The food truck business is not just a fad. As noted by CNBC, it's worth an estimated $2.7 billion, and trucks are now in-demand options for high-traffic public locations. But despite the advantages of running a successful mobile foodie enterprise, truck owners face a critical question: Should they open a brick-and-mortar location or stay flexible?
Consider Oink and Moo BBQ. Founded in 2012, the food truck made a significant impact on the New Jersey culinary scene. By 2014, founder Joshua Sacks and his partners expanded into Philadelphia, where Oink and Moo BBQ won the Rookie of the Year Vendy award. In 2015, Sacks launched a retail location in Florham Park, NJ, and his fleet of trucks captured first place on the 101 Best Food Trucks in America list in 2016. I recently had a chance to catch up with Sacks and chat about the benefits and drawbacks of going brick-and-mortar.
The Brick Benefit
For up-and-coming food trucks, it makes sense to capitalize on rising popularity. As Sacks notes, there are logistical benefits to opening a brick-and-mortar location.
"As the food truck business was growing for us, we needed a bigger kitchen and a centralized location we could work out of."
The brick-and-mortar store also offered the ability to improve efficiency, allowing Sacks to sell food out of the restaurant while loading up trucks in the back. There's also more room for innovation with a bigger kitchen; for Oink and Moo BBQ, this meant adding new meats and sauces that are only available in store.
Moving from trucks to traditional food service also has an impact on customer mix and expectations. While food trucks and festivals often have devoted followings, unexpected issues such as road closures, local competition and even weather can limit the number of patrons. Staying in one place, meanwhile, can help reduce the chance of customer churn. As Sacks points out, however, there's another side to staying put: expectations.
"Our customers at the restaurants differ from the festival crowd. Because we are the only food at the restaurant, customers want more variety and more value. At a festival, we are often one of many trucks, so they just want to sample from every truck. At the restaurant, they want to leave full."
Adding a brick-and-mortar location can come with other challenges. While Entrepreneur notes that the cost of running a food truck business can be daunting, opening a traditional restaurant can involve higher labor costs and more bills in general. In addition, you can't drive the restaurant away if business gets slow. And it can be easy to become dependent on a stationary retail location once you have one. As Sacks says, "At this point, it would be very difficult to get by without it because we use it as a prep kitchen for the trucks."
Food truck? Brick-and-mortar location? Both? In a growing foodie market, the choice is up to you — but there's no easy answer here; while synergy exists between retail and fleet operations, both come with unique challenges. Think about how your customer base would respond to each, and maybe even ask a few regulars what they think.
Are you thinking about expanding your restaurant business? Check out our interview with the co-founder of 2 Jerks BBQ Kitchen and Bar for more small business owner insights.
Oink and Moo BBQ is a client of ADP, LLC. Photo courtesy of Oink and Moo BBQ, used with permission.