In recent years, the food truck industry has seen a rise in the popularity of a lightweight yet innovative and high-tech product: the mobile wood-fired pizza oven. Typically wagon-mounted, these movable pizzerias have become popular with “foodie” entrepreneurs wanting to tap into America's love of pizza.
The mobile pizza ovens can be employed at brick-and-mortar restaurants, but, more commonly, are used to serve pizza and other food items at farmers’ markets, festivals, picnics, parties, brew pubs, restaurants, catered events, and other venues. Entrepreneurs, nine-to-five business people, and even retirees looking for a profitable hobby have discovered that a mobile pizza business can provide an independent lifestyle and the ability to work as much or as little as desired.
They have embraced the mobile pizza oven concept since it offers a relatively inexpensive but potentially lucrative business opportunity for those who are motivated to succeed. But potential owners should know that running a mobile pizzeria does require hard work, planning, and some financial resources. Owners need to be able to manage all aspects of running a food business.
- On the culinary side, a mobile pizza business involves cooking, catering, recipes, fire, dough, ingredients, and more.
- On the business side, factors to consider are budgeting, planning, staff, customers, workflow, health regulations, and trailer safety issues.
Ajith Dharma, president, and owner of Fire Within, the nation’s leading manufacturer of mobile wood-fired pizza ovens, says that potential owners should carefully consider the following 14 factors before deciding to purchase:
- Determine if you have the budget not only to purchase the trailer but also to operate the business.
- Be sure you've got the interest and expertise in food service/catering and business—or a willingness to learn—to be successful in a mobile pizza business.
- Find the right oven by asking if the oven manufacturer:
Offers culinary instruction as well as guidance on how to run a mobile oven as a business
- Offers ongoing support after the sale
- Has a good reputation for quality
- Find the right trailer by asking: Does the trailer manufacturer have a proven track record of quality and safety? Does the trailer meet all Federal Highway Safety Standards and is the trailer engineered to carry the weight of the oven?
- Find a commissary kitchen with adequate cold and dry storage, as required by health department regulations, and that has a dough mixer if you want to make your own dough. Note that co-op food orders are sometimes available through the commissary and this can help to cut costs.
Before You Start
Your area needs to support your mobile pizza business, with plenty of events or other sales opportunities. So before you invest in equipment, research your event possibilities:
- Learn the market: Get a clear understanding of the advantages or disadvantages of different types of events and their profit margins. Profit margins for public events versus private catering events can be vastly different.
- Form a clear vision of the events available to you in the area you want to target, from farmers' markets and festivals to fairs and corporate parties. Working with individual event planners will help mobile pizza business owners be successful. A planner can help by giving you an idea of what type of volume you may expect out of an event, the best location to attract the most customers, and an understanding of who the competition is at an event.
- Ask about power: Do the events provide power or do vendors need to provide their own power? Is there cold storage available for free or for rent at large multi-day festivals or state fairs?
- Understand Health Department Licensing: Be sure you have the licensing to operate the business the way you want to. The two licenses available are generally called the Temporary Event License or the Mobile Food Vending Permit.
- Get insurance: Be sure your business, vehicle, and mobile pizza oven are all adequately covered.
- Food/dough management: Do I know what days food will be delivered to give myself plenty of time to make the dough and let it proof before the event? Do I have a go-to supplier in the area that can provide extra dough, food, and dry goods if I run out of supplies when participating in a large event?
- Understand pricing and menu design so you can consistently create products that appeal to your customers. For example, providing bottled beverages, desserts, fruits, and salads can complement the pizza and create a complete meal with a higher profit margin.
- Create contingency plans for any changes in circumstances such as bad weather, unexpectedly large numbers of customers, change in venue, and set up problems.
- Connect with non-competing vendors in other markets to ask questions and share your advice and success tips.
These tips give you a taste of the rewards and benefits of a mobile pizza business. Want to learn more? Fire Within hosts five annual workshops that, together with providing a proven business plan, give participants hands-on instruction in working the ovens and preparing delicious pizza and other food items.