The Truck Search Continues (and What We Learned Along the Way)

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 , on Facebook, or email me at neal.idnani@gmail.com with any feedback. Check back here for weekly updates!

For NaanStop, the search for a truck continues. With us targeting a launch in January, we are anxious to finalize this decision – probably the most important decision since we’re talking about where our truck will be housed and the cost, quality and condition of our truck and all of the appliances inside. Once we figure out what our truck will look like, we can begin working on a wrap design for the outside of the truck. We figure that it will take about two weeks to design the wrap, two weeks to wrap the truck, and a week to train staff and outfit the truck with all of the necessary supplies. Factor in 2 weeks for buffer and the fact that we won’t be able to get much done around Thanksgiving and Christmas and you can begin to see why we are trying to make this decision now. Our timeline is being complicated by those who don’t share our urgency (last week a commissary told me that it was too far in advance and that I should call them a week before I need a truck).

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

Last week, we talked about a disconnect between the technology forward gourmet food trucks and the technology devoid industry that supports the trucks behind the scenes. This disconnect between the way these two businesses operate makes it difficult for food truck operators to gather information and comparison shop and has made it a slow process for us to decide where we should get a truck for NaanStop.

According to Matt Gellar, President of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendor’s Association (SCMFVA), 6000 of the 9500 registered mobile food vendors are food trucks and 3500 of those are currently operational. Of those, about 150 are of the new gourmet food truck variety. Since the gourmet trucks make up less than 5% of the industry in LA, you can see why the rest of the businesses might be slow to adopt change. However, the gourmet trucks are growing quickly.

When Kogi hit the streets in 2008, manufacturing and housing jobs were shrinking at a fast clip and with them shrank the customer base for taco trucks. Food truck manufacturers, lessors and operators were sent scrambling for a new business model and Kogi provided that model. As commissaries began to lose money on the truck routes they operated, one was willing to help Kogi enter the scene. Facing historic levels of unemployment, consumers cut back.  They still wanted to dine out, but wanted high quality food at an affordable price.  $50 meals turned into $25 meals and $25 meals turned into $12.  Gourmet food trucks such as Kogi filled this niche and began to flourish in a way vastly different from the taco trucks.

Following Kogi, the gourmet food truck business has been growing quickly while taco trucks continue to shut down. Commissaries are now beginning to catch on to the idea that if they are to stay in business, they need to begin catering to this new type of truck. In our quest to find a truck for NaanStop, we have come across a few new businesses that are just beginning and are on the forefront of offering services to the new gourmet trucks.

The first was Road Stoves, from which Kogi leased its first truck. Road Stoves markets itself as a one-stop-shop for truck operators and offers a truck, parking at its commissary, maintenance, and auto insurance for a flat fee of $3600/month. They have also developed the first GPS enabled app for the Iphone and Android phones that not only allows users to see the twitter feeds of participating trucks, but also allows them to see precisely where trucks are and which ones are nearest to them based on the GPS capabilities of their phone. With this app, Road Stoves currently represents the most technologically advanced service for trucks. A handful of other companies are catching up though, with similar offerings to Road Stoves.

A new company called Mobi Munch is targeting only the gourmet trucks. I had the opportunity to meet with the owner Josh Tang at the National Restaurant Association show this past June in Chicago. Since then, he has told me about a comprehensive package he is putting in place for gourmet trucks. Mobi Munch is partnering with Slauson Foods, who just built a brand new commissary exclusively for new gourmet trucks who have been asking for newer and nicer facilities. They are setting operators up with newer and higher quality trucks equipped with a point of sale system and generator. Moreover, they are integrating their clients with their website, setting up their clients with lunch locations, and helping them monetize their trucks as advertising space. In the future, they hope to give trucks access to prep kitchens, and storage space so as to help mitigate some of the difficulties of operating on a truck versus a restaurant. While Mobi Munch is just beginning to build this model, it represents the most comprehensive offering for gourmet trucks that I have been able to find.