Starting your own food business usually begins with a dream you can’t seem to shake – and a call to join the 30,000-strong food trucks across the United States may be part of your journey.
As the pandemic changed how foodpreneurs viewed their culinary ambitions, food trucks became a wildly popular solution to decreasing overhead, maintaining flexibility, and streamlining operations. Food Truck startups have been so popular that new operations grew by 8% in 2022, adding to a $1 billion mobile food business industry.
So you’ve decided food truck life is for you. You have the perfect idea for a mobile dream to feed the masses! But first, you need wheels.
For all the dreamers and, more importantly, for the doers, we’ve created the essential guide to purchasing a food truck.
Everything You Need To Know Before Buying a Food Truck
There are many ways to go about a food business startup. Starting a catering business or home-based commercial kitchen are also significant jump-off points to growing your dream. There are also some very encouraging statistics that make a food truck a smart entry into the commercial food industry.
According to Off The Grid, 34% of food truck owners report that a small mobile operation has given them a place to test out menu ideas and new concepts on a variety of audiences.
While brick-and-mortar restaurants, on average, experience 2% growth, food trucks have experienced 7.3% growth annually since 2007
One of the biggest advantages to starting a food truck over a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant is a low barrier of entry – start-up costs are typically much lower. However, start-up costs for a food truck vary greatly depending on several variables, and you can expect to invest $28,000 to $114,000 on average.
The vast majority of expenses will likely go to the purchase and outfitting of the food truck itself, and we are here to break down the finer points of your central investment.
According to Food Truck Empire, you can expect to pay anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 dollars for your mobile food business wheels. Other experts estimate $50,000 to $200,000 for a new truck, while other new business owners report finding used trucks for $15,000 or less.
The bottom line is the price can vary drastically depending on whether the truck is new or used, news to be gutted and built from scratch, or just updated. Either way, you’ll also need to invest in “wrapping” the truck with your branding, insurance, and maintenance.
When exploring your options to get your food truck business off the ground, you are bound to compare the advantages and drawbacks of getting one new from the manufacturer vs. used.
New Food Truck Pros
A manufacturer in your state will know and comply with all construction regulations to ensure your food truck is legal and guaranteed to pass code inspections.
Brand new everything means less initial maintenance.
New food trucks usually come with a great warranty.
New Food Truck Cons
Bigger upfront investment.
It can take time for customization and build-out.
Used Food Truck Pros
Barring any major maintenance, they are ready to be used immediately.
Many come already outfitted, reducing your commercial kitchen installation costs.
Less decision-making because the equipment is already there.
If purchasing from a dealer, there is usually some kind of warranty.
Used Food Truck Cons
Unknown wear and tear and possible fixes.
Equipment already has a lot of use.
Less ability to customize.
Less life expectancy.
What To Look For Before Purchasing a Food Truck
Whether you are purchasing a food truck from a private seller, the manufacturer, or a dealer, go in prepared. Knowledge is power and may help you negotiate a better deal or warranty.
1. Thoroughly inspect the engine and equipment.
Bring a qualified mechanic with you to do an internal inspection of the engine. Ask for maintenance and service logs. When logs are in order and come with receipts, you know the owner has taken care of his investment.
2. Do manufacturer research.
Don’t take the owner or dealer’s word for it. Due diligence will save you time, money, and headaches. Check reviews and ratings online as well as food truck forums. Nothing is more valuable than first-hand experience from other owners.
3. Check the odometer.
If buying used, take a look at the odometer. In all reality, a food truck shouldn’t be clocking in too many miles. If the mileage is relatively high, use it as a bargaining point. If you opt to purchase a used road warrior, ensure the extra miles are insured with a warranty.
4. Check your city’s size restrictions.
You’ll need to check your city’s food truck size restrictions before you purchase. Some cities, like Washington D.C., have limitations of length and height that you should consider before purchasing. In addition, if you know where you will be selling from, measure the parking spaces to ensure you will fit.
5. Will it fit your staff?
If your operation requires several people in the kitchen at once, take stock in your operational space. A too-small space may hinder your efficiency and future scalable growth plans.
6. Know what to ask a food truck builder.
If you are opting for a new and shiny straight from the manufacturer’s food truck, come prepared with questions. How long will the build take? Do they deliver? Have they built a concept like yours before? Can you talk to some of their other customers?
