A few weeks back I met David, founder of Mike and Cookies, a start-up food truck company in Metro DC. David came up with his idea while a student at the University of Maryland. Moreover, this semester, one of my undergraduate student teams is working on a business plan for an organic dog food truck! (simpler, no cooking on the truck and less regulation!)
It’s one of perhaps a few dozen manufacturers around the country that specialize in retrofitting ordinary delivery vans with broilers, fryers and other cooking equipment. For more than a quarter century before the food truck craze, Armenco specialized in building the catering trucks that have long trolled construction sites and motion picture lots. Its business began to shift toward the more upscale mobile food emporiums in 2007, says Arthur Djahani, general manager of Armenco Cater Truck Manufacturing Co. Inc.
“Our clientele has changed as a result of the changing public perception,” Djahani says. The trucks “used to be known as ‘roach coaches’ with sub-pare fare,” he notes, but today they’ve captured urban imaginations and appetites with a wide array of ethic and gourmet offerings. His company’s customers are now “younger, hipper” entrepreneurs, he says, many with culinary school degrees and a strong grasp of social media.
Today’s food trucks can come equipped with upscale features ranging from touch screen menus, flat screen TVs, sound systems for creating the mood, GPS satellite linkups to help their customers find them, and free Wi-Fi for customers, Djahani says.
In the last year or so, demand has been so strong that Armenco hasn’t been able to stock enough new chassis to keep up with orders from independent chefs looking to break into the mobile cuisine business. Besides the truck outfitters, there are permit expediters, menu consultants, lawyers, lobbyists, website designers, marketing professionals, and phone app developers who have managed to expand their businesses thanks to the food truck phenomenon.
Both the food trucks and the minions of consultants and companies feeding off their rapid expansion are “giving people needing to find a new way of making a living a chance to break into a new industry,” says Richard R. Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine Magazine. Myrick, an architect by training, started his online journal about a year ago after being laid off from a construction industry job. Since then, he’s chronicled the trucks’ rapid growth in the $604 billion a year restaurant industry.
The article is really chock full of information on this growing part of the food industry. There is no doubt that students and campuses will play a role in the growth of mobile cuisine (fits a mobile society).
I can still remember my visits to the University of Wisconsin and the opportunity to eat from a variety of food trucks in the early hours of the morning. Here’s a recent map of Madison’s food trucks.