The food truck industry has a pretty interesting history. It all goes back to 1691 in New Amsterdam, which is now known as New York City. At that time the city first began regulating street vendors for selling food from push carts. In 1866, Charles Goodnight invented the chuck wagon, which was one of the first completely portable kitchens on wheels. Then in 1936, the Oscar Meyer Weiner mobile cart started rolling out their first portable hotdog cart. So that started the famous (or infamous) New York City hotdog carts that you can find all over the city. The 1950s saw the advent of the ice cream truck and the food carts that would show up in newly built subdivisions and outside of construction sites. In 1974, a Mexican immigrant named Raul Martinez converted an old ice cream truck into the nation's first taco truck, which he parked outside of an East Los Angeles bar. These early food trucks and carts weren’t your modern “foodie” fare. Most of them were simple, grab-and-go blue collar meals. The modern food truck movement didn’t start until the early 2000s.
In late November of 2008, Kogi BBQ opened in Los Angeles selling $2 Korean BBQ tacos. Their food was adventurous and very different from anything else around and set off a “flavor bomb” that influenced other vendors to get into the mobile business to sell the gastronomical treats. Suddenly there was a new way to enjoy a great, quick lunch on the go. Diners began seeking out the trucks and planning their lunch plans around when they would be in their area.
Shortly after the invention of the modern smartphone (2007), apps designed to track food trucks started to appear. Since then the food truck industry has exploded! There's so much more than just taco trucks, hot dog carts, and ice cream trucks on the street. It's really grown into an entire mobile vendor economy. Check out our most recent podcast about the development of this industry:
Click to view! From Brick and Mortar to Wheels on Asphalt
Even without knowing the full details behind the statistics, it’s visually evident in many markets that mobile businesses are on the rise. Food trucks, especially, are much more plentiful now than just a few years ago. TV shows like the Great Food Truck Race are at least partially responsible for the trend. So what are the actual numbers? How much has the mobile vendor market risen?
A few quick statistics...
Food trucks are active in over 300 American cities. Prior to 2008, food truck revenue was nearly nonexistent. In 2014 the food truck industry in the U.S. was at about $750 million per year. In 2020, that number surpassed $1.2 billion per year! That’s 60% growth. There are nearly 24,000 active food trucks in the United States supporting almost 30,000 employees and entrepreneurs. The average cost of the equipment to start a food truck is between $50,000 and $60,000 and the average revenue stream is $290,000 per year. However, the cost (on average $28,000!) and time consumption for permitting is seen as an impediment to start up. It takes, on average, 37 days to get all of the necessary governmental approvals.
The mobile economy continues to grow and we’re excited to see all of the changes and innovations that our nation of entrepreneurs comes up with.