Archive for October, 2010

After winning 9-0 last night, the San Francisco Giants are leaving town with a 2-0 World Series lead over the Texas Rangers. Even though AT&T Park will be closed (possibly until next season) San Francisco residents and visitors still have a chance to have fantastic food while gathered with a large group of Giant fans this weekend. A new food venue is available on weekends in four communities including Upper Haight, Civic Center, McCoppin Hub and Fort Mason Center. Off the Grid brings a wide range of mobile food truck food options and packages them with music and a wonderful atmosphere.

Although not a new trend in San Francisco, food trucks need foot traffic to remain sustainable, and current regulations prevent groups of trucks from gathering together on the public right-of-way. The owner of Off the Grid and originator of the SF Cart Project, Matt Cohen has created a way to bring groups of vendors and consumers together.

The idea for OTG was to bring 15 to 20 of the best street food trucks from around the San Francisco area and park them in the same lot between 5 and 9 PM on a weekend evening, provide fantastic food at low prices. Add some great tunes and a full bar, and presto, you have a gastro-party worth your time, and worthy of many return visits.

Cohen suggests, “Come with a group of friends, get a drink, and relax. You’ll wait in some lines, but break up and get food from a couple different places and share. Start conversations with people walking by and ask them what they’re eating. It’s an evening of eating. It’s great for families, too. The kids can be loud!”

Photo by: Chris MacArthur/SF Weekly

Current location lineup:

Upper Haight: Stanyan Street at Waller Street; Thursdays, 4pm to 8:30pm

Civic Center Plaza: Fridays 11am to 2:30pm

Fort Mason Center: Fridays, 5pm to 9pm

McCoppin Hub at Valencia: Saturdays 11am to 4pm and 5pm to 10pm

Participating vendors:

AdoboHobo, Azalina’s Malaysian, Chaac Mool Yucatecan cuisine, Chairman Bao Bun Truck, Creme Brulee Cart, Curry Up Now, El Huarache Loco, El Porteno Empanadas, Global Soul, Gobba Gobba Hey, Hapa SF, Kung Fu Tacos, Onigilly, Seoul On Wheels Korean BBQ, and Senor Sisig.

Vendor lists are posted on Facebook and are updated as new vendors join.

Follow on Twitter.

With its fun, festival atmosphere and abundance of cheap tasty treats, if you haven’t had the chance to check it out, be sure to add one or more of its venues to your must do list.

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Don't serve a rock.

 

Halloween is Sunday, so there will be ghosts and goblins wandering the streets in search of treats. We have compiled some ideas for your use to help spark sales and show your customers that are in the Halloween spirit with them.

Spookify your Twitter theme: Many people feel as if one profile theme is enough and never touch it after they initially activate their account. Change your theme to match the season show your followers that you and your business enjoy Halloween as much as they do.

Find a Truck Gathering: Throughout the country, more and more cities are allowing food trucks, and in those cities, the market is accepting them with open arms. A recent trend across California is festivals centered on food trucks. Find one of these gatherings that are following a Halloween theme. Show up following some of these tips, and you and your customers will do nothing but enjoy the evening.

 

Mummy Dogs?

 

Special Halloween Menu Items: This may be the easiest thing for food trucks to do to get into the Halloween spirit. Take a standard menu item, tweak it to give it a Halloween flavor, or even renaming menu items can let your customers know you are part of the scene, not just there for sales.

Costumes: As long as safety is viewed as the number one issue, ask your employees to dress up for the night. Make it fun for both your employees and customers. We don’t want to find out that any of you food truckers has gotten into an accident because you left your mask on while driving or has injured themselves while preparing their food because their costume was to baggy..

Decorations: Fake spider webs, jack-o-lanterns, spooky lighting, maybe even a little dry ice in a bucket outside of the truck. If you have a lot you plan to spend the evening in, decorate it for the occasion.

Halloween Music: This is part of the decorating theme, but something that can be over looked. Go out and buy a compilation CD of Halloween sounds or songs and play them for your customers throughout the night, just make sure to keep the volume at a level where orders can be given without the need to scream.

