After the economic downturn in 2008, aspiring and established restaurateurs alike decided to take their food ventures to the street – and I mean that literally. Since then, there has been rapid and continuing success of food trucks around the world. By 2017, it is anticipated that the food truck industry will be generating $2.7 billion in revenues. Whether you’re just starting out or are a seasoned pro in the food service industry, there is no doubt that investing in a food truck is a worthwhile consideration for your restaurant’s business plan.
To learn more about this growing industry, I’ve enlisted my close friend and fellow entrepreneur Chad Reynolds (CR). Chad is the co-founder of YXE Street Food, a popular, Saskatoon-based food truck tracking system. He and business partner Patrick Wood launched YXE Street Food in an effort to take the guesswork out of tracking down the city’s growing numbers of food trucks. Not only that, but last month the duo hosted the wildly successful YXE Street Food Fest, Saskatoon’s first and only food truck and music festival.
Here’s a glimpse at Chad’s and my conversation:
JR: In your opinion, what forms the crucial foundation for any successful food truck?
CR: There’s no doubt all the food trucks and carts need to serve amazing food. I mean, that truly is the foundation of the businesses, but food aside – a truck must be locatable. They need to be constantly engaging with their customers on social media and addressing any inquiries and/or bookings. This often comes as an afterthought, but you’ll notice that the trucks that are most active online tend to be the ones that stick around. Our intent is to take some of these tasks into our own hands at YXE Street Food and let the trucks focus do what they do best: food.
When done properly, frequent engagement with customers (i.e., mixing in some culture in addition to location-based posts), is when you really start to see brand loyalty. We’ve seen it this year with trucks like Ace Burger, Thrive Juice Co., and Disco Dog. People are treating these food and drink products like their favourite band or an album they can’t stop playing. They’re addicted!
JR: Some call the food truck industry “trendy,” when in fact these trucks have been roaming the streets for years now. How do you account for their continued success and popularity?
CR: When we started up YXE Street Food we wondered, “Is this something that will last?” The answer is yes. Food trucks will remain popular because they provide one of the most important experiences in modern business: FUN! When you hunt down your favourite food truck or turn the corner and are enticed by one, it’s an experience that appeals to all ages.
We also get to see specialized fare. It’s a popular saying (and a favourite of mine) that necessity is the mother of creation. Well, food trucks and carts are working with limited space and limited preparation options. This means they are putting all of their creative energy into a few great items they know they can knock out of the park and people will love it.
I think this format is a great system for chefs young and old with entrepreneurial spirit. It is most definitely making downtown lunches a lot more fun and adventurous.
JR: How would a new business benefit from a food truck? What about an established brand?
CR: It takes the right kind of person, but I really believe in the food truck start-up business model. Food trucks give hard-working entrepreneurs a cost-effective way of testing out their product on a citywide market. As an alternative to a brick-and-mortar establishment, the meals-on-wheels business model can be lower risk, as it is a smaller investment with fewer requirements for staff, seating, etc. This is why we see a lot of passionate young entrepreneurs embracing the food truck business model. I’ll advocate for anything that allows young people to chase down their dreams sooner. As a result we typically see more creative dishes from these businesses, which can help them to build a quick, strong online presence.
Food truck owners must work long days in the truck. Because there is often little room for additional staff, they then proceed to spend their evenings prepping for the next day. This is the routine all season long, spending precious summer weekends boxed up in a truck serving festival goers. For that reason, established brands tend to enjoy the most success in the food truck arena because they have the luxury of a brick-and-mortar establishment as backup.
JR: How important do you think establishing a social media presence is for food truck owners/operators?
CR: Social media is crucial for the success of modern street food operations. It allows owners to communicate with a massive group of followers in real-time, informing them of menu changes, unforeseen circumstances, and daily locations. For a business without a static location, a social media community needs to replace a neighbourhood or geographical community.
Similarly, food truck owners need to be aware of local events happening throughout the season so they can find large captive audiences. Social media is a great means of connecting these food truck owners to the community, and I think that’s where we come in. As the city sees more and more food trucks open for business, more complications arise and they will need an organization to represent them as a team or culture. We serve as a one-stop-shop for bookings, food truck news, upcoming events, and daily locations.
A massive THANK YOU is in order to Chad for taking the time to share his business savvy on this popular business model.
If you are ready to hit the road and make your food truck dream a reality, make sure that you know the food truck business basics and keep up-to-date on the latest mobile food news in your area.