Restaurants reinvent the food truck
Restaurants are branching out with gourmet food trucks to capture fast-growing trend. Food trucks allow restaurants to experiment with new offerings.
Nothing beats escaping the office for a summer lunch outside. Maybe you were organized enough to pack your lunch. Even better: Your favorite restaurant rolls up to the curb and hands you a paper carton of teriyaki chicken nestled on a bed of steaming rice.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
From grilled cheese to cupcakes to the latest fusion cuisines, a growing number of food trucks are roving city streets as patrons – and now restaurants – discover the ease, ingenuity, and affordability of sidewalk meals.
Street vendors – from quilted aluminum vending trucks at construction sites to ice cream trucks selling to children – have been around for decades. But enterprising restaurateurs have updated that model with splashy logos on delivery trucks retrofitted with kitchens. Through social media sites, patrons can track down their favorite trucks whenever the hankering for a hot fish taco or falafel wrap strikes.
RECOMMENDED: 10 fast foods that have disappeared
With low overhead, quick service, and the flexibility to adapt to trends, food trucks are the fastest-growing dining industry in the United States. Over the past five years, the sector has grown an average 8.4 percent a year, according to industry analyst IBISWorld in Los Angeles. Food truck revenue, which last year reached $650 million, is expected to quadruple to $2.7 billion by 2017, according to Emergent Research, a small-business research and consulting firm based in Lafayette, Calif.
"We like to try different things [on the menu] and have fun, and the food truck allowed this," says Sienam Lulla of Momos & Buns. The bright red and orange truck offered piping-hot fusion Chinese food at a recent Boston food truck competition among nearly 20 Boston and New York City vendors. Ms. Lulla, who also owns two restaurants with her husband, says that once you go corporate, you get locked into doing menus a certain way. With a food truck, "you get instant feedback from customers."
The modern gourmet food truck movement is often traced to Roy Choi, who launched his Kogi BBQ food trucks selling fusion Korean tacos in Los Angeles in 2008. In his first year, he raked in $2 million selling $2 tacos. The trend quickly traveled up the coast to San Francisco, Seattle, and beyond. By 2010, gourmet food trucks were spotted in most major cities; "The Great Food Truck Race" was a show on the Food Network; the prestigious Zagat guide announced it would begin reviews.