisco Bay Area.
There’s even a DNA testing truck called—wait for it—Who’s Your Daddy? This mobile Maury Povich also offers 24-7 drug testing and a Breathalyzer in New York City.