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Food Truck Plumbing: Nine Things You Need to Know

When you’re preparing to get a new food truck build, it’s natural to invest time planning the kitchen layout or exterior wrap. Don’t get me wrong, these are critical aspects of the food truck build process. But there are less “exciting” aspects of the build process that are equally important, such as the electrical requirements and plumbing.

The plumbing of your food truck is a crucial part of the operations. Vendors will need a reliable water source for cooking as well as maintaining health standards. You’ll need hot and cold water on demand to wash dishes, spoons, or pans. You’ll also need a separate hand washing sink for employees and yourself.

Refuge Coffee Co. Truck built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Beyond being able to operate a truck and serve customers at a basic level, you’ll need to ensure the plumbing of your unit is setup correctly to pass a health inspection. Many cities have extremely specific requirements for the size and capacity of waste water tanks as an example. If you don’t get a truck built with the right specifications the first time, your anticipated startup cost can balloon quickly.

In today’s blog post, we examine nine specific plumbing considerations you should be aware before investing in a food truck or trailer. These are specific things we take into account before starting any build at M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks. These insights come from over 15 years manufacturing custom built food trucks and concession trailers.

Food Truck Plumbing is a Critical Component in the Build Process.

Food Truck Plumbing Guidelines

Here are some best practices to keep in mind that relate to the plumbing system in a food truck.

  1. Most areas require 15% larger waste tank than fresh water tank to pass a health inspection. This ensures that you can dump more waste water than fresh water carried onboard. Make sure you understand your local areas laws around this requirement before investing in a vehicle. We always compile this information before starting on a custom build out.
  2. In most situations, it makes sense to install a water tank under the sink. Some builders install tanks on top of the truck. This is not advised because you could be dealing with long-term weather issues that can wear out the tank.
  3. Sink wells must be large enough to put any piece of cooking equipment into the well. After all if the sink well isn’t big enough, you won’t be able to effectively sanitize the equipment. This is a common requirement for health inspectors across the United States. We always confirm with our customer in advance the cooking equipment list they expect to use on the truck to ensure this won’t be a problem.
  4. We recommend installing two drain boards to help water drain into your sinks. This is a standard feature in our builds. Some city or county health departments actually require two drain boards.
  5. Drip boards should be installed above the sink to drip dry. These are frequently called rack boards or drip trays as well. The requirement for these is sporadic from county to county, but is a convenient piece to have installed into your unit regardless of the rules.
  6. Almost every city / county has the requirement of a 3-compartment sink with a separate hand-washing sink. In many areas, all compartments need to be the same size (with the exception of the hand washing sink).
  7. We do not recommend 12-bolt water pumps for food vendors. They can be a big hassle and are designed for RVs, not mobile kitchens. We recommend 110 pumps recommended so you don’t need to convert.
  8. We recommend the installation of propane water heaters because they will senses when heat falls below a certain temperature. In a food truck, you will need to have on-demand hot water that is at least 180 degrees Fahrenheit. This hot water test is one of the key aspects of passing a health inspection in many areas. Propane also doesn’t add more amps to generator, which is very important on a food truck. Heating water consumes around 12.5 amps typically for generator. With propane it won’t take your electric from your generator. If you’re interested in learning more about the basics on how water heaters work this is a helpful guide.
  9. Lockable water fills are recommended. You should be able to use a hose or bucket to fill your water tank. Make sure there is a lock in place so no one can tamper with water. This is an excellent safety precaution as well since the fresh water is much less likely to pop open, which can happen while commuting to vending locations.

By following the pointers in this post, you’ll avoid many of the plumbing pitfalls we’ve seen people make. If you’re thinking about a custom food truck or concession trailer build out, contact us to discuss your project. We welcome questions about the build process and look forward to serving you!

The 8 Steps to Starting Your Full-Time Ice Cream Truck Business

A swelteringly hot August day, on a quiet street anywhere in suburban America. The kids are too hot to even muster the energy to turn on the sprinklers, and the adults are losing patience with the incessant whines of “I’m bored,” as Summer vacation enters what feels like it’s 1000thday. The familiar tinkle of an ice cream truck horn is heard in the distance, and just like that, all of the bickering and activity stops; as the jingle gets closer, the kids start begging for a few dollars to buy a Rocket Pop, or a King Cone, or a soft serve twist with extra sprinkles. And for just a few moments, peace descends on the neighborhood.

