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 since the 2008 recession hit, and are 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.


The Emergence of the Food Truck

Selling food street-side dates back to the late 17th century when 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 that has continued throughout the world, especially in urban areas. 

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. Given its success in offering delicious, innovative cuisine, the company expanded to include four additional trucks.

Currently, there are over 4,000 food trucks across the United States. According to IBISWorld, a market research firm, from 2011 to 2016 industry revenue grew at an annual rate of 7.9 percent. Because state and local regulations vary among states, food trucks may be more popular in some areas than others.

Food Trucks Worldwide

Food trucks are common throughout the world. 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.

Since 2008, food trucks have been 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.