Taco Trucks: The Original
Taco trucks were one of the original food trucks on the scene. With thousands of taco trucks in existence, you could stop at a new one every day for years and never repeat. The mighty taco truck has spread far beyond its Los Angeles origins with trucks throughout the United States and abroad. The two dominant forms are the classic Southern California style and fusion, the Kogi style.
Classic taco trucks offer some of the best Mexican food available with specialties ranging from pescuezos (chicken necks) to onboard suadero (rotisserie pork and pork fat seasoned with onion, lime juice, salt, and adobo). Taco trucks represent all aspects of classic Mexican cuisine. Some restaurants, like the El Gallito chain, park their own food truck in front of their bricks-and-mortar business to showcase specialty items. The Gallito truck specializes in Birria de Chivo, a traditional Jaliscan goat stew made of shredded goat mixed with roasted chiles, toasted cloves, and fresh oregano. Wrap it up in a tortilla, wash it down with a cold Modelo, and go back for more.
Fusion trucks tend to combine another cuisine such as Asian with the standards of tacos, protein, veggies, and sauce wrapped in a hard or soft tortilla. I’ve already discussed the importance of the Kogi truck to the food truck revolution, but there are countless similar trucks throughout the country. In New York City, you find the Korilla and Kimchi BBQ trucks; in Dallas, the Ssahm BBQ truck takes to the road; and in Portland, Oregon, the fleet of Koi Fusion trucks are customer favorites. The fusion taquerias seem here to stay and are crossing over into bricks-and-mortar restaurants, essentially defining a new cuisine.”
Pizza Trucks: It’s All About the Ovens
Pizza is one of the most popular foods in America, and pizza trucks are one of the fastest-growing segments of the food truck industry. Strolling out of my door at lunchtime in Manhattan’s Financial District, I bump into the Eddie’s, Jianetto’s, and Vinny Vincenz pizza trucks. Eddie’s Pizza’s bricks-and-mortar operation has operated in a New York suburb for decades, and its fan base expanded when HBO’s Entourage featured it. Its New York City truck specializes in the thin crust variety and has average waits of more than an hour during the busy part of the day. Jianetto’s has a more diverse menu of Grandma slices, which are Sicilian-style slices served with dots of plum tomato sauce above the cheese. And Vinny Vincenz serves classic New York-style slices for $1 each. Who needs to go to the pizza parlor when the pizza parlor can come to you?
The main concern when starting a pizza truck is product differentiation and quality. Look for inspiration from someone like Casey’s Pizza in San Francisco, which focuses on a well-prepared pie using only the best ingredients, or California Pizza Kitchen, which has built a chain through the use of unusual toppings and combinations.
Dessert Trucks: Nighttime Sweet Spots
It was only a matter of time until deliciously decadent sweets made their way into the food truck game. On the night before Halloween 2007, direct from some underfed college student’s dreams, came DessertTruck. The vehicle, which parked outside New York City college dormitories, served pastries you would have to go to cooking school to learn how to concoct. Jerome Chang, the creator of DessertTruck, went to the French Culinary Institute and left a job at the world-famous restaurant Le Cirque to establish his own brand selling Warm Chocolate Cake and Espresso Panna Cotta. He has since moved to a permanent location on the fashionable lower East Side.
The idea for this meal came from a chance snack that Chang and his roommate, Business School student Chris Chen, came up within their apartment. A combination of toast, Nutella, caramelized bananas, and sea salt ignited their passion for sweets on the street. Chen and Chang chose a truck because it had more space than a cart and lower overhead than a storefront. They invested about $60,000 to purchase and design their truck. They prepared their items in a kitchen during the day and sold their desserts at night.
Another dessert truck includes Cupcake Stop, specializing in nostalgic cupcakes including Betty Crocker–style cake with buttercream icings or exotic flavors like chocolate caramel pretzel. Flip Happy Crepes, an old-fashioned trailer in Austin, Texas, serves French crepes. Wafels & Dinges, doles out Brussels wafel, the “mother of all wafels” with sweet and savory artisanal toppings.
While dessert trucks can be great, they also have more limited sales options. Not that many people are looking for cupcakes at lunchtime. Dessert trucks flourish where students are looking for a quick sugar fix or couples are strolling after a nice dinner. To maximize revenue, many successful dessert trucks focus on delivery, catering, and providing sweets to savory truck operators.
Ice Cream Trucks: Good-Bye, Good Humor
Oh, how the ice cream truck has changed! Generally, the lines in front of the Van Leeuwen Ice Cream trucks are so long that you’d think they were giving it away, but that’s only until you get a taste. Ben Van Leeuwen’s off-white postal truck, and now his similarly designed stores, are decorated like shabby chic Italian farmhouses and have a loyal following of folks looking to satisfy their sweet tooth.
Ben is a youthful former Good Humor truck driver who makes his ice cream from local, hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and cream. He combines his 18 percent butterfat ice cream with special ingredients, such as Michel Cluizel chocolate and Tahitian vanilla beans. A farm in Sicily harvests the nuts used in the pistachio ice cream, and all the toppings are organic. In addition, Van Leeuwen uses biodegradable cups, napkins, spoons, and straws. Van Leeuwen is the haute cuisine answer to ice cream trucks and a product of the Whole Foods generation.
Van Leeuwen is joined by many other gastronomists in his attempt to put his old employer out of business. Two standouts are the Coolhaus trucks, which now has 10 trucks in 3 states and distributes nationwide, and specializing in creations like coffee toffee ice cream covered in red velvet cookies, and King Kone, which delivers soft-serve and flavored shaved ices to your doorstep.
But don’t forget, The ice cream business is great in the summertime, but business chills when the weather turns cold. If you’re planning an ice cream truck, assume your business will be seasonal or find a warm-weather climate.