A reputable builder will be able to answer all these questions and provide references for past builds.
7. Check fuel and power specifications.
Checking fuel and power specifications may seem trivial, but can add to your bottom line. Deciding between diesel and gasoline is important when considering your monthly fuel bill. While gasoline is more cost-effective, diesel can mean greater fuel economy. In addition, gasoline-fueled vehicles are often easier and cheaper to maintain and repair.
Typically, food trucks operate their power of diesel-fueled generators. Purchasing a new or used generator should involve a deep dive into the manufacturing specs of the generator and, if it is used, the wear and tear and remaining lifespan of the equipment.
Whether new or used, there are a wealth of resources online to research your new food truck purchase. Once you have narrowed down your needs and non-negotiables, consulted food truck forums, and created your concept, it’s time to start shopping.
We have already established that no matter if you are buying new or used, the mobile kitchen will likely be one of the highest upfront costs to your food truck ambitions.
There is one way to circumnavigate this initial high-cost investment: leasing. Opting for lower monthly payments can allow you to build your business more rapidly, as you’re startup funds can be diverted to marketing, equipment, and other costs. This is an excellent option if you want to test a concept first or need additional time to bank funds to reinvest.
On the downside, when the leasing period ends, you will have to weather transition-related hassles such as uninstalling equipment, a lag time in the switch to a new vehicle, and loss of momentum. To avoid this, be sure to check the lease agreement for renewal and lease-to-own clauses that may help you avoid this scenario.
Food Truck revenue can range from $250,000 to $500,000 annually.
Your Food Truck Dream On Wheels
Food trucks can be the best entry into your foodpreneur journey if you’ve done your research. What starts with a well-researched vehicle can grow into a fleet of favorite mobile establishments, serving as a helm of community gatherings and events for your local area.
Are you thinking of taking your culinary creations into edible commerce? But perhaps think that starting a food business is for “other people”? A home-based food business is a perfect way to start your journey and comes with tremendous benefits. Starting small can help you decide if being a foodpreneur is something you want to chase and turn into your legacy.
Setting up a commercial food business in your home may seem a daunting task at first. However, you may be surprised by just how easy state Cottage Food Business Acts have made getting into the commercial food industry without the full-scale start-up responsibilities restaurants require.
Below we will break down the best perks of realizing your culinary dreams from home.
The Advantages of Starting A Cottage Food Business
Low Barrier To Entry
Every home-based food business must comply with their state’s cottage food laws. This includes licensing, permitting, and hygiene regulations. These are generally straightforward and can be less rigorous for a home-based business depending on the area. Fewer start-up costs and legal requirements make a cottage food business an equal opportunity starting point for most foodpreneurs.
Less Capital Intensive
Setting up a full-scale restaurant requires a tremendous amount of start-up capital and potentially the involvement of investors. Instead, using space you already have can help save precious funds that can be reinvested into your growth instead of a landlord.
Additionally, you’ll be spending less on utilities, maintenance, and staffing required to run a brick-and-mortar operation. Items like utensils and cooking equipment can also be cross purposed.
A home-based food operation allows you to operate with much less stress than a traditional commercial kitchen. For example, you likely won’t need to worry about employee insurance, costly maintenance, or risk an unexpected closure tanking your profits for the month.
Since your investment remains comparatively low, the risk quotient decreases compared to a stand-alone commercial food business. If something unexpected happens and you decide to take a break, you won’t have employees to lay off or a landlord banging at your door either.
Low Overhead and Operating Costs
Compared to the stand-alone commercial kitchen, the day-to-day operational costs of a home-based kitchen are appreciably lower. From utilities to rent, you’ll have less overhead to cover, and more profit can be made. Not only is the overhead reduced, but you also won’t have operating costs like POS systems, employee management software, or the wages of admin staff (like accountants and human resources) to cover.
You Can Scale As You Grow
As far as pressure goes, the ability to scale as you grow in a home-based food business is possibly one of the best advantages of running your commercial kitchen in-house. While starting a full-scale restaurant will mean that you need to be more or less fully stocked on opening day, a home-based kitchen means that you can scale as you grow.
You can level up your kitchen equipment and staffing needs as profits allow rather than spending money upfront. In addition, you won’t have to front the expenses of large volumes of packaging and ingredients until your customer base grows. It is a perfect solution for those with a food dream but without a millionaire’s bank account.