If you’ve ever dreamt of being squarely in the middle of this classic American scene, of making your own hours, driving your own route, planning your own menu, and answering to no one but your hungry, happy customers, then you may have wondered if the ice cream truck business is right for you. But how do you begin the journey from idle dreamer, to successful ice cream entrepreneur?

For anyone interested in joining the ranks of the mobile ice cream vendors, knowing where to begin your research can be difficult. While there’s a wealth of information online about this particular segment of the mobile food business, it can be tough to figure out what to believe; there’s a lot of conflicting, outdated, or just plain bad information out there, and we felt like it was time to set the record straight.

The fact is, getting into the ice cream truck business can be an excellent choice for anyone interested in getting into mobile vending. The financial barrier to entry is relatively low, compared to other similar businesses, and you can get started without spending an arm and a leg on equipment. The hours are flexible, and as your business grows, it’s easy to expand by adding additional trucks to expand your route. Let’s take a look the eight steps required to start a profitable ice cream truck business whether you want to go part-time or full-time.

Step 1: Decide what kind of ice cream truck you want to own.

The sprinter van featured above was built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks and can distribute ice cream and shaved ice treats.

When planning your new ice cream truck business, perhaps the most important consideration is what kind of ice cream you plan to serve. This one decision will cascade down through the rest of your business plan, since the type of ice cream you choose will determine the size and type of truck you need, as well as your equipment list.

When planning your new ice cream truck business, perhaps the most important consideration is what kind of ice cream you plan to serve. This one decision will cascade down through the rest of your business plan, since the type of ice cream you choose will determine the size and type of truck you need, as well as your equipment list.

There are three main options to choose from: An ice cream truck that sells prepackaged ice cream novelties, one that sells soft serve creations, or one that sells hard-packed ice cream. Depending on your vision, your equipment costs, branding, and licensing requirements will vary dramatically.

The prepackaged novelty business can be a great way for new entrepreneurs to get started; you won’t need much in the way of equipment, since freezer space is your primary consideration. In many locations, reselling prepackaged food might even mean that you won’t need a food handling license, or any of the specialized equipment unique to those trucks that prepare food, such as three-bay sinks, an on-board water supply, or access to bathroom facilities. Managing inventory is also much easier in the ice cream novelty business; you purchase product, mark it up, and sell it. It’s easy to see what your profit per product is, and when you need to reorder more of a certain item.

While running an ice cream truck that sells packaged novelties may be the easiest and lowest-cost option, the margins for a truck that sells soft serve or hard-packed ice creams can be significantly higher. Because you’re working with a set of base ingredients, there is a nearly limitless potential for dreaming up new combinations and assigning prices to match. You can plan menu creations with different numbers of scoops and sizes, or with different flavors and toppings, which are not only appealing to customers, but offer an opportunity to introduce additional high-margin items. (Seriously, do you know how little “sprinkles” cost?)

Of course, choosing to serve soft serve or hard-packed ice cream will require a significantly higher investment, both in terms of the equipment needed, and the truck itself. Consider carefully the limits of your budget, and be realistic about what you’ll need to best achieve your vision for your ice cream truck. According to a survey conducted from 35 ice cream truck vendors, you can expect to generate $5,000 on average per month operating this type of business. Your results could be better or worse depending on your location, weather, and how many hours you put into operating the business.

Step 2: Figure Out Your Startup Costs

The startup costs you’ll need for your new ice cream truck will vary wildly, depending on what type of ice cream you plan to sell. If you plan to purchase a used ice cream truck, that already has freezers, equipment, electrical, and plumbing installed, you can expect to spend between 6k and 20k on the truck itself, including equipment.

If you can’t find a used ice cream truck that suits your needs, you can scour eBay and Craigslist for a used step van or box truck (which we’ve seen with high mileage and a barebones interior for as low as $1,500), but be aware that the financial savings for converting a truck yourself may not be as high as you think. By the time you get your mobile kitchen built, the amount of money you’ve spent will often be comparable to buying a turnkey truck.

Remember that as with any used vehicle, particularly one that’s probably been on the road for a while and may weigh several tons, there will be maintenance and operating costs, including mechanical issues, gasoline or diesel, and oil changes. Be sure to set aside room in your budget to handle any emergencies that arise, because if your truck is out of commission, so is your business.

