How to Start a Food Truck
Hi my name is Elizabeth Russell, and I’m going to talk about how to start a food truck. My husband, Matthew Caplan, and I, we own and operate Cheesy Rider food truck here in Lynchburg. Cheesy Rider food truck opened in March of 2015, and we came up with the idea for Cheesy Rider in the fall of 2014. It took us about six months from the start to the opening day of Cheesy Rider and there are a lot of steps from concept to opening day, and that’s what I’m here to talk about. So first, why a food truck? If you like working with the food industry and cooking and serving food, a food truck is a good place to start. Start up costs and operational costs are much lower than a restaurant, your staff is minimal, and you have a lot of advantages over a restaurant. For example, your mobile, so you can go to your customers. You can provide food at private parties. But, there are some downfalls. Because you’re driving your kitchen equipment around, the equipment can wear and tear a little faster, going over bumps and up and down hills and stuff. Also, poor weather can have a negative effect on a day’s sales. If it’s raining or snowing, not a lot of people want to wait in that kind of weather for food. So, after you decide to start a business, or a food truck business, the first thing you’re going to want to do is write a business plan. This will help keep you on task and focused, and it will also help organize your thoughts and your goals. To start a business plan, I guess the most fun place to start would be your menu. That’s why you’re starting a food truck, you like food, so it’s fun to start with the fun part. Your menu, I think, should be simple and focused. You have a small kitchen, limited equipment, and limited storage, so the simpler and more focused your menu, the easier it’s going to be to execute your daily service. Once you’ve got your menu and concept down, it’s time to start thinking about your budget. Not just your start up costs, but also your operational costs which are day to day things like your ingredients, your gasoline, your cooking fuel which is usually propane, and also your parking fees. When you park around town, a lot of companies that you park at, or events, or even private businesses will want a fee from you. So, it’s good to keep that in mind. And lastly in your business plan you should have your goals. Where you want your company to be in a year, and in five years, and that will also help keep you on track after you open your business, to go back and visit those goals and make sure that you’re achieving them and if you want to change them. Now that you have your business plan, a really great next part I think is to talk to the Department of Health. They have many guidelines that will guide the formation of your business. They have guidelines for your kitchen layout, food safety guidelines, equipment requirements, and also commissary requirements. The City of Lynchburg does not require you to have a separate commissary for food prep and storage, but if you do there are guidelines that need to be followed. Also kitchen layout — before you start building your kitchen you will need to submit a plan to the department of health and they will approve it. So, don’t build your kitchen until they give you the go ahead. As far as food safety guidelines go, they will quiz you and they will expect you to know a lot about food safety, you don’t want to poison anybody. Once you’ve talked to the Department of Health and you have your menu, and you have your kitchen guidelines, and your ingredients, the menu will dictate the equipment that you need beyond what’s required from the Department of Health. The Department of Health will require wash sinks, hot and cold storage. So, once you have those your menu will dictate what you need next. Once you know what your equipment is going to be, it will help you determine what size truck to get. When you’re purchasing a truck, bigger is not always better. I think it’s smart to keep in mind that parking spaces are not huge, and sometimes you might be asked to squeeze into one. So, the bigger your truck the more difficult that’s going to be. So I think the smaller the truck, the better. Also, when you’re purchasing your truck it’s important to consider the mileage that is on the vehicle. You not only have to maintain your kitchen, you also have to maintain the vehicle that it’s in and if that kitchen doesn’t pass safety requirements or break down often it’s going to affect your daily sales which is going to affect your overall business and you don’t want that to go south. So, my advice is to buy a truck with as few miles as possible as you can afford. You’ll spend more in the beginning, but in the long run it will be less of a headache and probably less expensive. Also another tip for picking out a truck is you’ve probably noticed the back of food trucks they have two types of doors. Some have the roll back doors and some have the double ambulance doors, always go for the double ambulance doors. If you have a roll back door it affects the roof of the truck and you might not be able to put in a cooking hood, which is required if you have a hot surface. So, keep that in mind. If you don’t want to purchase an empty shell of a truck and have a kitchen fabricated, you can buy a pre-built food truck that’s been owned and operated by another business and whatnot, I think that’s an okay idea but you also run into other problems. You don’t know how that equipment was treated and maintained and you might run into bigger problems down the road than if you had just spent the money on new equipment and on a truck that you can trust. So personally, what we did is we purchased a truck and we had a kitchen fabricated into the truck, built to our requirements. There are lots of companies that do that. There are a few here in the state of Virginia. They know what they are doing. They are organized and they are really good at laying out a kichen to best serve