A History of the Food Truck

The Rise of the Food Truck Culture

How to start a food truck
••• By Benreis (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Food trucks have grown in popularity over the past decade and are just as much of a restaurant concept as family style dining or fast food. Given the low cost, many would-be restaurateurs are opting to open a food truck business, which is now regarded as a respectable venue for starting a career in the food business. Today food trucks offer a myriad of menu options, from cupcakes to grilled cheese to hybrid taco-waffles. Going beyond street food cuisine, food trucks now cater to all tastes, offering gourmet, locally sourced, artisan menu items.


Emergence of the Food Truck

Selling food street-side dates back to ancient times, where living conditions were cramped and many people did not have the resources to cook their own meals. Vendors sold food from small carts or street kitchens. Selling street food has continued throughout the world, especially in urban areas. However, it wasn’t until the recent recession that food trucks became more diverse and mainstream.

In 2008, Roy Choi opened a food truck in Los Angeles called Kogi, which is considered to be one of the first gourmet food trucks in the United States. Due to it's success in offering delicious, innovative cuisine, the company has expanded to include four additional trucks. In 2010, the Food Network premiered "The Great Food Truck Race" reality television series, which also increased interest in mobile cuisine. Since then, food trucks have been regarded by the restaurant community as an important part of the restaurant industry.

Influential restaurant guide Zagat gave food trucks their own category, while chains such as Starbucks and TGI Fridays rolled out food trucks in addition to their stand-alone restaurants.

In pop culture, the movie "Chef," tells the story of a down and out star chef, who reignites his cooking passion through food truck cuisine. Other popular movies that feature a food-truck element include "What to Expect When You’re Expecting" and the "Five Year Engagement." What may have started as an economically prudent venture for many has exploded into a thriving business model.

Food Trucks Worldwide

Food trucks are common worldwide. Most often associated with ethnic street food, they provide affordable, filling food that is relatively simple to prepare. Today, food trucks come in every type of cuisine conceivable, from short rib tacos to fried desserts to gourmet lunch boxes. Food mashups are also popular for mobile menus, such as smoked pulled pork tacos or burritos filled with Thai style beef and vegetables. Over the past decade, locations for food trucks have changed. While they remain common in busy urban centers, they can also be found in suburban and rural areas.

Food Truck Regulations

As with any small business, operating a food truck involves regulations and licensing. In cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago the number of food truck permits available are limited, which prevents an over-saturation of the market. Cities and towns also regulate where and when food trucks are allowed to park for business. If you are thinking of opening a food truck, check with your local zoning office for more information.

Food trucks are among the hottest trends in the restaurant industry. They may have started out as a less expensive alternative to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but they have become one of the strongest business models in the food and beverage industry.