The rise of the food truck: How did it all start?

The rise of the food truck: How did it all start? Share this article

Food trucks have become a major force in the restaurant industry. Unlike traditional restaurants, food trucks are able to move around, so they always have the optimal location. Whether it’s concerts, lunch time or weekend events, food trucks can pull up and bring their supply to the demand. Food trucks aren’t just synonymous with traditional fast food, either – they’ve carved out a niche with unique, hybridized cuisines. With mobile apps that share truck locations and addictively tasty food, the modern food truck trend looks to continue its rise in popularity as chefs keep opening these relatively low-cost mobile kitchens. But how did food trucks begin?

Food trucks are nothing new
Although the modern food truck craze started in 2008 in Los Angeles, the idea of selling food out of a moving vehicle started more than 100 years ago. The New York Times Magazine explained that every food truck from the past 130 years can trace its history back to one man in Rhode Island.

“In 1872, a vendor named Walter Scott cut windows into a small covered wagon and parked it in front of a local newspaper office in Providence, R.I.,” the magazine stated. “Sitting on a box inside, he sold sandwiches with pies and coffee to journalists and pressmen working late.”

Others credit Texas’ Charles Goodnight with the first “food truck” because of his chuck wagon, which fed cattle herders in the Old West. From either source, the idea of mobile food evolved with trucks improving their appearances through bright decorations and wider offerings. As food trucks expanded services, some became increasingly immobile, with many evolving into diners. Food trucks continued throughout the 20th century, finding success in areas such as construction sites where lunch was needed and restaurants were far away.

Gourmet trucks redefine the experience
The unofficial start of the modern, trendy social food truck started in 2008 with the Kogi BBQ truck. The mobile restaurant was started by chef Roy Choi and entrepreneurs Mark Manguera and Caroline Shin. It combined Korean BBQ with Mexican tacos in a way that was tasty, inexpensive and representative of much of LA to many customers.

Kogi BBQ defined the style as top-quality fusion dishes that are also convenient, rather than foods that were traditionally served in trucks that may be viewed as greasy or unhealthy. This has brought food trucks to completely new aspects of the population in a way that crossed cultural and socioeconomic boundaries.

Following Kogi BBQ’s success, the 2008 recession also helped spur food trucks as both a cheap dinner and a more inexpensive way to open a restaurant. The coinciding rise of smartphones and social media also helped make this trend stick with many consumers who felt pride in their local trucks and wanted to check out new flavors, The Huffington Post explained.

“Food trucks experienced a boom just as the economy started to tank,” the online newspaper wrote. “Restaurateurs who were hesitant to drop serious cash on launching a restaurant turned to mobile trucks as a less expensive way to sell food in a down economy. Social media has played a large role in not only making the trucks more accessible, but allowing them to cultivate the crucial element of community.”

Kogi BBQ isn’t the only major gourmet food truck in the U.S., of course. Here are five other popular mobile dining options that have made a recent name for themselves.

1. Schnitzel and Things – This authentic Austrian eatery roams the streets of the Big Apple and has become a favorite among New Yorkers. Started in 2009, Schnitzel and Things has won numerous awards and introduced many Americans to the taste of schnitzel, a thin, fried cutlet. The truck also has bratwurst and an array of sides.

2. The Grilled Cheese Truck – This LA truck coupled the food truck craze with the rise of gourmet grilled cheeses for a delicious, successful business. The founders started off by entering a grilled cheese competition. After seeing the demand for gooey, tasty comfort food, they took to the streets and now have a big following, with people checking Twitter for their location throughout the day. These aren’t your typical grilled cheeses, either – they take the word “gourmet” seriously.

3. Buttermilk – Like Kogi and The Grilled Cheese Truck, this gourmet eatery on wheels became popular among Los Angeles diners. Unlike other options, though, it did it through tasty breakfast and dessert food. Founded in 2009, Buttermilk has now expanded into immobile storefronts with household offerings, but the food truck’s red velvet pancakes that made them famous will always be king.

4. The Cinnamon Snail – Consistently ranked as one of the best places to eat in New York and the U.S., The Cinnamon Snail doesn’t sacrifice any flavor to deliver vegan, organic, kosher dishes in its food trucks. Pizza, breakfast burritos, sandwiches, pancakes and many other options made from great ingredients give New York and New Jersey residents plenty of healthy and tasty choices.

5. Where Ya At Matt – This Seattle-based food truck has been rated by organizations such as The Huffington Post as one of the best food trucks in the U.S. Chef Matt Lewis brings a New Orleans treat to Seattle with his specialty bread. The key to this truck’s success and tastiness is that everything is homemade.

Types of food trucks
Most modern food trucks fall into two categories. The first is mobile preparation vehicles, which have the equipment such as ovens, deep fryers or stovetops that can cook and prepare food from raw ingredients. Others are industrial catering vehicles, which store and serve food prepared previously at another location. Some food trucks are moving to the ICV method to save money, but many gourmet chefs prepare and cook food inside the truck for freshness.

Either way that food trucks serve their customers tasty meals, the safety precautions inside the vehicle are similar to those in a kitchen. Nonslip mats and slip-resistant shoes are imperative to reducing the likelihood of painful slips and falls. Trucks present a spill danger that traditional kitchens don’t have to worry about. When the truck is in motion, oil or water may move around, coat the floor and create a danger for employees, underscoring the importance of safety shoes.

Food trucks of the future
Since their first manifestation as horse-drawn carts and wagons, food trucks have evolved into these high-quality restaurants on wheels. But just because many chefs are finding success with this style of dining doesn’t mean that food trucks are done evolving. Food trucks look to keep adapting to new customer tastes and potential markets.

Marzetti’s On Your Plate blog explained that food trucks are now finding new business opportunities outside of airports, for people looking for a quick, local meal before embarking on their trip. This unique market represents what food trucks can do well. They’re able to experiment with new markets with minimal risk. They’re not investing in a new property to test airport diners – they’re just driving there.

Although food trucks have come a long way, the base concept still has plenty of room for growth. Creative chefs and entrepreneurial investors can risk relatively little for a chance to share their food with a large community of tech-savvy and local residents who want to try the newest tasty meal delivered on four wheels.


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