Although owning a food truck can be a flexible and enjoyable career, it’s also hard work that requires knowledge of city regulations and permits.
Find more from our What It’s Like series here.
Food trucks have dramatically increased in popularity in the last five years. These mobile eateries, which offer everything from waffles to coffee to traditional barbecue, are a welcome sight for hungry crowds at outdoor festivals and farmers’ markets.
We spoke with several food truck owners to find out what their livelihood is really like.
What are some of the pros of owning a food truck versus owning a brick-and-mortar restaurant?
“The mobility. You get to go to your clients’ neighborhoods. Studies have shown that people will only travel about two miles to get the food they like. Having a truck allows us to travel to three different neighborhoods three days a week, rather than opening up three or four different restaurant chains.” — Jann Cipriano West, owner, Get Them While They’re Hot Tamales
“Lower overhead. Also, the ability to build brand awareness by traveling to the most populated area at any given time.” — Samuel Isaacson, owner, Sojourner Mobile Coffee
What are some specific challenges food truck owners face?
“The permits/red tape, and the fees. I have a state license which allows me to operate the truck anywhere in Wisconsin, but each municipality tacks on their own charges. Everybody wants their cut of the pie.” — Dan Neumann, owner, Rollin Smoke
“The weather. For example, lots of customers don’t want to stand in the rain for meals.” — Jann Cipriano West, owner, Get Them While They’re Hot Tamales
Any memorable incidents you’ve experienced on the job?
“We had our truck searched because President Obama was in town. Also, my dad witnessed a carjacking!” — Jann Cipriano West, owner, Get Them While They’re Hot Tamales
“Being outside during the day, you see just about everything. While serving customers, I witnessed a man rob a woman, get chased by police and get pepper sprayed. I think I made about three sales during that procession.” — Samuel Isaacson, owner, Sojourner Mobile Coffee
What’s your favorite event to work?
“The Bay View Bash last year. I had brought over 400 pounds of meat with me, and we sold out by 8 at night.” — Dan Neumann, owner, Rollin Smoke
“The Traveling Food Truck tour is a favorite because it goes to different locations around the city, and there’s always a good crowd. Two other events my husband and co-owner Zach enjoyed were Hawthorne Hill Market in New Berlin and Re:Craft and Relic in Franklin. Both were fun, and we met a lot of great vendors.” — Becky Kinzer, co-owner, Better Together Mobile Cafe
What are some unusual menu items you serve from your food truck?
“We’ve been playing around with new menu items. We are now up to seven kinds of tamales, and we will make our tequila rice a permanent thing.” — Jann Cipriano West, owner, Get Them While They’re Hot Tamales
“Smoked Italian beef. The idea just sort of popped in my head. As a food truck owner, you can’t be afraid to try new things. My friends are my guinea pigs.” — Dan Neumann, owner, Rollin Smoke
“Our most popular item, especially when it’s warm out, is our EspressOreo milkshake — espresso, Oreos, and ice cream.” — Becky Kinzer, owner, Better Together Mobile Cafe
What are some things the average person might not know about owning a food truck?
“Wheel bearings will break under pressure. Your expectations will need to pivot in order to meet customer demands. Also, in this day and age, even lemonade stands require a permit.” — Samuel Isaacson, owner, Sojourner Mobile Coffee
“Day to day, there’s quite a bit of prep work that goes into it, prior to taking the truck out, from making product to arranging events to setting up the truck. Also, it’s all about who you know. It’s a good idea for food truck owners to network and get to know other people in the industry. Reach out to other food truck owners — most are willing to help you out.” — Becky Kinzer, co-owner, Better Together Mobile Cafe