It’s Harder to Find a Truck Than You Think

This is part of an ongoing series about the start up of a food truck called NaanStop. We will be launching in the first quarter of 2011. You can follow us on twitter @NaanStop, on Facebook, or email me at neal.idnani@gmail.com with any feedback. Check back here for weekly updates!

The food truck revolution is changing the way that food is served and prepared all over the city.  Always on the move, a truck can hit multiple locations, offices and events in the same day.  In a traditional restaurant, the age old adage holds true … The three biggest criteria are location, location, and location.  With food trucks, location varies from one day to the next, sometimes even one hour to the next.

More important than location is social media.  A 160 character message broadcast into cyberspace can mobilize hundreds or even thousands of foodies to their truck of choice in seconds.  Location is no longer the crutch it once used to be.  With such an innovative way of doing business, one would expect that the suppliers would adopt the innovations of the information age.  However, the suppliers of food trucks, the people who sell and lease trucks and supply product (food, drinks, paper goods) are decidedly stuck in 1990 instead of 2010.

To buy, build, or lease a food truck check out the Roaming Hunger Marketplace Here.

While the side we see as patrons of food trucks is changing rapidly, the suppliers of these trucks are moving at a prehistoric pace when compared to FB and Twitter.  In a normal day, if I need a good or a service, say a dry cleaner, I pull my phone out of my pocket, load up Google maps and search for a dry cleaner with reviews. Finding a truck is not so simple. We started by googling things like “Los Angeles Food Truck Suppliers,” which brings you upwards of 750,000 hits, most of which are worthless. With suppliers firmly out of touch with the internet, we tried talking to a bunch of food truck operators. Most are friendly and happy to talk about their business, but it was a pretty time consuming way to get information. We tried going to festivals, writing down all the addresses written on the side of the trucks, and calling to get info. But again, it wasn’t a great way to get the whole picture.

Eventually, we stumbled across a list of all food truck commissaries registered with the LA county health department. A commissary is a basically a giant parking lot where food trucks are required to park every night. They provide trucks with access to water, electricity, and waste disposal, as well as a place to clean and maintain your truck. A list of these commissaries proved to be the best resource for us to find a truck. We figured that commissaries might have some trucks we could buy or lease or would at least know of people we could talk to. So, we took the list of about 30 commissaries and called each and every one to find out how much they charged for us to park there and if they could set us up with a truck. Even once we got this list though, it was an extremely frustrating process. Many commissaries were unorganized, unresponsive, or unable to speak English (or put me on the phone with someone who would), let alone talk tell us about food truck costs and options.

Why is this process so low tech while the truck operators are not?  The reality is that most truck operators are not so tech savvy. There are over 9,500 licensed food trucks and carts in the LA area, but only a few hundred are the gourmet trucks while the rest are traditional taco trucks. These taco trucks run fixed routes driving their trucks mostly to construction sites and industrial locations.  In other words, they cater to the blue collar work force.  So, the food truck operators, lessors, commissaries and manufacturers have catered to these end consumers as well.

The food truck revolution we see now being popularized by The Food Network is really in a nascent phase when you consider the fact that the taco trucks have been around for decades and far outnumber other trucks on the street. While I’m sure it’s easier now than when Kogi started, there is no proven formula for starting up a truck and being successful. The suppliers are (very) slow to catch up but there are a few who understand that the gourmet trucks are more than a fad and are starting to work with gourmet trucks to build new and exciting business models…