Portland, Oregon has no shortage of iconic food establishments, from Voodoo Donuts to Le Pigeon, but upon my many visits the most exciting place for me to dine has been the food cart pods. Outdoor areas designated for food trucks to park every day pop up all over the city, a delicious oasis where you can try a dish from every cuisine. The trucks are independently run, but are able to come together as a community of culinary enthusiasts, both on the cooking and eating ends.
This week Block Club Chicago reported that our home base of Chicago will soon be getting its own food truck park, marking a huge shift in the culture of a city that has notoriously been tough on food trucks—as recently as 2018, Chicago was named one of the most difficult places to open a food truck in the country. So this project bodes well not just for Chicago, but for other cities across the U.S. that are sorely lacking a food truck park. This development is a win-win for aspiring restaurant owners and customers alike.
Opening a restaurant is expensive, requiring a budget for rent, staffing, equipment, supplies, fees for licenses—the list goes on and on and on. A food truck not only offers a low initial investment, but continues with low operating costs, relying on a smaller staff and menu throughout the run of the business.
As a chef, owning a food truck allows you to focus only on the food you want to cook. On the menu for brick-and-mortar restaurants you may feel more pressure to expand a menu to appeal to all types—it goes back to the cost and ensuring you get enough business to cover daily operations. With a food truck, not only can you keep a smaller menu, but you can use that to your advantage with marketing and branding, being known as the Mac and Cheese truck or the Lobster Roll truck or the Vegan Hot Dog truck. It becomes a specialty that people seek out.
Of course, there’s the whole “truck” aspect of it. Yes, there are the parks where you can build community and a following in the same way a stationary cafe might, but you can also take the show on the road and introduce your food to new people, testing various markets to see where your specific dishes are most successful. And even if you can’t hit those spots as frequently as you like, you can always tell your adoring fans to come find you at the food truck park.
Food truck parks are a magical wonderland where you can feed every craving. Want a savory waffle and a bowl of poke? There’s a chance you can get both at a food truck park. The variety makes it an especially attractive option for group outings. Instead of making sure one place suits everyone’s dietary needs and preferences, just grab a picnic table for your crew and let everyone pick the truck of their choice. No one will feel secret resentment that you’re going to that one sushi place again.
Because of the low cost to the restaurateurs and limited menu options, that means there are often more affordable dishes for customers as well. Pro tip: be prepared with both a card and cash, as some trucks can only handle digital transactions while others are cash only. And you can rest assured that every cent of either mode of payment is going to support an independent business. There’s no losing when it comes to enjoying food trucks.