your needs, so that you and your partner aren’t getting in each others hair during service. That’s really important, you don’t want to be stepping on each other. It’s a small space, so kitchen layout is extremely important. So, you have your menu, and you have your kitchen, and your truck, now while your truck is being fabricated, the next thing you’re going to want to do is find your ingredients. You get most of your ingredients from distributors. I think there are three kind of main categories of distributors. There are the really big ones, they carry a wide variety of all different kinds of ingredients, pretty much anything you would need. There’s also specialty distributors who carry higher quality and sometimes imported goods. So, if you have a more focused menu, it may be worthwhile to spend a little more money on higher quality ingredients. Lastly, there’s also local suppliers, who we like to use. There are a lot of local growers here in Lynchburg who grow great vegetables and are willing to work with local businesses to help you provide your customers with fresh local ingredients that aren’t too costly. So, we really like working with them and the Lynchburg Community Market is a great place to meet them. So now you have your menu, and your business plan, and your truck, and your kitchen, and you’ve found all your distributors, you need to find a location. Where are you going to park your truck to serve food? Lynchburg is actually really cool about this. If you want to park on private property, you need the written permission of the property owner, and with that written permission you can obtain your business license. You can also get written permission from the city to park on city property, and they’ll give you a parking permit. If that city property is adjacent to another business owner, you will need the written permission of that business owner. And you cannot get your business license until you have permission to park somewhere, so those two things kind of happen simultaneously. It’s a little weird, but it’s doable. As far as parking on private property, sometimes they’ll require a fee, it’s usually not that high, and it’s not that big of a deal, especially if they’re going to let you do business there. Now you have location, truck, kitchen, food, you need to get the word out. How do you do that? What we did, and what I think is an awesome resource, is social media. So, it’s time to get acquainted with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and I suggest a website to communicate with your customers. Because you’re mobile, your customers are going to wonder where you are every day, what’s on your menu, and things like that. And Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and a website are an excellent way to communicate with them and keep them up to date. It’s really important that at each location you build a customer base, so that the sales there are high, which means your customers need to know that you are there. So, just post on all of those platforms as much as possible. Here’s the boring part. There’s a lot of paperwork involved with starting a business, you probably know that, and they’re all extremely important. First, your business license, obviously. To obtain your business license, like I said, you need permission to park in a location. Once you have that, you’re going to need to get your health certificate. Once the health department has approved your kitchen, you build your kitchen, they will do a final inspection to make sure that everything is up to code, and also make sure that you know your food safety guidelines. So, it’s important to read everything on their website, they have a lot of resources available to help you become a successful food truck owner, very helpful. They will also do surprise inspections, so expect them to show up on your busiest day when your kitchen is trashed, because they will. Next you’re going to need your tax ID, which every business needs that you have to pay federal and state taxes, but as a food business you also are expected to pay a meals tax. You can pass this cost on to your customers, but you are required to pay it every month. And lastly is insurance. The City of Lynchburg and all businesses that are going to allow you to park on their property are going to ask for a copy of your liability insurance, all businesses carry this, and it’s very important that you also do it to. I think it’s a good idea to not be afraid to ask for help and spend some of your start up costs on perhaps a lawyer, an accountant, or anyone that can help you through the paperwork. Alright, to wrap up how to start a food truck, you’re going to start with your menu and concept and budget and goals and these should all be written down in your business plan. Once you have that, you should reach out to the Department of Health for your kitchen and food safety guidelines. Once you have that, it’s time to find your truck and build out your kitchen following those food and health guidelines. Once you have your kitchen and your truck it’s time to start finding your distributors and get all of your ingredients on the truck. After you find your distributors, next you’re going to need to figure out where you’re going to park, you need permission of property owners and the city to park on their property. Once you have that you need to get insurance, your business license, and you need to get on social media to tell people where you are and stay in contact with your customers. Thank you.
About Elizabeth Russell
Cheesy Rider, a food truck in Lynchburg, Virginia, serves grilled cheese sandwiches and house made soups. Their menu is vegetarian and vegan. To see their menu, click here.
|Date Added||January 10, 2017|
In this video Elizabeth Russell explains how to start a food truck, including:
- Pros and cons of starting a food truck
- Writing your business plan
- Complying with regulations
- Picking the right equipment
- Designing your truck
- Planning your menu