Food trucks have been on everyone’s lips for the past few years. It all started around 2009, with Kogi who led the way for every kind of truck imaginable: Pera’s Turkish Tacos, food trucks that cater to dogs, Star Wars trucks…the list seems infinite. It actually makes a lot of sense to open a truck instead of a brick and mortar restaurant; there’s less staff, less cost…and mobility, so you can go where the customers are. It’s still not as simple as most people think. Alan Philips, a seasoned hospitality entrepreneur, marketing expert, and the founder of the Guerrilla Culinary Brigade took all his years of experience and put it into The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Food Truck Business. Alan took some time to answer some of my questions on his book and to offer a few tips to those who are looking to get into the field.
Blanca Valbuena: Why did you decide to write “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting a Food Truck Business”?
Alan Philips: I love writing, especially food writing. Cooking, eating, drinking, and creating memorable hospitality experiences is my passion. When the opportunity to write this book presented itself, it was too good to pass up.
AP: Anyone can open a food truck, but that does not mean anyone can do successful. It is hard work. In order for you to open a successful food truck you need to be passionate about what you are doing and not be expecting to make your fortune. Food Trucks are about exposing your talents and making a modest profit. Operations like Kogi are the exception, not the rule.
BV: What do you think started the food truck craze?
AP: The people and the creativity. There was a downturn in the economy that led to many people looking for new ways to make a living. Food Trucks are a great entry point into the food business. They cost half as much to start as a restaurant and are a great way to expose your talents. So when you have a large pool of talent focused on a specific area of the industry doing creative and exciting products it drives interest.
AP: Authenticity is the name of the game. This is not something you do because you want to become a millionaire. You need to be super passionate and create a product that you love. That is not to say if you love meatloaf everyone else will to. Once you find a great concept it is all about execution. Selling as much food in as little time as possible while controlling your variable costs. if you can do that you have a shot.
BV: What are tell tale signs that a food truck has no chance of survival?
AP: Spending a boatload of money on your truck. You will never get that investment back. Trying to be everything to everyone. This is a niche business. Be specialized. High labor costs are the silent killer of the hospitality business. No line at lunch. Lunch is the lifeblood of 90% of trucks.
BV: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have when starting a food truck?
AP: That it is something you can do on the side. It is a full time business. Do not bother getting involved unless you are ready to give it everything for at least 1 year.
BV: What is your best piece of advice for a food truck newbie?
AP: Start small and keep it simple. It is amazing the good will you can create by executing a creative and honest idea perfectly.
BV: What do you think is the biggest advantage to opening up a truck instead of a brick and mortar establishment?
AP: You can go where the business goes. Mobility. No rent, means if you are a good operator you will have low fixed costs. And finally, you do not have to be open and paying staff during the slow times like Sundays or the dead of winter.
AP: Night and Day. Two completely different businesses. The only similarity is that they are great platforms to expose your talents in the world of food,wine, and hospitality.
BV: What is your favorite food truck? Why?
AP: Changes every week. This week it is Taim Mobile, I absolutely love the design of the truck, their Falafel is amongst the best in the city, and I am on a juice and smoothie kick this spring.
BV: What do you consider to be the three best food truck cities in the US?
AP: Los Angeles, Austin, and New York.
BV: What is your dream food truck concept?
AP: I would love to open a kosher food truck that sells Middle Eastern BBQ in New York. I think there is a huge market for this food and do not think anyone is doing high quality and delicious Middle Eastern BBQ.
BV: You have an intense work history (Spago Restaurant, Myriad Restaurant Group, and Strategic Group), what is in your future for the next year?
AP: I was thinking of trying to run the Triatholon after having lunch at 2nd Avenue Deli and dinner at Peter Luger’s. Just kidding. I want to learn to surf with my girlfriend, have a nice conversation with someone I have never met, and then help a passionate newcomer achieve their dreams.