So I struggled with a title for this post. In the big scheme of things, how the food trucks are doing would be considered small potatoes. Here in my little niche, I like to see good food options and see a food truck culture as part of a larger view of street life in a city and economic growth.
There can be no doubt that starting a successful food truck leads to good things. Look at the growth of Clover, Bon Me and Roxy’s Grilled Cheese as obvious examples. How about Mei Mei with a brick and mortar restaurant, an outlet in a shipping container outlet and selling sauces all over the city. Numerous vendors have added second or more trucks. Creativity abounds with Avi Shemtov from the Chubby Chickpea now adding a beer truck for private vending events. Catering by food trucks is hot and the increase in local breweries have increased partnerships. Stoked, Taco Party, Pennypackers, Momogoose, Frozen Hoagies, and Cookie Monstah all added brick and mortar from their food truck origins. And several brick and mortars added food trucks, including Boston Burger Company, Redbones, Zo on the Go, and Tenoch Mexican.
I think if you asked most food truck owners, they would credit success to factors outside of the city’s program. The Greenway, though with much higher fees, is consistently a strong spot for food trucks. You’ve got space, you’ve got seating, you’ve got pleasant surroundings. You can’t just say, well here is a spot with foot traffic, it should do well. Just look at the underperforming Boston Public Library spot.
Other cities have done well with a higher number of trucks of per capita than Boston has. If you want to know where food truck growth has been most prevalent, head to the western half of the country. Boston, New York and Chicago all lag behind, all are known for their administrative limitations on the industry. As I’ve written before, the past 2 years have seen a decline in the number of trucks participating in the city’s lottery.
One of the common complaints about expanding food trucks is from brick and mortars, worried about the competition. While I have always said that if your restaurant cannot compete with a truck serving 6-10 items on a take out basis only, you must not be very good. That aside, here is a surprising fact. A recent article from The Economist refers to a Bureau of Labor study that shows in counties that experienced higher food truck growth, those same places experienced higher restaurant and catering growth.
The city of Boston is hoping to make changes. Food trucks have been moved out of the Office of Food Initiatives to Economic Development. Based on the examples I listed, that may be a good place for it. There is a new advisory board with food truck owners. A firm was brought in to do some focus group studies. While a dedicated Twitter account was created, they have tweeted twice this month, the first ones since March. Hopefully, everything is on the table – regulations, sites, hours. Other cities have shown that food trucks can be part of a thriving downtown area. And successful food trucks grow and create jobs.
Credited: The Economist