From Atlantic Cities:
Business is so good for food truck manufacturer Armenco that the Spring Valley, California-based company is moving to a new factory this fall, where it expects to double its annual output of the rolling kitchens that have revolutionized urban street food in many U.S. cities in the last few years.
It’s one of perhaps a few dozen manufacturers around the country that specialize in retrofitting ordinary delivery vans with broilers, fryers and other cooking equipment. For more than a quarter century before the food truck craze, Armenco specialized in building the catering trucks that have long trolled construction sites and motion picture lots. Its business began to shift toward the more upscale mobile food emporiums in 2007, says Arthur Djahani, general manager of Armenco Cater Truck Manufacturing Co. Inc.
“Our clientele has changed as a result of the changing public perception,” Djahani says. The trucks “used to be known as ‘roach coaches’ with sub-pare fare,” he notes, but today they’ve captured urban imaginations and appetites with a wide array of ethic and gourmet offerings. His company’s customers are now “younger, hipper” entrepreneurs, he says, many with culinary school degrees and a strong grasp of social media.
Today’s food trucks can come equipped with upscale features ranging from touch screen menus, flat screen TVs, sound systems for creating the mood, GPS satellite linkups to help their customers find them, and free Wi-Fi for customers, Djahani says.
In the last year or so, demand has been so strong that Armenco hasn’t been able to stock enough new chassis to keep up with orders from independent chefs looking to break into the mobile cuisine business. Besides the truck outfitters, there are permit expediters, menu consultants, lawyers, lobbyists, website designers, marketing professionals, and phone app developers who have managed to expand their businesses thanks to the food truck phenomenon.
Both the food trucks and the minions of consultants and companies feeding off their rapid expansion are “giving people needing to find a new way of making a living a chance to break into a new industry,” says Richard R. Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine Magazine. Myrick, an architect by training, started his online journal about a year ago after being laid off from a construction industry job. Since then, he’s chronicled the trucks’ rapid growth in the $604 billion a year restaurant industry.
Culinary schools in Florida, Virginia, and North Carolina have added mobile food courses to their curriculum, while other college campuses have added off-the-truck fare to the traditional cafeteria offerings.
For the first time last year, the National Restaurant Association included food trucks in its annual trade show. Of the restaurant industry’s 70 different segments, it’s the single fastest growing component and one that chefs around the country say they expect to continue to be among the hottest trends.
“It’s definitely a long-term trend, not a fad,” says Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. It’s a view shared by restaurant rater Tim Zagat, of the Zagat Survey, which has also added food trucks in several cities to its restaurant rating publications.
Not everyone is gung-ho. There have been howls about unfair competition from brick-and-mortar restaurateurs in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and other cities. And it’s unclear whether the arrival of new food trucks on New York City’s sprawling street vendor scene has had a role in driving up the costs of vendors permits, which now run about $15,000 for a two-year period on the city’s black market, about double what they cost a few years ago, says Sean Basinski, director of the Street Vender Project that advocates for the city’s 10,000 mobile businesses, about half of which sell food.
But even Chicago restaurateur Glenn Keefer, a staunch critic of the trucks, say the mobile cuisine craze appears unstoppable.
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