Over the last few years, Los Angeles has seen an explosion of food trucks on the streets. What started as just a few plain taco trucks here and there has now turned into mobile restaurants on every corner. The sophistication of “food on wheels” has grown to feature everything from lobster rolls to pasta stations. And if you are interested in tracking where these trucks will be, you can thank 30-year-old Roaming Hunger founder, Ross Resnick, for creating the software that locates over 4700 vendors.
In 2009, when most were still skeptical of eating from a roach coach, Ross saw an opportunity to jump into a growing market. He first started to admire street food culture while studying abroad in China as an undergraduate, and thought Americans, with their fast-paced lifestyle, would thoroughly enjoy this quick and easy form of eating. When he returned to San Francisco, he noticed a few gourmet carts popping up, but nothing like the trucks that would soon flood the streets.
Becoming a Guru of Food Trucks
After hearing about the wild success Korean fusion truck, Kogi, experienced using Twitter as a tracking method, Ross knew this was his next business venture. He dove in head first without a clue as to what kind of business he was creating. Like most millennials, he was simply in it for the fun.
MiLLENNiAL caught up with Ross at the Roaming Hunger headquarters in Santa Monica, CA where he told us his entire operation was “an accidental business.” His marketing background helped him create the strategy for how to attract the audience, but not having any technical skills was challenging while building a company that relied on being digitally savvy.
During a time when the idea of a food truck was a fresh concept, Ross says that Roaming Hunger was the first entity to officially “bring it all together and tell people, look it’s happening in New York, LA, and Seattle” by offering a directory throughout the country. “We make really great software that helps connect food trucks with foodies,” he says. But the beginning years were rough as he was constantly learning the things that go into making a successful technology company.
Now aligning people with their truck of choice, Ross has been a catalyst in the evolution of the industry. He proudly states, “Food trucks have inspired a whole new generation of businesses on wheels.”
The Launch Pad of Success
Opening a traditional restaurant typically costs between $300,000 – $350,000, but as Ross suggests, launching a food truck costs under $100,000 and is an effective way to see how the market responds to the food. “As an entrepreneur you always want to figure out the lowest cost way to test if your business is going to work or not. A food truck is a really great low cost point of entry for a restaurateur to know if their concept is going to be well received,” he says.
From Ross’ estimation, the food trucks that have the best chance of success are those that “focus on a single concept” instead of offering a multitude of options on the menu. Not only will this help to identify the specialty of the truck, but it will also maintain low overhead costs and keep the kitchen streamlined.
Surprisingly, a lot of popular food trucks are now converting their shops into traditional brick and mortar restaurants. Here in Southern California, Ross points out that Cool Haus went from an ice cream truck to a shop in Culver City and has even gone so far as to sell their products in grocery stores. The Lime Truck is another success story, with two physical establishments in the Los Angeles area. And vegan food truck, Seabirds, has also opened a restaurant in Costa Mesa.
Creating Unique Experiences
Ross attributes the rise in popularity to the experience food trucks create for its clientele. The unique encounter offers a fun and easy way to spend time with friends while hunting down the latest tasty meal on the go. Recognizing the impact these trucks may have on their customers, Roaming Hunger is taking advantage of branding opportunities and creating experiential advertising campaigns using these trucks.
Some of the most notable projects they have worked on include a 10-city promotion for Spike TV’s new series Frankenfood. They helped create an avant-garde menu that paralleled the concept for the series. From “espresso coated pork belly s’mores” to “fruity pebbles fried chicken tenders” Ross says that the purpose of the campaign was to allow “people to taste the show before it came out and get them excited about it.”
Outside of advertising, Roaming Hunger has also been receiving a lot of requests for food truck catering. “The ability to have a kitchen come to you and cook the food verses traditional catering where its made somewhere else and then brought to you and reheated” is appealing to those that want to bring a colorful element to their parties. Ross explains, “A food truck is the ultimate catering vehicle because it’s pack in pack out.”
Getting Others Started
While the startup costs of running a food truck may be a third of opening a restaurant, Ross and the Roaming Hunger team are determined to help their vendors with that process. They have started to connect newbies with financing and are trying to shift the cultural perspective of eating from a food truck. “Our mission is to help the vendors be more successful.” Ross also points out that the next wave of food truck invasions are happening in secondary markets like Nashville, TN, and additionally internationally, in countries like Dubai and China.
If you have never eaten from a food truck, it’s time to get with the program. Visit Roaming Hunger to locate the yummiest food truck near you and follow them on Facebook to track your favorite mobile eateries.