While you should consult your accountant, it is logical that you can claim many of your home-based business expenses on your taxes. For example, if your in-house commercial kitchen takes up 20% of your house, you should be able to make a write-off on your income taxes.
You can also receive tax deductions for expenses related to licensure and permitting. The same goes for marketing materials, website hosting, online courses, and vehicle expenses.
Flexibility In Concept
One of the best advantages of starting your foodpreneur journey with a home-based kitchen is that you can test the waters and modify your offerings with feedback. Instead, a stand-alone restaurant has a very slim margin of versatility as menus need to be printed with set offerings and ingredients need to be purchased ahead in large quantities. In addition, staff are trained to make specific recipes. Throwing new products into the mix will cause inconsistency, increased costs, and instability.
In a cottage food business, you have the benefit of testing products and friends, family, and even the local farmer’s market before you commit to a menu or product. Take advantage of this flexibility by hosting tasting events in your neighborhood or popping up at festivals to try out creations.
Finding a balance between your business and family can be easier in a cottage food business model.
Flexible Hours, Flexible Life
Finally, one of the most difficult tasks as a foodpreneur is establishing a work-life balance. Establishing a routine inside the comfort of your home and doing so early in the process will help you stay happy, passionate, and motivated.
Too often, entrepreneurs get sucked into the hustle. A busy week can turn into months that can turn into years where you’ve missed important life events and holidays to stay open as a brick-and-mortar business. Because, hey, the landlord, employees, and vendors still need to get paid.
A home-based commercial kitchen offers a somewhat more flexible routine with less impact if you need to take a day off. You can set your own hours, take feedback and make adjustments to offerings relatively easily, and every day is casual Friday. You also won’t lose precious time driving to the restaurant each day when you can just roll up to your in-house kitchen instead.
While there are also disadvantages to running a home-based business (you are essentially never able to leave your workplace after all!), we believe the pros outweigh the cons. Starting your foodpreneur journey in your home allows for a massive amount of flexibility and a faster approach to begin.
If you are still unsure if taking on a home-based food business is the right choice, consider touching base with fellow home-based food business entrepreneurs. Additionally, community forums are helpful to learn from those who have gone before you. If you want to make sure you are on the right path you can also connect with a consultant who specializes in helping home-based food businesses get licensed and comply with regulations.
How defining your purpose will help your food business define its values, create momentum, and become the ultimate touchstone for longevity.
Defining your brand’s purpose is an essential starting point for creating your brand story. While everyone’s story will be different, and the way you tell your story can take on various forms, your unique brand story should be anchored in your company’s purpose. Check out Grow Your Kitchen Series: 5 Steps To Creating Your Brand Story for more on how to build a compelling brand story.
A purpose statement will inform your brand story. It is a succinct description of why you exist beyond financial gain. Are you making your community healthier? Are you introducing authentic international flavors to an otherwise bland food desert?
The Harvard Business Review reports that companies with a defined sense of purpose can foster better employee satisfaction, facilitate business growth and transformation, and boost customer loyalty. Your Purpose Statement will provide a guiding compass to your business internally and a representation of your values and mission to the public externally.
What Is The Difference Between A Purpose Statement and A Mission Statement
When you are starting a business, you are inundated with different terms that are needed to create pitch decks, internal guidelines, and marketing copy. Your mission, vision, and purpose are all separate parts of creating a focused foundation and roadmap for your food business.
Many people confuse Mission, Vision, and Purpose Statements. Here are the key differences:
Mission Statement: This statement is about what you do and for whom.
Vision Statement: This is where your food business is going is goals and intentions are accomplished.
Purpose Statement: The intent of a Purpose Statement is to define the reason or reasons you exist as a business.
Your Mission and Vision Statements will be the tangible goals and people that you serve. Your Purpose Statement will tie this all together to show your resolve and determination is seeing your mission and vision through.
How To Create A Purpose Statement
Deep diving into your company’s morals, ethics, and beliefs will help you define your purpose. You will often find your purpose organically by asking yourself and your employees:
“Why are we here?”
“What problem do we solve?”
“What movement are we championing?
In the food world, this could be that you are championing the slow food movement where everything is prepared fresh from local farms.
Maybe you are solving a gap in the market where your community has no authentic Asian cuisine.
The problem + your solution = your purpose.