Candy for the Kids: Always part of Halloween, many parents will be out with their children trick or treating, if the kids are rushing Mom and Dad off because the truck next door is giving away Snickers bars, you are risking a loss in sales.

Contests: Hold a best costume contest at a specific time of the night. Not only will this type of thing be fun for your customers, it will give them more reason to hang around your truck (and buy more food). The winner could receive a free item off your menu.

We would love to hear from our readers about suggestions or tips that you think would work well for food trucks. If you are out on Sunday and spot a truck that is in the spirit of the night, take a picture and send it to us. Who knows, your shot, or your favorite truck may be part of the next feature in Mobile Cuisine Magazine.

In an article last week, we gave you a tip about a food truck competition in Miami that was scheduled this past weekend.

The results are in. They were only given thirty minutes to prepare 2 dishes each, but the creations the two Miami top chefs presented for the annual Deering Estate, Wine on Harvest Moon, on Saturday night were the cuisine used to determine Miami’s Top Food Truck Chef.

Photo by Juan Cabrera - Emcees Brian Collaro from Whole Foods (far left) and Chef Sean Bernal pose with Chef Jeremiah, Executive Director of the Deering Estate Foundation Mary Pettit, and Chef Jack Garabedian.

The participants were Chef Jack Garabedian from Jefe’s Original Fish Taco & Burger and Chef Jeremiah from gastroPod. In The Battle of the Food Truck Chefs the chefs were provided a stocked pantry from Whole Foods. For the competition, the chefs were encouraged to stay away from ingredients such as tofu but to use more conventional proteins in their offerings. Much like Food Network’s Iron Chef, this event also included a secret ingredient. This year, the chefs were given prunes to incorporate into their dishes and were asked to suggest a Deering Estate Wine from Sonoma to pair with their creations.

Chef Jeremiah created a grilled pork tenderloin dish with prunes and umeboshi with crispy broccolini, which he paired with the Cabernet Sauvignon, and prunes stuffed with feta and wrapped with bacon on red leaf lettuce with an orange vinaigrette and raw radish. The latter was paired with a Zinfandel.

Chef Garabedian provided a seared tuna dish with a red curry and coconut milk sauce, enhanced with compound butter and prune essence, along with poblano peppers and potatoes with ginger. He suggested this dish would work best with the Zinfandel. The chefs second entry was a garlic-stuffed prune wrapped in bacon with duck, wasabi-poached grapes and chopped shallots to go with the Cabernet.

The judges Riki Altman (Food blogger/writer), Veronica Litton (Crown: Wine & Spirits), and Joe Canaves (General Manager of sponsor South BMW), were unanimous in their ruling and awarded Chef Jeremiah the crown. Mobile Cuisine Magazine tips our hat to Chef Jeremiah on his new title.

In today’s economy, more than ever, people are looking for alternative sources of employment for themselves. Throw a dash of American entrepreneurship into the mix, and you will find that one of the largest growing search areas on Internet sites such as Google, Yahoo Search, and Bing! is the Mobile Food Industry. Mobile Cuisine Magazine would like to help these potential vendors and the food truck industry by providing a series of articles that will help each individual in deciding if being a mobile food vendor is the right career shift for them.

You have a menu, your truck has been ordered and the clock is ticking while you wait for your truck to be delivered. What are the other costs may be involved in operating a food truck? This article, (the third of a four part series) will provide you with this information.

Commissaries

Outside of the initial cost of purchasing your vehicle, the usage of a commissary will tally the largest expense in your monthly bills. The commissary is the lot that you are legally required to park your vehicle in when it’s not in use. You will be able to plug your vehicles refrigerator in to use for storage at some, but in others, you will have to rent refrigerators from them to store your food in overnight. In various cities across the country, you cannot prepare your food in your vehicle so the commissary can also include the usage of a health department regulated commercial kitchen for your food preparation. Please note, it is illegal to prepare or cook your food in your home, no matter how clean you keep it.

