A few days ago I read a news item from Paris about food truck owners who have opened their own bricks and mortar restaurants.
It seemed odd. Surely a food truck is less of a headache than a restaurant. Not really.
Four food truck owners in Paris — Le Camion qui fume (‘The truck that smokes’), Le Réfectoire, Cantine California and Leoni’s Daily — now have fixed locations in addition to continuing with their mobile businesses.
Valentine Davase started Le Réfectoire in 2012 and says that the ability to have a restaurant saves money. She told Agence France Presse:
Having a fixed restaurant means having a big kitchen, storage space, a garage to park and clean the truck, to do all the production in one place …
We optimise charges [and] costs which really helps our day-to-day organisation enormously.
Davase’s career pattern is ideal for a food truck owner. She started out in communications, then worked in events before becoming an apprentice at the Ritz. She has what it takes to be a successful food truck owner: enjoying people, knowing how to market products and being a great cook.
She pointed out that running a food truck can cost between €80,000 to €120,000 in repairs if one has to have them done professionally. Other problems include working:
in the wind, in the rain, sometimes with power cuts. It’s hardly the ideal restaurant format.
Since she opened her restaurant in September 2015, she has noticed that not only do people appreciate eating indoors but they also spend more. Average spend at the truck is €10. In the restaurant it’s €14 to €15.
Former Los Angelena Kristin Frederick is the pioneer of food trucks in France. She started Le Camion qui fume in 2011. Parisians loved the concept. Although she invested €2m for a fixed location, Frederick says that owning a restaurant has helped her reduce costs. She points out that location is also essential. Hers is in Montmartre. She hopes to open another two locations in Paris by this time in 2017.
Frederick’s four trucks still operate in Paris. Altogether, she employs 50 people.
She is also the president of the association Street Food en Mouvement. She told AFP that half of food truck owners go under because of lack of customers. Bernard Boutboul, a restaurant consultant, said that, while Paris has expanded parking locations for food trucks, he expects the capital to reclaim those places as more food trucks go out of business in the coming years.
It’s hardly a promising prospect.
The trend of food truck owners moving into fixed locations is well known in the United States. It makes sense for newcomers to the food business to start small and establish their brand before moving into the restaurant scene. This is why I was surprised to read about the French experience above. Presumably, those food truck owners have made enough money to finance their restaurants. Yet, they made it in such a short time period.
Mobile-Cuisine has an interesting rationale for starting with food trucks before opening a restaurant. Their six reasons in support of a food truck for newbies includes cost comparison:
The costs involved in opening a restaurant vary based on the concept you develop. Opening a high end dining establishment can start at 500K and can run into the millions. Opening a food truck using the same style (only smaller) of menu can cost as little as $50,000. By starting small, you will learn many of the same lessons in a truck as you would in a restaurant. Operating any food service business is risky, but if your idea fails, would you rather have a smaller investment to lose than a much larger one?
Even then, food truck owners have a lot to do in order to make their businesses viable. Food Truckr asked readers to write in about ‘What I Wish I’d Known Before Starting My Food Truck’. Fifty owners shared their experiences. It’s an excellent article.
The biggest bugbears are regulations and permits, including the requirement to be parked near a public restroom, truck maintenance, starting out without a proper business plan or budget and the realisation that owning a food truck will take up nearly all of one’s time.
The food truck contributors recommended:
- Knowing what is involved before starting up: legal issues, city ordinances, trucks, menu;
- Putting together a serious and thorough business plan;
- Being a people person who can be nice to customers and promote the business;
- Making sure you are on every type of social media;
- Knowing what events to go to.
One of the contributors wrote (emphasis in the original):
Catering for a food truck is where the big bucks are.
Although we see food trucks as being individualistic and maverick, ultimately, they are a business just like any other. And the idea that a number of food truck owners are going into the restaurant business indicates that owning a mobile business is not as easy or carefree as it looks.
Anyone with food truck or restaurant experience is especially welcome to comment below.