The dark side of the food truck business

The food truck industry is growing, but there are forces bringing it down.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

By all numerical accounts the food truck industry in the United States is booming. From 2007-2012, its growth rate averaged 8.4 percent each year and the food truck industry is expected to see revenue grow from $650 million to $2.7 billion in 2017. And if you've lived in a U.S. city recently you probably have anecdotal evidence to back up the claim that the food truck industry is on the rise.

But business isn't so cheery for the colorful trucks that line the streets for the noontime lunch rush. At least not in New York, writes Adam Davidson for The New York Times:

[D]espite the inherent attractiveness of cute trucks and clever food options, the business stinks. There are numerous (and sometimes conflicting) regulations required by the departments of Health, Sanitation, Transportation and Consumer Affairs. These rules are enforced, with varying consistency, by the New York Police Department. As a result, according to City Councilman Dan Garodnick, it’s nearly impossible (even if you fill out the right paperwork) to operate a truck without breaking some law. Trucks can’t sell food if they’re parked in a metered space . . . or if they’re within 200 feet of a school . . . or within 500 feet of a public market . . . and so on.

This bureaucratic mess doesn't stifle food truck businesses everywhere. Davidson points to Portland, which makes starting a food truck easy, compared to New York. But for every Portland, there are handfuls of other cities, like New Orleans, where food trucks operate in legal gray areas or Washington, D.C. where proposed restrictions could stifle business (not to mention the difficulties faced by non-food retail trucks.). As Davidson puts it, owning a food truck is like running a business in a developing country:

In Ecuador, for example, it takes about 56 days and 13 separate procedures to get all the legal paperwork done to start a new business. In the United States, it’s an average of six days and six procedures. But if you want to open a mobile-food business in New York, it’s essentially like starting a business in Ecuador.

Will food trucks have the patience to wait for cities to make laws less restrictive for their businesses? Or will this growing industry fade away as a fleeting urban fad?

The Food-Truck Business Stinks [The New York Times]

Photo: Flickr/Scoboco

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

Editorial standards