Picture this. It’s a sunny day and you’re strolling through the streets downtown. In the distance, you notice a truck parked alongside the street. As you continue to walk, you realize that it’s a food truck. What’s the first thought that comes to your mind? If you’re a hipster or a millennial, it’s probably “lunchtime!”
But for some of us, the food truck fad has rolled on by. “Food that comes from a truck? Not for me!” If you haven’t thought that, you probably know someone who has. Concerns about the quality of the food, cleanliness of the food prep area and worries that there is no oversight to ensure you’re not eating some mystery meat from a germ-infested jalopy are often behind that food truck fear.
Or maybe you’re a traditionalist and think they create too much foot traffic, pollution and compete with the restaurants surrounding them. Whatever your concerns, we’re here to help. After all, the food truck industry is steadily on the rise. It seems like there’s a new food truck rolling out every day.
Though the city of Detroit was slow to adapt to the infrastructure needed for industry’s growth, it has now become an environment that these businesses can thrive in. So, keep reading as we tackle some of these common food truck myths and offer some of our favorite finds.
MYTH: Food trucks are easy to operate
“The first day everything went wrong,” RollUp Truck Owner Gabrielle Taylor says. “Everything that could have gone wrong, went wrong. But I pulled it together and we sold out.”
The family-run food truck’s motto “Everything egg roll” speaks for itself. Taylor got her start catering parties until people were asking how they could enjoy her food more often. “It started with a dream, $2,000 and a 3-year-old,” Taylor says. “When I bought the truck, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Taylor was not in the food industry before owning RollUp Truck, but she was a home cook. The businesswoman got a deal on an old FedEx truck from Craigslist. It was empty and she went in and laid floors and walls, which she describes as kind of like building a house.
Caribbean food truck Norma G’s owner Lester Gouvia agrees that getting started took a lot more than he originally expected. The concept for his truck was inspired by Gouvia’s mother. He says back in his home country of Trinidad they had to be creative with cooking and use what they have – taking simple ingredients to create delicious meals.
With plans of opening his own restaurant later this year, Gouvia thought a food truck – since they’re mobile and easy to get around – would be an easy way to get started. His plan was to try it for a few months to see what people thought of his concept.
“There’s a lot of cost involved,” Gouvia says. “The idea was to build the brand as inexpensively as possible, but the cost continues …. $30-, $40-, even $50,000 to get in.”
He explained that food trucks not only have the same regulations as brick-and-mortar restaurants, they also have to pay fees when they go out to park their truck, he also adds “the insurance is horrendous.”
Gouvia says he dove into the food truck business without a partner or investor, “the debt is mine.” He’s a one-man show, working 14-hour days running the business-end as well as the food component.
“I wake up early, I shop, I wash, I cook, I prep, I prepare, I go onto my truck,” Gouvia says. “Then I stack, load, clean and break down to start over again the next day.” Detroit-75 Kitchen Operations director Ahmad Nassar and his brother Chef Mike bought their food truck together. The two brothers wanted to combine their career and talents to work together.
After the men graduated with degrees in culinary and business related they saw a food truck for sale in Houston and decided to bring the truck back to Detroit. “I guess I can see how people think it’s easy,” Nassar says, “But when it’s easy to start, it’s also really easy to fail.”
MYTH: Food trucks create traffic
Even though the mobility of a food truck might be enticing for some, food trucks just can’t roll up wherever they want and just start serving. Finding a spot to park is a common challenge. Every city has their own set of permits and ordinances that food trucks have to keep up with if they plan to move around southeast Michigan.
In Detroit, before a food truck can serve food within the jurisdiction of the health department, they are required to notify them in writing at least four days in advance.
For Taylor, the first location for her truck was at the Northwest Detroit Farmers Market. Gouvia started out working with Food Lab Detroit and did pop-ups in Corktown, and he also brought his Norma G’s Caribbean style food to homes and parked in driveways to cook for parties.
“People think it’s cool to have a food truck parked in their driveway cooking for their guests,” Gouvia says. “That’s on trend.” Operating on private property like driveways also frees up the restrictions and ordinances placed by the city. Detroit 75 Kitchen, however, is one of a few area food trucks with their own dedicated parking spot, tucked in a Southwest Detroit gas station parking lot on Fort Street.
“Our family has owned this property that we’re at for the last 30 years,” Nassar says. “It made sense to put it at the truck stop to supplement the business we have now. There has not been much love given to that area of the city,” Nassar adds, “By being in southwest, we serve as an economic anchor for redevelopment and show people who wouldn’t come how cool southwest is.”
MYTH: Food trucks are dirty
There are two different classifications of food trucks in the eyes of the Wayne County Health Department: With Food Prep and Without Food Prep. Since Taylor prepares and cooks her egg rolls fresh on the truck, her license is a bit different than those that simply serve food aboard their truck. Taylor’s RollUp Truck health department fees are slightly higher and she has to go through two health inspections each year.
The Michigan Department of Agriculture also requires a list of menu items, the source of the ingredients and how they plan to store them aboard the truck, which must reviewed if the truck changes it’s menu.
The city of Detroit requires that all kitchens have a three-compartment sink or a dishwasher, a sink for hand washing, refrigeration, dry storage space, a fire extinguisher and at least a 5-gallon freshwater tank. During inspections, they check to make sure all the required components are present and in working order, in addition to checking for general cleanliness.
Gouvia says keeping the inside of the trucks clean is just as important as keeping the area clean where the truck it parked. “Every single truck I know carries a trash can,” Gouvia says. “If you leave an area dirty or filled with trash you don’t get invited back. You build a reputation you don’t want. I will take people’s trash from outside and bring it in my truck to throw away.”
Food Trucks to Try!
Making the streets a little more spicy, this fresh Mexican grill has everything from -pork belly confit to Korean short rib.
The Macaroni food truck has all the cheesy things your heart desires, using “fresh, high quality ingredients” in all of their recipes.
Home-cooked comfort food with a twist, Delectabowl has gluten free, vegan and vegetarian options.
Inspired by your favorite superheroes and villains, this truck “believes in creating a character for everything you eat.”
This truck serves up a rotating menu of specialty egg rolls including their Detroit Player filled with corned beef and swiss cheese.
Usually found parked in a Southwest Detroit gas station, this sometimes mobile food truck serves up casual artisan eats in addition to weekend brunch.