After you get your truck up and rolling, you’ll need to plan for an initial inventory spend, so that you have product to sell. This may include frozen novelties, or ice cream, cones, and toppings, as well as service items like cups, napkins, and spoons. Plan to spend around $1,000 on this initial inventory, but remember: With most mobile food vending operations, the money you spend on inventory gets turned into sales almost immediately, ensuring an instant cashflow.

You’ll need permits and licenses specific to your region; this may include a food handler’s license, a food safety course and certification, and any necessary local vendor’s permits. Costs will vary, depending on your region, but most people can safely budget $1,000 for these licenses. You’ll also need insurance for the truck, as well as general liability insurance; plan on another $1,000 per year for those.

In summary, your exact costs will vary depending on your equipment needs, and the licensing requirements in your area. At the low end of our estimates, getting an ice cream truck up and running could cost as little as $35,000 – $50,000, ranging all the way up to $75,000 (or more) at the high end.

Step 3: Select Ice Cream Equipment

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream Cone with Sprinkles.

When it comes to outfitting your ice cream truck, you’ve got a few different options for equipment. Your needs will depend largely on the kind of ice cream truck you are running, and the types of ice cream you plan to sell. A truck that deal strictly in prepackaged novelties should focus on as much square footage of freezer space as possible; calculate the size of your truck in square feet (leaving yourself some space to move around), then look for either commercial chest freezers or the smaller freezers meant for consumer use that you can buy at any home improvement store.

If you plan to sell soft serve or hard-packed ice cream, you’ll need the equipment to prepare and dispense ice cream, and a generator to make sure that everything keeps running and your product stays frozen. You’re also going to need adequate shelving, to store all of the cups, cones, spoons, napkins, and assorted toppings for your creations. If you’re flush with cash, you can buy this equipment new, from a website like WebstaurantStore.com, or keep your eye on your local classified ad marketplace for used equipment, which should cut your costs in approximately half, with some potential tradeoff in terms of reliability.

Because your business will be targeting primarily children, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a few kid-friendly accessories and pieces of safety equipment. You’ll definitely want a music and amplification system (after all, isn’t that the most fun part of running an ice cream truck?), as well as appealing signage and branding for your new truck. A few flashing lights are a good idea, to alert other motorists to the presence of kids, as well as an audible backup indicator that fires any time your truck is put into reverse.

Step 4: Plan Your Ideal Vending Route

Building an Plan for a Ice Cream Truck Route.

When planning the route you will drive each day, focus on areas where kids tend to congregate; schools, parks, playgrounds, campsites, and sports fields are all obvious choices, but you’ll need to check with the city to make sure that this type of vending is allowed in these locations. Some municipalities prevent operating near schools or public parts, while some neighborhoods may have noise ordinances preventing your from playing music in residential neighborhoods.

When planning your route, take care not to overlap with other ice cream trucks in your area; this is a business that depends a lot of cooperation, and while some rivalries may pop up, it’s best to try and avoid making enemies on your first day. Customers that are loyal to a particular ice cream truck may also not be particularly welcoming to your new venture, so when determining your route, try and focus on areas not already served by another truck.

Consider the potential for sales at any local festivals, where you can pay a vendor’s fee to the festival organizers, park your truck in one spot, and watch your hot and parched customers come to you. Music festivals, food truck events, outdoor concerts, farmer’s markets, and state fairs are all proven money-makers for ice cream trucks.

Click Here for a Detailed Guide on Planning Your Ice Cream Vending Route

Step 5: Determine Your Licensing Requirements

The types of licensing required for an ice cream truck can vary wildly from state-to-state, so it’s best to contact your local county clerk’s or code enforcement office to determine the types of credentials you’ll need. In general, you’ll probably need a food vendor’s license from both the state you live in, and the city you plan to operate in. In some areas, you may also need a permit from the local police department.

You’ll also want to contact the IRS, to obtain an Employer Identification Number. You’ll use this number with your local state tax authority as well, to establish a resale license and enable you to buy products at wholesale prices. For your first year of business, a consultation with a local accountant or CPA is a wise investment; they can make sure that you are staying in compliance with tax law and filing everything appropriately.

