A look under the hood of our favorite Philly Food Trucks

“Grease Truck”, “Roach Coach”, “Barf Buggy” – If you think these terms characterize the food trucks of today, go finish your episode of “Matlock” and call me on your rotary phone and we’ll talk about it. The world is changing and so is the way great chefs showcase their art. We are no longer confined to the antiquated idea that great food can only be prepared by a culinary school graduate in a fancy restaurant. Great food can be found everywhere – and it is everywhere. Lately I’ve been so enamored by food trucks and all that they do that I decided to delve into their world to uncover secrets, tricks and struggles they go through.

Of course to narrow my focus I reached out to operators of food trucks that serve burgers. I talked to the owners/operators of Spot Gourmet Burgers, The Moo Truck, and UgotMunchies as well as Chris of the Executive Auto Salon (they MAKE many of the food trucks we know and love).

First I talked to Evan Asoudegan, the owner of the Moo Truck that operates in Newtown, PA. They have hand crafted burgers, fresh cut fries, home spun shakes, and crisp greens. Evan’s story really caught my eye because he’s only 19 years old! Most guys his age seem to be most concerned with which fraternity to join while Evan owns and operates his own business, “After a while I found that I did not really love working for other people so I used the money I had saved up to start my Food Truck … I wanted to go out and do something awesome! Become an entrepreneur”. He doesn’t believe that his age affects his business in a negative way; in fact he thinks that some of his old-timer regulars really appreciate his youthful ambition with a lot of “when I was your age…” stories.

Next I spoke with Josh Kim of the SPOT Gourmet Burgers. I had the privilege of experiencing SPOT’s Roquefort burger which has roquefort cheese, a balsamic reduction, sautéed onions and bacon. Wow. This burger is pretty close to heaven. I watched Josh work at the food truck pop-up in Brewerytown a few weeks ago. This guy is a machine. How he was able to churn out so many burgers from his tiny 4×8 cart will never cease to amaze me. He gave me a peek of the recipe for making a food truck. You want to know how to start one? Just follow these steps that are complicated enough to make even the most seasoned restaurateur’s head spin:

1) Get a tax id
2 ) Apply for business privilege
3) Get ServSafe certified
4) Submit truck/cart plans, commissary info, along with menu and operation procedure to department of health for plan review (30days)
5 ) Submit ServSafe certification to DOH and apply for city of Philadelphia ServSafe cert (60days)
6) After review is approved, get initial inspection
7) Submit inspection report to Licenses & Inspection for food retail license and vending license
all in all it takes 3 months and about $600 in permits and licenses

It all seems pretty easy, right? He also told me some interesting rules about where trucks can operate

– the city has restricted areas where vendors are not permitted (center city and university city have special rules but with a roamer’s permit trucks can move around a bit)
– small 4×8 trailers are permitted on sidewalks at least 15′ wide

I love learning about the senseless rules the city comes up with, how interesting – 15’ wide – who thought of that? Probably some guy who has a 14’ sidewalk.

Josh was very careful not to mention any bitterness or competition with other food truck owners. He said “I love the camaraderie I share with my fellow truckers. We all have seen good days, and suffered the bad days. We all know each other’s challenges, and revel in each other’s success. We feed one another when we’re hungry, or just to show off our lasted dish. Sure we’re competitive, but for the most part we like to see each other succeed. At least that’s how I feel”. I always thought that food trucks were particularly competitive and territorial, but perhaps that notion is more aligned with the old-school grease trucks. Josh closed with a general statement about how he and other food trucks seek to change the dining experience, “Food has become less of an art and more a money making enterprise… The truckers I know put their craft before anything else” and that’s why food trucks are the future.

Next I spoke with Alex Kipphut of UgotMunchies who had the same drive and ambition that Josh and Evan have, stating his truck when he was in college. His truck started as a college supply delivery website that stocked everything from snacks and drinks to toiletries. This idea morphed into hot food service specifically for the times when no other hot food was available – night time. His idea was to have hot food on the heart of Temple’s campus to serve all the party-goers and late-night crammers who are looking for meals when all the other stores and restaurants are closed – genius! The only snag in his plan was, “we were forced to close our serving window at midnight every night due to the antiquated Philadelphia regulations which force street vendors to close up shop promptly at midnight. This was the most detrimental to the direction we wanted our brand to go, especially being located on a college campus, and began to explore our options” which brought them to open a brick and mortar market on Broad street earlier this year.

Lastly I spoke with Chris Toriello from the Executive Auto Salon – pictured above. Doesn’t their parking lot look like a night market? The question I really wanted Chris to answer was “what were the trucks before?”. I had read on the butter cream website that their truck was at one time a mail truck. This made me wonder, what were all the trucks before they were serving pizza, burgers and cupcakes? In the end Chris says it’s best to start with a new truck and make it exactly what you want, “We really recommend to potential vendors that they start from scratch because buying a used mobile food truck is always a problem. The best truck to buy is a Chevrolet P30. The P30 has the best setup as far as engine and transmission, and has room underneath for installations as well”. While it probably makes the most sense to make a food truck from scratch I can’t help but dream of turning all the UPS trucks into something that serves up better treats than crap from Etsy or a court summons.

In the end the most apparent ingredient needed to run a successful food truck is honest hard work. Everyone from the owners and chefs to those who actually make the trucks – all have a deep love for what they do. It’s not an easy trade but I, for one, and surely thankful to everyone who make these trucks possible!

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