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Getting A Food Truck Is Not Cheap Or Easy

By Lisa van der Pool, Boston Business Journal
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Kickass Cupcakes Truck (photo courtesy: Kickass Cupcakes-Facebook)

Kickass Cupcakes Truck (photo courtesy: Kickass Cupcakes-Facebook)

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BOSTON (CBS) – Food trucks are popping up everywhere in Boston — wheeling in a fresh dining trend.

Already over 25 trucks dot the city, each with its own culinary niche, including 15 new food truck locations approved by the city July 13.

Although food trucks appear to be an overnight success, launching one is neither cheap or easy.

One needs considerable capital — upwards of $100,000 — to start a food truck business.

Paying “rent” to the city for parking, for example, is surprisingly expensive.

And there often are bumps in the road to success — even for the veteran restaurateurs who are driving the food truck boom.

But it remains — for savvy operators — a highly profitable enterprise.

The biggest hurdle for any new food truck operator, is — of course — buying or renting the wheels.

Once a truck is secured, the vehicles usually need to be outfitted with an array of equipment, including sinks, generators, burners and refrigerators, essentially commercial kitchens on wheels.

“I acquired the truck from somebody who was not the most upstanding citizen (on Craigslist),” said Patrick Gilmartin, co-owner of the Staff Meal food truck, which takes its concept from the meals that restaurant wait staff are served before their shifts.

Gilmartin, a trained chef who worked with his business partner Adam Gendreau at Cambridge-based Rialto for a time, said that his Craigslist purchase nearly put an end to their food truck dreams, but in the end he secured the title for the $20,000 truck, although between the failed engine and outfitting the truck, that bargain disappeared.

Gilmartin says he hopes once the truck, which cruises the Back Bay, “hits its stride” they’ll gross about $1,000 per meal period.

Staff Meal specializes in “intricate” food including dishes like foie gras baklava and a head cheese sandwich.

Purchasing a new food truck can run between $50,000 to $100,000, and renting around $3,000 per month, according to Edith Murnane, director of food initiatives for the city of Boston.

It took Sara Ross, owner of Somerville-based Kickass Cupcakes, 18 months from the first time she discussed leasing a food truck, to when she actually got the cupcake truck.

The first truck was wrapped (with her Kickass logo, which cost $4,000) and outfitted with cupcake racks display cases, but was destroyed in a fire before Ross took possession of it.

Ross leases her truck for around $2,000 per month. For double shifts in Boston, Ross sends her truck out with 500 cupcakes, which cost $3 each.

While food trucks aren’t cheap, they still cost a fraction of brick and mortar establishments, which cost upwards of $300,000 to start.

“It’s less money than a brick and mortar and I like the flexibility of being able to take the truck to festivals and corporate events,” said Ross, who opened her brick and mortar store in 2007.

Gilmartin echoes that sentiment, saying that “the most appealing aspect is that … we didn’t need to go into debt.”

Although truck operators have the flexibility of changing locations, they are also dependent on good weather, which is tricky in Boston.

Patrick Lynch, who runs the Bon Me Vietnamese food truck on City Hall Plaza, launched the food truck with his wife in April.

Bon Me typically sees about 200 diners per day.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” said Lynch. “It’s very hard work. Running food trucks are challenging logistically.”

Besides paying for the truck, food truck operators also pay several fees related to permitting, licenses and other city requirements.

Those fees include rent for the three parking spaces the food trucks use, which comes to $18,000 per year.

Lisa van der Pool of the Boston Business Journal reports

Trucks that use the space for lunch and dinner will pay 75 percent of that fee, broken down to a daily amount, for example.

They also pay $100 for a health inspection, and a permitting fee of $500.

Trucks are also required by the city to have a GPS device.

The GPS unit usually costs around $295 to buy, and a monthly fee of $35, said Murnane.

All told, David Stein shelled out upwards of $120,000 to launch his seafood truck Go Fish, which offers fish tacos, fish and chips and grilled polenta, among other dishes.

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