Step 6: Schedule a Phone Call With Your Local Health Department

For many new vendors, the thought of dealing with the health department can be intimidating or even scary. Remember, though, that the department of health works for you; in most cases, they want to help you succeed and keep your product safe for your customers. Schedule a call with your local health inspector early in your planning process, and tell them exactly what you plan to do with your ice cream truck.

If you plan to sell exclusively pre-packaged novelties, you may not need any special training or certification for handling food. But as soon as you scoop ice cream into a cone, you’re probably going to need some extra credentials, including certification from an approved food handling safety course such as ServSafe. You’ll want to sort out all of these requirements before you start investing money in equipment or marketing, since getting compliant with the health department may delay your potential opening date.

The health department will conduct regular inspections of your ice cream truck, to ensure your freezers are operating at the correct temperature, and that water lines and other equipment are clean and functioning properly. Ask your health inspector for a checklist for mobile food units, to help you identify and eliminate any potential problems before the health inspector does.

Step 7: Figure Out What Insurance You Need

Most mobile food business need to maintain general liability insurance, to protect their business in case a customer is injured or becomes sick, as well as insurance to cover the equipment itself, in case of accident or fire. Companies like Insure My Food  help small business people find one-stop-shopping policies that cover the wide range of needs unique to ice cream truck operators, at great rates.

Step 8: Hit the Road!

As your target opening day approaches, it’s time to start marketing your new ice cream truck like crazy. Luckily, the ice cream business is a great fit for social media; an Instagram account that features droolworthy photos of your latest ice cream creations is the perfect first step. A Facebook page for your new business can help customers find you, ask questions, see the types of items you have available, and leave reviews for your new business to encourage other customers. You’ll probably also want to consider a simple web page, offering a map of your route and your estimated times of arrival at various locations, along with a few glamor shots of your truck and your product.

Creating marketing buzz around your new venture early will pay off, on the day you take your new ice cream truck out for its first spin around the neighborhood. Start spreading the word about your new business well before opening day, and then get out there and hit the road!

Spring Cleaning Checklist for Food Truck Vendors

Spring is finally here! If you live in the northern United States or anywhere in Canada, May is the month you can be certain no more white stuff will hit the ground until fall. In addition to warmer weather, it’s the beginning of the busy season for food truck vendors.

The spring and summer after all is when the annual outdoor events happen: outdoor concerts, food truck rallies, weddings, baseball games, farmer’s markets. If your food truck has been locked in storage all winter, it’s time to get the unit deep cleaned for service in advance of your first event.

A spotless mobile kitchen.

How Often Should You Deep Clean a Food Truck?

Food truck kitchens don’t stay clean without on-going effort. On a busy food truck grease will inevitably get on walls and food will hit the floor no matter how careful you are. While you should utilize a daily cleaning checklist, it’s important to conduct a deep clean at least once per week and in advance of your season opener.

Most of the cleaning will be conduced inside of the mobile kitchen where food is prepared and served, but don’t forget about the exterior of the food truck and cab too. Customers will judge the cleanliness of your operation based on how your truck looks on the outside. If the wrap has been cleaned, waxed, and reflects in the sunshine, customers will assume the interior of the vehicle is treated with the same level of care.

One simple way to clean the exterior is to power wash the vehicle at a local car wash. Of course, you’ll need to find a location where there’s enough space to park the truck. Some car wash locations aren’t big enough to handle anything larger than an SUV. This is the most affordable and readily available option for cleaning the exterior of the truck.

Another option that requires no elbow grease from you is to drive the unit to a truck wash. Almost any mid-sized city will have a few truck wash locations where big rigs and RVs go to keep clean. These facilities will have the space to handle sized food truck or concession trailer you bring for cleaning.

Most truck washes offer trailer washouts where they pressure wash the interior of a unit. This service will not apply to your situation since because of the expensive kitchen equipment onboard to maintain. These services can be completed between $45 – $100 depending on the package selected. As a food truck vendor, it’s nice to be able to take a breather and let someone else professionally clean the exterior of the unit.

Food Truck Spring Cleaning Checklist – Interior

This checklist ensures you won’t miss a spot on the food truck. While this post is a spring cleaning edition, you should have a daily, weekly, and monthly set of checklists to ensure all cooking equipment is cared for. This will ensure safer food, a more appealing eatery for guests, and better working environment for employees.