The Five Steps To Creating a Purpose Statement
When crafting such an essential piece of your company’s foundation, it might seem hard to hone in the perfect concise purpose statement. It takes time to create a purpose that perfectly captures your food business’s essence. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
1. Consider Forming A Committee
This doesn’t have to be a formal group, but of course, it can and should include stakeholders when suitable. A committee can be a group of close friends and like-minded business people who know you and your goals and can help you define your purpose.
2. Figure Out Your Why First
You can refer to Finding Your Why to inform your purpose. Your “why” is the reason you decided to open up your food business in the first place. It is the excitement that keeps a foodpreneur up late at night dreaming, and it is essential to be able to describe the motivation behind your purpose.
3. Identify Your Legacy
Identifying your legacy is a good exercise to put you in a purposeful frame of mind. The description of your purpose should be informed by what your future impact looks like. Knowing what you want your legacy to be and working backward will help you develop your core purpose.
4. List Your Values
In listing your values, you will find some of the most critical vocabulary that will become the words you use for your purpose statement. Your values will help you align with your purpose.
5. Create A Draft and Leave Room To Grow
Once you have collected feedback from a trusted group, listed your values, determined your ‘why’, and identified your future legacy, it’s time to create a draft. Try to keep your Purpose Statement between 1-2 concise sentences. Also, aim for easy-to-understand vocabulary and a tone that matches your audience.
Remember that your business will evolve, and your Purpose Statement might as well. Leave room for growth.
Examples Of Purpose Statements
Here are a few examples to fire up your creativity in creating your own Purpose Statement.
Grow Your Kitchen Series: 5 Tips To Creating Your Brand Story
Photo Credit: Unspun
The food business market is naturally competitive. A post-covid boom of new openings has made for a crowded marketplace from sit-down fine dining to bespoke catering services. Humans are emotional creatures who spend based on feelings. Developing your brand story is a way to create connections by eliciting engagement with your customer base.
In addition, not everything will fit on your menu or label (although you can certainly link a QR code to a page on your website!). Your brand story is where consumers go to decide if they can trust you and whether you share the same intentions.
The power now squarely lies with the customer and their journey on a path to purchase. The average consumer is more speculative than ever about where they will spend their dollar. Buying is socially driven and trust-based, with an emphasis on value. Likewise, part of conveying the latter is by drawing people into your food business story. Value and transparency will convert to loyal customers invested in your growth and success.
Your brand story is not your mission statement; it is a place to describe your unique brand journey and value system. Here, customers will determine whether you have shared values and brand loyalty will be made. In addition, it is a place where your story may resonate with the potential customer drawing them into your journey.
Your brand story also serves as an internal north start for your team. It provides an anchor to why you exist, giving purpose and motivation to drive your team forward.
In this article, we’ll describe how to build your purpose statement and how using this statement will inform your brand storytelling. We will also walk you through four ways to tell your brand story effectively.
Defining Your Purpose
Defining The Purpose of Your Food Business
Defining your brand’s purpose is an essential starting point for creating your brand story. While everyone’s story will be different, and the way you tell your story can take on different forms, your unique brand story should be anchored in your company’s purpose. Check out Grow Your Kitchen Series: Defining Your Purpose for more on how to build a concise purpose statement that will be the anchor to your brand story. Check out our article on defining your brand’s purpose here.
Connecting To Your Audience With Authenticity
Successful marketing of your brand story should avoid pandering and stay authentic. Real and raw stories that don’t flinch away from talking about your hard path to create your dream will resonate with your audience. In addition, your purpose should inspire your audience to become part of a community and culture that you are making through your company’s mission.
Failure can be a deeply effective part of brand storytelling. It shows that you swing big and are willing to take risks in something you believe in. Failure shows integrity because you stood by your product even when things left. The losses also show that you’ve taken learning opportunities to optimize your business and will take chances in the future to evolve with new knowledge.
Creating Brand Advocates
A compelling and inspiring brand story will create people who want to retell your story to others. This kind of organic marketing touchpoint is priceless. Likewise, an ecosystem of social, loyal followers is worth its weight in marketing gold.
Customers with no stake in your company who are invested in your journey enough to testify to its authenticity by word of mouth or social media can drive high-quality referrals and the social phenomena where a “crowd attracts a crowd.” Peer testimonials are one of the most substantial ways customers create value in your business.