At many commissaries you can purchase food, supplies and propane. The services offered at these commissaries vary from lot to lot so we suggest you find a list in your area and speak with each one. In some cases the fees can be negotiated down as long as you sign a long term agreement with them. We have found that the average cost for commissaries will run between $800 and $1200 per month.

Insurance, Fees and Licenses

Mobile vendors, much like brick and mortar restaurants must carry insurance, hold a city business license in each city you operate in and get permitted with county health departments.  As mentioned in the previous article, these costs can be covered by a rental company if you go the route of renting a vehicle that suites your needs. If you do not rent, outside of standard business insurance, you will need to carry additional liability insurance, (normally 1,000,000 in vehicle coverage). Include your commissary as an additional insured on your coverage if you are preparing food in their kitchen.

In some cities getting permitted and licensed can be as simple as applying for each. Within a week of having your kitchen and truck inspected you can receive all of the necessary approvals. However, for the majority of the country, the hoops you must jump through can be rather difficult and time consuming. Some counties require food truck owners to take classes on how to keep your vehicle clean and operate as the health department sees fit. Other municipalities require applicants to enter an annual lottery to receive a permit or license as they have limited numbers of permits they can issue. The results of these lotteries, can leave you hanging in the wind with a truck that is ready, but no way of selling your goods.

Because of the varied costs of licensing and permitting it is hard for us to give you a definitive cost for these items. We suggest contacting your local health and business licensing departments to find their requirements and fees for starting up your food truck. One additional suggestion we will make to everyone researching this issue, is not to try operating without insurance or proper permitting and licensing. Sure, it will allow you to avoid some initial delays and headaches, but comparing what you will face should you get caught operating illegally and the fines you will have to pay, take the proper steps to follow the straight and narrow on this issue. You will thank us in the long run.

Regulations

Even though Mobile Cuisine Magazine has been online for a short period of time, it is already clear what the most frequently asked question is, Parking. Where can we park? How long can we park? Can we find a parking spot and just feed the meter all day? These are all wonderful questions, unfortunately, all questions that only your local parking department must answer.

In some states if you park in a location for over an hour, you are required to get written permission from a store owner within 200 feet of your parking spot that you and your employees can use their restroom facilities. In other locales, you cannot park in the public right of way for more than 15 or 30 minutes, and in other municipalities, you can park in a meter spot, and as long as the meter is feed, you may sell your fare there. As you can see, just as the common answer for permitting will require you to get answers from your local city, township or county personnel, so too will you need to look locally to get the correct response for parking.

Taxes

Taxes and bookkeeping can be the area where many owner-operators have to give some control up to professionals outside of the food industry. Do not risk fines or even imprisonment because you don’t take the time to find a trusted team member to do your books. Having a partner who will be on top of your daily sales and keeping track of taxes owed will allow you to concentrate on your businesses day to day food operations.

Fuel

Although the goal of most food trucks is to find a parking spot and sit there all day, this isn’t the typical avenue most trucks can operate. The typical food truck has a minimum of 3-5 stops per day. Depending on the size of the area you operate in, this can vary your fuel use greatly. Earlier this month, we provided some tips to cut your fuel usage, so check out the list and follow the tips that you can. At an average of three dollars a gallon and trucks burning one gallon per 10-12 miles, you can see how conserving fuel can save you in the long run.

Please stay tuned for the final article in our series on starting a food truck business. We will provide you an inside look at the daily grind of a food truck owner, and provide you with some final things to look at to assist you in determining if owning a food truck is the right career path for you.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 4

Apparently, at some time in its history, Atlanta was being overrun by gangs of renegade ice-cream trucks, covering every area of the city and terrorizing its people. Because of this, governmental agencies looking to protect the citizenry; placed archaic laws on the books which prevented these mobile dairy gangs from taking over the public right of way for more than 30 minutes at a time per location. Unfortunately, these laws have been a key factor in preventing the food truck industry from spreading into this Southern metro area.