Exhaust Hoods and Vents – Grease can quickly build up in these units over time. This build up will restrict airflow in kitchens and become a fire hazard. If you have a deep fryer in the kitchen you’ll need to be particularly steadfast about cleaning the exhaust hood.

Exhaust hood and deep fryers.

3-Compartment Sinks – No matter where you vend in the United States, a 3-compartment sink and separate hand-washing sink is almost always required by the local health department in a mobile kitchen. You will be washing dishes and hands in these sinks so the cleanliness of this area is critical. Use a commercial grade disinfectant to clean the sink, backsplash, and facets of each sink every day.

Floors, Walls and Ceilings – It can be easy to overlook scrubbing the walls and ceiling, but it’s an important measure to take before rolling out the unit this spring. You should clean the walls and ceiling with a wash cloth as part of a weekly routine. If you leave a grease splatter on a wall too long it can leave a permanent blemish or lead to foul odors. Neither are desirable in a kitchen!

Floors will inevitably be one of the toughest areas to keep spotless. You walk on the floor, pans will hit the ground, and food will drop. Floors should be cleaned every day and swept during slow time periods. If you’ve got time to lean you’ve got time to clean!

Countertops / Prep Areas – Prep areas and counter tops are used regularly for food preparation. These should be cleaned each day before service to prevent bacteria. Give these areas a deep rinse after cleaning with a disinfectant spray.

Cooking Equipment – You should always follow the cleaning instructions provided in your buyers manual for each piece of cooking equipment. Make sure to train any employees on the best way to clean cooking equipment as well to ensure consistency. This will not only ensure the equipment is clean, but could in many cases extend the useful life these pieces.

If you use deep fryers, make sure to boil them out before the first service of the season. For refrigerators, make sure to clean the condenser coils with a bristle and vacuum. Flat tops should be washed down with warm soapy water.

We hope this check list provides you with practical tips for cleaning your food truck this year. One smart way to ensure the cleanliness of your unit is to create custom check list that inventories each area and piece of equipment in your mobile kitchen. Then you can build a plan for ensuring its cleanliness. If you don’t have a documented plan for cleaning, it’s likely key areas will be overlooked.

 

Five Tips for Creating Food Truck Logo Designs That Aren’t Boring

Whether you own and operate a mobile food business already or in the planning phase, coming up with a professional looking logo can be a challenge. After all, you’ve probably got all sorts of ideas for the menu and source of ingredients for food items. But coming up with a logo that accurately represents a brand isn’t easy if you’re not an artist or graphic designer by trade.

Fortunately there are all sorts of new tools and options for ordinary folks that make the process of creating your brands logo easier and more affordable than they were 5 – 10 years ago. In this post, we guide you through the process of acquiring a stunning food truck logo you can be proud of without breaking the bank.

A food truck logo we like a lot from the Grilled Cheez Guy.

Food Truck Logo Best Practices

Once you get a logo you can be proud of there are all sorts of ways it can be utilized within your food truck business. You could use the design as part of your food truck wrap, put it on the menu, business cards, website, and social media profiles. Once you put in the hard work of getting the logo created, edited and approved, the rest of the branding steps can be completed quickly.

Having a high-quality logo also gives you instant credibility among potential customers. Big food brands like McDonalds, Starbucks, and others all have instantly recognizable logos that you’re no doubt familiar with. Eventually, your logo will become a familiar sight to your own tribe of fans too if only at the local level.

While you may not have the budget of these big companies, it doesn’t mean you can’t get close to their level of professionalism in logo design. While a marketing agency could charge between $7,500 -$25,000 for a logo design, you can get something that meets your needs as a small business owner for much less.

Looking for specific ideas that you can provide to a designer to amp up your logo design? Here are a few basic elements of food truck logo design:

  • The Food: Most food trucks have a small and focused menu like grilled cheese sandwiches or hot dogs. If you’re food truck has a clear food identity like this ask the designer to integrate the food type into the logo. This will make it clear to prospective customers what you’re offering on the truck.
  • The Name: Including the name of your food truck is a best practice of most logo designs. Often the name of your business will be positioned directly above or below the image. This is a terrific way to help the name of your business stick.
  • Fancy Fonts: Using custom types is one of the simplest ways that your logo can stand out from the competition. There are literally thousands of unique font options you can use to help the text stand out visually. Just make sure to select a font style that’s not too thin making it difficult to read from long distances.
  • Color Vitality: The palette of colors you choose will be one of the biggest decisions in logo design you need to make. For color scheme, take into consideration the colors and textures of the food you plan to serve from the unit and match that. If you serve waffles and syrup, consider a nice golden brown and molasses color scheme.
  • Stand Out: Just like the clothes we wear there are elements that go in and out of style with logo design. While these styles may look great overall, you want to make sure you don’t jump on a logo design that too many other businesses also try to follow and get lost in the mix. Ideally, you want something that’s unique, represents your business, and can be utilized for years to come regardless of trends.