How To Tell Your Brand Story For Your Food Business
The hallmarks of a compelling brand story are humility, authenticity, and inspirational reader resonance. In addition, your brand story should relate to the journey that took you from idea to launch. Below we dissect The Hero’s Journey, one of the best ways that you can articulate your brand story while working your purpose and values into the narrative.
The Hero’s Journey
The Hero’s Journey is an age-old format for creating a dynamic story. It is one way to craft your brand story. Our hero sets off on a journey replete with pitfalls and challenges and, through a series of accomplishments, ends up in (food business) glory, celebrated by consumers everywhere.
However, in the case of a food brand story, the hero is usually your customer who has been transformed for the better after meeting your product. As the brand, you are the trusty sidekick guiding the hero to transformation.
1. Create your character.
Determine who your audience is and paint a picture that will resonate with that audience. Some people find it helpful to define their hobbies, habits, likes and dislikes to form a better picture of who you are telling your brand story to.
2. Identify the problem.
What is the hero struggling with? What roadblock is prohibiting them from transformation? In the food world, this could be anything from a lack of healthy food for children or the absence of authentic cuisine in your neighborhood.
3. Describe a solution.
Explain how you came along as the hero’s sidekick to solve this problem. Describe your food brand’s solution product or service.
4. Celebrate the success.
Describe how your solution has led to a successful result. Relate a customer’s review or anecdote—site awards and achievements.
5. Summarize the transformation.
Recap the journey and the pain points that have been solved. You can do this in one to two concise sentences in the same way the last chapter of a book reminds you of where you have been and where you are going.
6. Take your client into the future.
Express gratitude to your reader for coming on your journey and invite them to see what awaits. Describe your future goals and identify pain points that you are in the process of relieving. An evolving company is an exciting one to follow. Above all, take your client towards your future vision within your brand story.
Never underestimate the power of a good brand story. Stories of all kinds grab our attention and can transport us into the founder’s world. We form connections between the stories and ourselves as we identify common values, struggles, and successes. Finally, your unique brand story creates a powerful opportunity to build deeper relations with your audience and invite them to be part of your mission and growth.
Grow Your Kitchen Series: Jumpstart Your Food Business
During this series on Save A Plate Inc, we will look inside the JumpStart Your Food Business course, which is a comprehensive approach to start, grow, and scale your food business.
The JumpStart Your Food Business course provides a curriculum you can tackle at home on your own timeline, which will demystify the process to launch your journey as a food entrepreneur.
Why Build Your Dream With JumpStart Your Food Business
SAPi believes that every food entrepreneur deserves a seat at the table, and a lack of resources or time should not stop a dream from becoming a reality.
The food and beverage business can feel financially intimidating, and resources to develop a sound business model can be costly. In addition, lack of resources and confidence to take the leap can exclude some of our most valuable contributors to the food ecosystem. Now first time business owners, young entrepreneurs, and those switching professions will all have a seat at the table.
This course is written by SAPi’s founder and food visionary, Dr. Brandon Gantt. It provides all the pieces you need to create a food business plan coupled with your unique vision and value proposition with a sound strategy to make it a sustainable reality.
Likewise, his experience with previous endeavors that required copious amounts of research and bootstrapping business plans together, Gantt decided that the way to grow our food community was to make resources to start your own food business accessible to everybody. This course to grow your kitchen is for the people that know a food hustle is often grown late at night while working multiple jobs to make a real dream happen.
How Does It Work
The JumpStart Your Food Business curriculum is built for people who:
Want to find all the guidance in one place.
Need a flexible learning plan.
Want real-world examples of concept success.
Are ready to make their food hustle into a thriving business model.
The curriculum is broken into 20 self-guided units that can be done at your own pace. The JumpStart Your Food Business course will take you from idea to opening day without leaving any stone unturned. In doing so, you’ll go into your new endeavor confident that your business has a solid foundation. In addition, your brand will have a solid identity and voice.
The JumpStart Your Food Business course includes modules to:
Take your idea into action.
Learn strategies for market research from consumer to competitor.
Develop your unique selling proposition.
Develop your product.
Create a legal framework and financial foundation.
Build your brand.
Create a marketing strategy.
SAPi connects people in a diverse locally minded ecosystem that encourages and supports food providers in building and growing their visions. Your success is our success. So let’s meet at the table and make your food business dreams into reality.