Currently, mobile food vendors in Atlanta have been relegated to serving their food in private lots or at traveling festivals. Although this route may work well for some, for young entrepreneurs looking at food trucking as their primary means of income, it does not come close. Hope is on the horizon though, thanks to Councilmembers Kwanza Hall and Natalyn Archibong.

These councilmembers, looking to bring additional economic stimulus to the city, have introduced a measure that would allow truck owners to leave the festivals and actually sell their mobile creations in the curbside right of way beneath the I-75/I-85 viaduct on either side of Edgewood Avenue between Jesse Hill Avenue and Fort Street.  According to Councilwoman Hall, “We want to take a seedy, desolate area and try to drive some economic impact, I could see someday getting 20 to 30 trucks in that area.”

The proposed legislation would allow the city to issue operating permits in a monthly lottery where winning vendors would be selected to hold one of the eight proposed vendor slots. As long as the lottery was held openly and allows for fair participation, this could be the start of something great for the industry in Atlanta. Dependent on sales results and if customers feel safe while dining in the area, City Council and the Transportation Department could increase the number of awarded permits and add additional locations outside of this pilot district for truck owners to operate.

The proposals submission does not assure a quick ratification as it may take some time before it is brought to a vote. The city’s attorneys still need to comb through the language of the bill, and the Atlanta Street Food Association will review the issue and give the Public Safety Committee its recommendation to updates or changes to the legislation.

Yumbii Food Truck

The mother of the owner of the Yumbii food truck supports the measure and would love to see her son’s truck be part of the revolution. Rebecca Young stated, “If Yumbii can help revitalization in that area, we would be happy to be a part of that,” she said. “It’s going to have to be secure and we would have to assure people that it is secure. But other cities have had food trucks in areas that had security issues and they were able to turn it around and make it a place people wanted to be.”

Be sure to bookmark this article to keep track of the progress this legislation, we will be constantly monitoring the situation and updating our report as things change.

 

I was a bit perplexed this morning trying to decide what recipe I would be submitting today for your use, so I put off making the call until something sounded great. Although the city of Chicago has archaic laws which prevent food trucks from actually preparing fresh food, one of the major perks to living in the Chicagoland area is the wide range of cuisine that can be found. Earlier this afternoon, I was speaking with my wife about our lunch plans for tomorrow, since we already had plans to be in the city. Her first inclination was to head to Chinatown for some Dim-Sum, which got me thinking and the proverbial light bulb turned on.

Todays featured recipe will be just that, Dim-Sum; Pork Dim-Sum Dumplings to be more precise.

Ingredients:

1 packet of pre-made 1 ½ inch square won-ton wrappers (40 count)

Photo from thefoodpornographer.com

 

Filling: Makes 6-8 dumplings

12 onces ground or minced pork

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

1/2 cup scallions (finely chopped)

1 tablespoon thick soy sauce

2 teaspoons dry sherry

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon sesame oil

2 teaspoons corn starch

Dipping Sauce:

2 tablespoons sambal

1/2 cup rice wine vinegar

1/2 cup soy sauce

1 teaspoon sesame oil

You will also need cabbage leaves to line the bamboo steamer, if you use one.

Instructions:

  1. Place your pork in a bowl and season with a pinch of salt.
  2. In a separate bowl whisk together soy sauce, sherry, sugar and oil till the sugar is dissolved. Add the scallions and mix together with the pork, mix, then add the corn starch and combine thoroughly. Allow to marinade for at least an hour.
  3. You will need another small bowl for your dipping sauce, combine the sambal, vinegar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Mix thoroughly.
  4. Lay out 3 to 4 won-ton wrappers on the surface to begin, it is much easier you make them in smaller batches.
  5. Place 1/2 tsp. of filling into the center of a wonton wrapper,
  6. Place a dot of water into the corner of each wrapper.
  7. Bring the corner into the center and gather the other sides to form a coin purse, squeezing them together, place on a tray covered with greaseproof paper.
  8. Bring a pan of water to boil, turn down to a gentle simmer.
  9. Line the bottom of a bamboo steamer with cabbage leaves and place enough dumplings, so the steam has room to move around each dumpling.
  10. Place the steamer over the pan, cover and leave for 5 to 10 minutes or until cooked.
  11. Remove your dim- sum from the steamer and serve with the dipping sauce.

