A History of Food Trucks

The Rise of the Food Truck Culture

Food trucks are one of the hottest trends in the food and beverage industry. Actually, I’d say that food trucks have finally moved beyond trendy, and are now just as much a restaurant concept as family style dining or quick or fast food. Gaining huge popularity over the past decade thanks in part to shows like The Great Food Truck Race and Food Truck Face Off, many would-be restaurateurs are opting for a starting mobile food business.  It’s no surprise, given how much less it costs to open a food truck versus a traditional sit-down restaurant.

  Today food trucks offer a myriad of menu options, from cupcakes to grilled cheese to hybrid taco-waffles. Going beyond street food cuisine, there are now food trucks that cater to all levels of foodies, offering gourmet/locally sources/ artisanal you-name-it menu items.

Food Trucks: Now and Then

Becky Delaware, from Paste, designed a great food truck nation infographic that charts the rise of food trucks, beginning in 2008. Of course, selling food street-side goes back to ancient times, where living conditions were cramped and many people did not have means to cook their own meals, vendors sold food from small carts or street kitchens. This business model of ethnic street food has continued throughout the world, especially in urban areas.  However, it wasn’t until the recent recession that food trucks became more diverse and mainstream.

According to Delaware, in 2008 Roy Choi opens Kogi, in LA, considered one of the first gourmet food trucks. In 2010 Food Network premiered The Great Food Truck Race TV series. Since then, food trucks have been enveloped by the restaurant community as an important part of the restaurant industry. Zagat gave them their own category, while chains like Starbucks and TGI Fridays started rolling out food trucks in addition to their stand-alone restaurants.

In pop culture, the movie Chef, starring Jon Favreau, tells the story of a down and out star chef who reignites his cooking passion through food truck cuisine. Other popular movies that feature a food-truck element include What to Expect When You’re Expecting and the Five Year Engagement. The National Restaurant Association (NRA) predicts food trucks will produce 2.7 billion by 2017. The NRA has also rated Food Trucks as a hot trend for the past several years in its annual Culinary Forecast. What may have started as an economically prudent venture for many has exploded into a thriving business model.

Food Trucks Worldwide

Food trucks are common across the globe. Most often associated with ethnic street food – cheap, filling, relatively simple to prepare. Today, however, food trucks come in every type of cuisine conceivable, from grilled cheese to cupcakes to gourmet lunch boxes. According to Paste, most popular food truck foods include hot sandwiches, Mexican cuisine, and cold sandwiches. Food mashups are also popular for mobile menus. Think BBQ pulled pork tacos or empanadas filled with Thai style beef and veggies.

  Locations for food trucks have also changed over the past decade. In the US, it’s still common in busy urban centers, but they are now likely to be found in suburbs and rural areas, we well. Even ​food-fussy Paris now has food trucks.

Food Truck Regulations

As with any other type of small business, there are regulations and licensing pertaining to operating a food truck.  Cities including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago have limited the number of food truck permits available at any given time. This prevents an oversaturation of the market.  Cities and towns also regulate where and when food trucks are allowed to park for business. If you are thinking of opening your own food truck, check with your local zoning office for more information.

The idea of selling food on the go dates back to ancient times.  Today, food trucks are among the hottest trends in the restaurant industry. Food Trucks may have started out as a cheap alternative to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but they have become one of the strongest business models in the food and beverage industry. A significant part of pop culture, it will be interesting to see how food trucks evolve to fit changing restaurant trends.