Get the Latest On the Food Truck Trend

Is it a good time to get into the food truck business?

Neopolitan express food truck in New York
New York food truck parked in the right place at the right time - just before lunch. Susie Wyshak

Roy Choi, of the Mexican-Korean Kogi BBQ truck fame, made history by using Twitter to announce his truck location.

Choi now has several brick-and-mortar eateries in Southern California. Hey, weren't food trucks the anti-restaurant? Take a look at where the food truck scene is now and what it takes to succeed.

Recently Trending Food Truck Themes

Most Popular Cities for Food Trucks

Food truck search engine Roaming Hunger compiled data from its network of 7,300 food trucks and carts.

Cities with the most food trucks in their network (not including stationary carts) are:

  1. Los Angeles, CA (373) - which also has the highest number of "gourmet" trucks
  2. Washington, DC (197)
  3. San Francisco, CA (184)
  4. Houston, TX (183)
  5. Miami, FL (179)
  6. Seattle, WA (173)
  7. Denver, CO (164)
  8. Phoenix, AZ (145)
  9. New York, NY (138)
  10. Dallas, TX (131)

Food Truck Flavor Trends

Food and dining lifestyle website The Daily Meal surveyed its readers to discover favorite food trucks, truck cuisine trends and the hottest cities for food trucks to succeed.

Readers cast 5,634 votes, rolling up to a list of 101 favorite trucks.

No surprise that the food truck trend-setting cities Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, and Austin ranked at the top. However, the survey reveals, food trucks have been declining in popularity in New York. Perhaps this decline reflects a rise in casual fast food eateries (especially burger joints) that provide creature comforts like seats.

And bathrooms.

Of ethnic flavors, Korean fusion, tacos and barbeque topped the lists — all classic street foods well before the current trend.

Readers also love comfort foods like lobster rolls and grilled cheese. Vegan eaters chimed in with appreciation of street foods meeting their dietary needs.

Demystifying the Thrill of Owning a Food Truck

As food trucks have grown in popularity, so has the competition.

An article in the Seattle Times titled The Tough Economics of Running a Food Truck reveals just how difficult and expensive the food truck business can be.

That city alone has 180 food trucks, compared to 10 just a few years ago.  The article rounds up a huge list of challenges with owning food trucks.

Other challenges, not limited to Seattle, include:

  1. Very long days, compared to the amount of time you're actually serving and selling food
  2. Initial truck costs, along with ongoing truck wear-and-tear and maintenance
  3. Food prep and rental costs of commissary kitchens, where you prepare the food
  4. Customers expecting super fast service
  5. Food costs, if customers are expecting local and organic ingredients
  6. Increasing labor costs in cities. You may run the truck yourself at first, but the cost of hourly workers can really bite into profits over time.

Add challenges with seasonal weather and a good old-fashioned restaurant business might sound pretty appealing.

3 Clever Food Truck Location Strategies

At street food conferences, several smart tips for maximizing customers and minimizing competition bubbled up: 

  • Locate near office parks where the companies don't provide awesome food for employees and where there are few restaurants nearby. That's how Liba Falafel built a loyal following before opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant.
  • Offer event catering services to popup at fairs, concerts, festivals, weddings and other parties. Like any other food truck location, you need to be able to serve guests quickly. The Johnny Doughnuts truck popping up at a hydroponics event was sheer genius. The gourmet doughnut maker also has a doughnut shop. The truck and shop businesses feed off each other. Roaming Hunger makes it easy for people to discover and book your food truck.
  • Fill a cuisine gap in a neighborhood where similar types of food is not served in restaurants. Plus, you'll be more likely to make friends in the neighborhood by not directly competing with similar restaurants.

    Luckily thanks to all the different formats for pop-up food concepts you can test the waters before committing to a food truck.

    If you can't shake the food truck bug, you'll find plenty online food truck business guides and books to get you on the road to success. And if you want a sure thing, people love pizza, and there are lots of interesting mobile pizza business models that could be a long-term, fad-proof recipe for success.

    Most importantly, be sure to check on the state of food truck regulations in your area before spending a dime!