Taking It to the Streets

Food trucks--from roach coach to gastronomic entrepreneurialism

By  Dana Squilla, Freelance writer

Street food is consumed by an estimated 2.5 billion people every day, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Its low cost and convenience make it an ideal meal for cultures around the world.

Sometime in the last decade, American chefs started playing with global street foods. They brought their interpretations of satays, tacos and samosas to fine-dining restaurants and bar menus stateside. Today, the trend has gone full circle, as entrepreneurs are bringing food to the American streets via food trucks.

Ray Villaman lists three reasons for this business boom: It's fresh, it's fast and it's cheap.

[image-nocss] "Food trucks have quickly become the new fast food, whether you are a blue-collar worker or a top executive," Villaman, president of Mobi Munch, told Fare Digest. Mobi Munch provides consulting, social-media services and the trucks themselves to aspiring food-truck owners.

Fare Digest asked Villaman to share his thoughts on how the food-truck business continues to evolve, and a potential hiccup on the horizon for this growing niche.

Fare Digest: What is Mobi Munch?
Villaman: Mobi Munch was created, from inception, to be the nation's first scalable mobile food service infrastructure company, dedicated to empowering chefs, restaurateurs and chains at all levels to launch innovative restaurant concepts aboard state-of-the-art food trucks.

Fare Digest: Roughly, how much can it cost to start up a food truck?
Villaman: Under our Mobi Rental Program, a food truck can be launched for under $25,000, and a new food truck for purchase can range from $125,000 to $175,000, if customized.

Fare Digest: Why do you think food trucks are so appealing to entrepreneurs and consumers alike compared to years past?
Villaman: Shifts in consumer demographics, attitudes towards food and foodservice, and reliance on technology have created a more receptive consumer fan base for gourmet trucks. In addition, there has been an increased public interest in food and "foodie" culture in general, driven by reality television, blogs, online social networking and other forms of media.

Fare Digest: How do food trucks utilize online social networking and other media to increase revenue?
Villaman: Twitter is the medium used to tweet "followers" and alert them of the truck's daily location. Facebook, Yelp and MobiMunch.com all assist in describing concepts and provide menus and reviews to assist the consumer with making choices and driving traffic.

Fare Digest: What are some unique concepts or uses of food trucks among nontraditional foodservice operations? Are c-stores or grocery stores using them?
Villaman: In addition to the venues you have listed, additional venues include corporate business parks (underserved by restaurants), colleges and universities, big-box retailers and street festivals. Many cities are now starting to create food truck lots in order to congregate trucks for better community interaction.

Fare Digest: How do you see the food-truck phenomenon growing?
Villaman: Growth has been exponential, and more sophisticated restaurateurs continue to complement their brick-and-mortar restaurants with a food truck because the branding, sampling and catering appeal provides a low-cost opportunity to expand their brands. But on the downside, soaring gas and food prices has the potential to take a bite out of the owner's bottom line. They'll have to pick and choose how far they are willing to travel and if it will be worth the distance.