Wednesday Food: The Future of Food Trucks
(Let me first say I mean the mobile kind not the stationary carts anchored in Portland’s trendier neighborhoods. And I’m using ‘sustainable’ in the business sense, not environmentally.)
Chicago’s food truck scene started late. Because of a number of health ordinances and licensing issues, food could only be sold from a vehicle if it had been prepared elsewhere (a commercial kitchen) and no preparations of any kind took place on the vehicle. That and a number of other prohibitive laws kept this city well behind New York, Los Angeles, Austin, Baltimore, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. in the rise of or return to street food. Nary a hot dog push cart will you even find in Chicago streets and parks with permits and fines set as they are. But things began to turn around last year, and Flirty Cupcakes became Chicago’s second food truck– the first was Chicago All Fired Up which existed as an anomaly because of a loophole in the system.
Food trucks are a relatively inexpensive start-up business in the culinary world, a fraction of what a first year restaurant would cost. Without rent or a full staff to pay overhead is modest, so just one person can provide “restaurant-quality” food at lower prices. Even advertising costs are minimal as trucks take advantage of social networking and are a form of advertisement in and of themselves. With the economy failing to regain its footing there remains a demand for cheap(ish) artisinal food. And because these operations are just emerging they are able to capitalize on other trends/ specialties that consumers are demanding: providing vegan options, gluten-free meals, and local/ sustainable food products. Plus, mobility has its advantages. Trucks can access and cater to spontaneous crowds– lunch hour in business districts, dinner on college campuses, after-hours in high traffic nightlife areas.
Yet something beyond growing gas prices has me wondering if food trucks can become a long-term reality in any urban culinary scene. Maybe it’s because they became trendy so quickly? Or because I’m naturally skeptical of anything widely popularized by the Food Network? Will they go the way of tiki bars and Atkins dieting, or are they more permanent like prix-fixe menus and craft beer?
Juries out for me– how about you?
(Photo from my first Chicago food truck meal– many thanks to Joaquin, ‘behind the wheel’ of the Brown Bag Lunch Truck.)
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