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November 21, 2015 Staff

Should You Start a Food Truck in Retirement?

StrEAT_05-2014-medAs more baby-boomers approach retirement, they begin to ask the question “What’s next?” If you’re thinking about to retirement and that starting a food truck would be a fun way to make some money, you’re right. It can be a terrific way to supplement your income, get involved in serving your community, and build a business on your own terms. But make sure to do your research about the business model first!

Consider this hypothetical exchange between a current food trucker and customer for some additional perspective on what building this type of work is involved in starting a food truck business is like and the work that is involved:

Customer:  Hey man – how’s your food truck – you open?

Food Trucker: We opened last month. Between the commissary, licensing and my builder being late, it’s crazy. I’ve had to fire someone already andI need a spot for Fridays. I love the food and the people, but I’m not breaking even, hardly ever see my wife and my back is killing me. It’s all good though, I love working for myself.

Customer: Yeah, I hear ya! I’m no help with your wife, but I heard the Black Dog is looking for a truck since Bubba’s truck fire.

Food trucker: No problem. Hey get this, one of my regulars just told me he’s thinking of opening a truck when he retires. He thinks it looks like fun. Ha ha! It looks pretty great until you’re cleaning the truck at midnight, have to refuel truck and tank, and prep for a gig the next day, staff calls in sick, insurance premium’s due, pork just went up again, the city is shutting down your best spot and the health  inspector stops by.

Perception Versus Reality

Food truckers may laugh when casually asked about starting a food truck, but most are willing to give reality-based advice to serious wantrepreneurs. They will tell you it’s a lot of work and that there is a lot more to the business than meets the eye. Watch a couple of full shifts of operation from parking to driving away. Get a job on a truck so you see it from the inside. Make an appointment with a food trucker, ask if you can pay them for their time and ask questions. There are as many food truck start-up stories as there are food trucks. Hear the stories for the strengths that contribute to success, then be brutally honest with yourself. The themes will likely be independence, self reliance and long hours. Are you ready for that?

Retirees have strengths for success:  enthusiasm for self employment after a career working for someone else, more free time, and hard earned wisdom. Maybe you learned how not to run a business from watching your employer stumble. Or perhaps you worked for a great business and can put the good example to work.

Every retiree has skills from a lifetime of work. Some skills apply to food trucking; some do not. Are you used to a team of coworkers supporting you? Running your food truck means making quick decisions on your own. If you worked in a career requiring independence, leadership, and nimble decision making, food trucking may be for you.

Food truckers do it all and it never stops:  truck and mobile kitchen mechanics, employer responsibilities, business filings with city, county and state, food shopping, cooking, customer service, cleaning, negotiating, marketing and public relations, social media and web, bookkeeping, driving, banking, etc. It all needs to be done by you or someone you hire.

Most folks have a mental image of their golden years. How hard do you want to work physically, mentally and emotionally? Do you imagine relaxing, traveling, or working part time for an established employer? Food trucking is not 9 to 5 or Monday through Friday, and the work is physically exhausting. As a start up, you are responsible for paying your staff and for expenses before you take a dime. If you make a dime. Working weekends and long days and nights are the opposite of a regular work schedule with a paycheck, so retirees must weigh the pros and cons of a high risk business.

The Final Word

Examining the reality of operating a concession vehicle will help you make your food truck dreams come true in your retirement, either as a food truck owner or as a customer. Starting your own mobile food business could be exactly what you’re hoping to get out of retirement and provide much needed supplemental income even if you are only planning to operate the business part-time. Still you will want to do your research to make sure this truly is the type of business you want to start a this stage in your life. 

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