Please note, I prefer a bamboo steamer for the making dim-sum, if you don’t have one, use whatever you normally steam with.

Dim Sum on Foodista

The battle of bragging rights in Miami’s food truck community is about to begin. Saturday, October 23rd at the Deering Estate Foundations’ 9th Annual Fine Wine & Food Tasting “Wine on the Harvest Moon” will be the location for the Iron Chef Style cooking competition. The food in the pantry in addition to the “secret ingredient” will be provided by Whole Foods.

The Competitors:

Gastropod’s owner Chef Jeremiah

Jefe’s Original Fish Taco & Burgers owner Chef Jack Garadbedian

The Judges:

Riki Altman – Food blogger/writer

Veronica Litton – Event Sommelier (Crown: Wine & Spirits)

Joe Canaves – General Manager of sponsor South BMW

Time:

7:30 PM – 10:30 PM

Prices:

General Admission: $90

VIP Admission: $175

And with a special note from our staff, may the best chef win. Please check back to find out who is crowned with the title of Best Food Truck Chef – Miami.

In the first of our series, we discussed the basics and initial thoughts you should put time into to assist you in getting a mobile food business started. In Part 2 we will look at the costs involved in buying a food truck.

So you’ve pinpointed what food you would like to sell, whom your competition is and where you plan to sell your mobile cuisine. That’s a great start; however, now you have to take the next step.  You must now identify the means in which you plan to get your fare to your customers and how much it will cost.

Your first step in determining what type of vehicle you can afford is based solely on how much capital you have on hand or how much you can be approved to finance. Once you have determined your budget, you’ll be able to look at the various avenues in which you can acquire your mobile restaurant.

From the earlier article, we suggested that you needed to find out who your competition is, now it’s time to go to them and see if they are willing to share their wisdom with you. Finding a current truck owner to use as a mentor not only will keep the competition friendly, but you will be able to learn from their mistakes. Find out who the reliable local vehicle dealers are in your area and who provides follow up after a purchase.

Renting a Food Truck ($2,000 – $10,000 per month)

Dependent on the type of equipment needed and the condition of the truck, the rental option (if available in your area) can be the least expensive way to start up a food truck business. When factoring in that most rental agreements include insurance and working permits in at least one municipality, this option eliminates much of your risk and initial cost. This may be the least initial expense; however it is an ongoing monthly cost, and you will not own the truck you are using.

Buying a Used Food Truck – ($10,000 – $75,000)

This is by far the most economical way to purchase your rolling kitchen, but at the same it carries with it, the most issues. If you decide to purchase a used truck, be sure to have a certified mechanic available to conduct an inspection. This is the largest investment you will have when starting up your business; you cannot afford to purchase a vehicle that is consistently in the shop.

Investigate regulations in the area you will be working. In many cities even if a vehicle meets the health department codes in one area, once a truck is sold, the new owner is responsible for bring it up to all current standards they plan to be licensed in.

Retrofitting your Food Truck

Although you can find a used vehicle on of the many sales sites such as eBay or Craigslist for under $10, 000, your investment price can skyrocket the minute you start installing vending windows, lined walls and floors, electricity, hot running water and a retail payment system are all necessary

Buying a New Food Truck – ($75,000 – $125,000)

Purchasing new is what most startups, we’ve spoken with, prefer if they can afford it. Ask your salesperson about the warranties they offer and what each covers. Another question you should have answered is if the dealer supplies a loaner truck should there be issues that take your truck off the road. The longer you are off the road; you will need an alternative plan to sell your product.

