Mobilizing efforts to unburden food access and choice
The American foodscape is changing. No longer able to access customers and connect them to good food through centralization, upstarts and entrepreneurs are ditching the pad site and expensive permanent digs in favor food trucks and carts.
And it's not just about hot dogs and brats.
Food truckers are becoming leaders in bringing a much needed culinary variety to downtowns, neighborhoods, college campuses, sporting venues, business parks, and parking lots. This form of foodery is part of a much larger trend of "pop-up retail" that brings commerce, mostly food and beverage, to customers via carts, trucks, tents, stands, and now even shipping containers.
What this does for the vendor:
- Allows for self-financing or minimized up-front capital costs to enter the food business. While opening a restaurant exposes the young business to relatively enormous risk, a buddy who is looking to open a new mobile operation recently found that a fully equipped truck with a new layer of paint goes for roughly $30,000.
- Increased margins. Analysis has shown that the typical food truck achieves a 50 percent margin on sales as opposed to 10 percent seen for conventional "bricks and mortar" operations.
- More control on location. Vendors can be much more targeted in how they approach finding a location and setting up shop rather than waiting to find the perfect space to become available in a building.
- Easier to hit the refresh button. As restaurants typically need to refresh their offering every 5 years, food carts and other mobile operations are almost doing this in real time. Similarly, it is easier to test and rid the concepts that fail.
- Easier to expand into new markets. Food vendors from Seattle to New York are able to gauge expansion possibilities easily and move with confidence into other neighborhoods with the same or a modified concept.
What this does for the consumer:
- Increases choice. With more vendors, one can eat falafel on Tuesday and pulled pork on a Friday. If I want a burger and a coworker wants curry, we're all happy getting in different lines then meeting in the park or square to chow.
- Controls cost. Much of the savings achieved by lowering fixed costs is passed along to the customer, making great, fresh food affordable and accessible to more people.
- See what you eat. Most mobile food vendors are producing and assembling orders in front of the customer, adding another layer of informal, cheap, and effective quality control.
- Improved access to quality, wholesome, and locally-produced food. Up and coming providers such as StockBox, are reaching into neighborhoods that do not have access to simple foodstuffs. Providing this choice helps to mitigate the disastrous health consequences of a convenience-store based diet.
What this does for economic vitality:
- Clustering a few intrepid vendors near employment centers, college campuses, or neighborhood center can enrich or, in some cases, jump start a place's portfolio of economic activity.
- In places such as Portland, Oregon, or near the campuses of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, we have seen a street lined with vendors bring enormous energy to a once languishing space. Park spaces become animated, streets more active and safe, and the kind of informal interaction that brings people together in the community.
- Pop-Up vendors also tend to support the local food supply chain than conventional food providers. Supporting a local vendor that in turn purchases goods from local farmers, bakeries, ranches, and dairies, typically keeps local 40 cents more on the dollar than the alternative.
What we are doing to support the movement:
- Modify zoning. Every zoning code we are working in, we are looking hard at the existing regs that traditionally can hand-cuff and overly regulate this activity to adjust them to adequately provide for these establishments.
- Work with traditional restauranteers to explore ways that they can participate in this less formal arrangement.
- Incorporate Pop-Up Retail into the early fabric of new communities and districts. Because of their lower up-front costs and risk, developers and land owners can more easily and sooner deliver upon the promise of a vibrant, mixed-use node within their developments that their tenants expect. This has been done, for example, in the town of Hercules, California.
More on Pop Up Food:
Three Best Ways to Start a Food Truck Business
User's Guide: How to Start Your Own Food Truck
Video - Mobile food attracts upper crust clientele
LA Restaurants on Twitter
The food trucks just keep rolling
Are the New Food Trucks the Domain of the 'Upper Crust'?
Restaurants Band Together to Rid Food Trucks on Wilshire
When Twitter met food trucks