Lunch trucks are a treat for diners in a hurry, but for owners, they can be a chore. Pacific Business News editor-in-chief A. Kam Napier has more on why they do it.
Lunch trucks are fun. The names are fun, like “The Girls Who Bake Next Door” and “Island Popper” and “Chubbies Burgers.” The food is fun, like cupcakes, cheeseburgers and milkshakes and popcorn. What’s not fun is owning and operating a lunch truck, and usually, owning means operating.
According to the truck owners PBN met with, they put in four hours of prep time and four hours of clean-up time for every two hours spent vending. They also spend a lot of time behind the wheel, they’re only allowed to park in a space for a maximum of three hours and like anyone on a quest for street parking, they may spend a lot of time circling the block waiting for a space to open.
That three-hour window is actually an improvement. Camille Komine, owner of Camille’s on Wheel, one of the town’s first modern food trucks, had to lobby officials for a change. The previous limit was 15 minutes. That law was changed in 2012.
The start-up costs for lunch trucks can be steep. As much as $50,000 for a suitable vehicle, another $5,000 to apply custom stickers or wraps with branding. Still, that’s cheap compared to the costs of a bricks-and-mortar restaurants. And that, for many owners is the long-term goal. Says Komine, “I don’t know one truck that doesn’t want a store.” The trucks can be relatively low-risk laboratories, where owners refine their recipes while building up brand recognition. For Komine, that transition took the form of a catering business, preparing exactly as much food as she knows clients have paid for.