Buying Custom Food Trucks – ($125,000 – $300,000)

If a truck with the proper equipment configuration cannot be found, customizing a vehicle will be your last option. This by far is the most expensive and can take the most time before the truck is ready for delivery. Although most timing quotes will be from 4 to 6 weeks, be sure to talk with the shop’s previous customers to see if they followed through on their promises, or if it took much longer. Missing a proposed opening date because you received your truck 1-3 months late will make you look quite unprofessional. Reneging on timing can hurt any positive word of mouth you may have already received, and can be very difficult to recover from.

If you decide to have your truck built from scratch, be sure to use a local company who is familiar with all the current health code requirements. A knowledgeable builder can help speed the plan check process and your final inspection.

Take the time to test drive any food truck you are interested. You must determine the maneuvering of the vehicle and how its sightlines are. You do not want to get on the road and find out you need multiple spotters to be able to park in most areas, and why risk your insurance premiums if you can find a truck which maximizes your visibility?

Finally, if you decide to purchase, be sure the asking price is fair. Make sure you have researched similar equipped vehicles in similar condition. If you don’t have any skills in haggling, either learn, or take someone with you that can. In many cases the sellers are willing to accept offers as low as 15% or their asking price. Saving money on the front end can only help you in the long run.

Stay tuned for the next article in our series.

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

With Twitter being the most popular way for food truck owners to market their location and their product, we have come up with a list of ways to increase your current list of followers.

  1. The number one step I always suggest is to fill out your Twitter bio. Your bio is where you can explain to people who do not know you, who you are. A blank bio does not encourage anyone to start following you.
  2. Start a contest. Offer free food or a discount to the 1st, the 10th, or the 40th customer who comes to your truck and shows you your tweet and then post the results. Not only do people love free food, but they like to receive notoriety as well.
  3. Place your Twitter ID on your vehicle. Most of your customers may already follow you, but on the off chance that they don’t, give them the chance to.
  4. Be an active participant on Twitter. Do not just post your current location, retweet useful information you receive from those you follow. If they return the favor and retweet one of your tweets, you may get noticed by their followers, and some may even follow you.
  5. Reply to and get involved in #hash tag discussions. Look for the #hash topics relating to your locale or your passions and jump in on the conversation.
  6. Request that your Twitter profile link is featured on any site that writes about you or just mentions you in an article.
  7. Take the time to explain to your followers what retweeting is and ask them to retweet your links.
  8. Use your Twitter ID in your email signature, so that people you correspond with in this fashion get to know that you are also using twitter.
  9. Ask your current followers to recommend you to their followers.
  10. Take pictures with your cell phone and tweet them. If you take shots of your customers they typically will retweet them to their followers.
  11. Write an ebook about how you started your business or a cookbook of some of your recipes and start distributing it free of charge. If you can get your ebook to go viral, you have the chance to gain many followers.
  12. Run a poll: This actually works if you have a high number of followers. Make the poll interesting, and request people to re-tweet about it.

Although you may not agree with some of these tips please note, none need to be followed. The primary reason for this article was to provide a list of items that will show food truck owners some different marketing strategies to increase your Twitter followers, and hopefully your sales.

If you enjoyed this content, please feel free to retweet it or add me at twitter.com/mobilecuisine.

As we previously reported, Los Angeles County supervisors were to vote on pending food truck legislation this week. On Tuesday, the supervisors voted unanimously in favor of the proposal, and in 30 days, the new law will go into effect.

The regulation authorizes health inspectors the ability to  now conduct two surprise field inspections and provide the same health board grades to food trucks as brick and mortar restaurants receive. The previous requirements provided for a single field inspection and one in the commissary in which the truck is stored overnight. Prior to Tuesday’s vote, there was no grading system in place. Now a truck will receive a county grade of A, B, or C and will have to post thier grade in an area visible to its customers.

According to Dr. Jonathan Fielding, head of the Los Angeles County Health Department, the new regulation will not result in any increases in fees the food truck operators are charged within the first year it is in effect.

We see this new law as a stepping stone for municipalities around the country to use as a guide in  assisting them in opening paths for food trucks to start providing services in areas where previously they had not.