How to Get an Affordable Logo Design

There are a lot of new options available to getting a logo designed. If you hope to get your logo completed on the cheap one of the best resources to take a look at is Fiverr.com. On this website you are able to browse the previous logo designs and pricing for each graphic designer. Once you arrive on the website, you’ll see there are options ranging from $10 for a quick design to hundreds of dollars if you want something more detailed. These graphic designers distributed across the world so you could literally be hiring someone on the other side of the planet for the project.

You can find literally hundreds of affordable logo designers on Fiverr.

One point to keep in mind with this website is that you will be limited on the number of revisions your logo can have. If you choose a lower priced option, you will typically recieve one or zero revisions for a logo design. If you have a really specific with the color scheme or layout in your mind, choose a higher-end designer on the platform that offers more support.

Another tip when you use a website like this to complete a design is that you’ll want to collect some examples of logos you like from other businesses. You should also know the colors you want utilized in the design. If you don’t collect this information in advance, you could very well be disappointed with the results. Your designer may also be frustrated if they spent a lot of time working on a logo that they didn’t receive clear direction on. This is a common problem, unfortunately.

Another service you can use to bootstrap your logo is to use a website called LogoNerds.com. This service can get you a professional looking logo for $27 and includes three design options for to choose from. You can pay a little bit more to get even more concept choices to choose from.  The advantage of this service is that you won’t need to find an individual designer that you like. You can also be confident about the consistent level of quality and experience when using the service. LogoNerds has been around forever and is an excellent way to easily and affordably get a design project done.

As a future food truck owner, you’ve got bigger problems to take care of then spending hours or days working on a logo for your business. Fortunately, these two options give you a way to get a professional and non-boring logo you can be proud of for less than $100.

How to Plan a Profitable Ice Cream Trucking Vending Route

Summer is fast approaching. When we reflect on the summer season, we’re reminded of baseball games, lazy summer days on the water, and of course ice cream trucks!

If starting an ice cream truck is part of your summer plans we’ve got you covered. In today’s post, we will help you build a specific vending route that will have you bringing in profits all summer long. This piece is based on our 15+ years experience working with customers starting ice cream trucks to shaved ice trailers and everything in between.

In fact, if you sell just about any frozen summer treat you can follow this success formula to generating sales on a mobile food unit. It does not need to be ice cream to make this basic plan work.

How to Build Your Ice Cream Route

When new ice cream truck owners start out one of the biggest challenges is figuring out where to vend. With a truck you have a nearly limitless number of vending options that can lead to what’s called analysis paralysis. In simple terms it means you have so many options that you get stuck in place thinking about what to do. Don’t let this happen to you!

The first place we recommend testing is your area is driving around to residential locations and playing your music horn. We’ve spoke to dozens of vendors that we’ve worked with in the past and this is almost always how they get their start in the business.

Thanks to Google Maps, it is very easy to get an overview of where the different residential areas are in your city.  We recommend selecting two – three suburbs or cities first to get started. Ideally, these locations will be nearby your home base since you’ll be able to save on gas.

In the example below, we’ve used the city of Woodbury, Minnesota as our home base. We have also selected the nearby suburbs of Maplewood and Oakdale. These three suburbs combined have a population of over 100,000 people. They are also made up of lots of families, which is ideal for for an ice cream business.

Building an Plan for a Ice Cream Truck Route.

You can create a similar plan for the city you live too. We recommend limiting your route 2 – 3 suburbs at first to establish a presence in the local area. In the future, you can always expand your route into more areas if needed.

As an ice cream truck or van serving novelty ice creams, your bread and butter will be residential areas. These are areas with a lot of single family homes, townhomes, and even apartments with families. Even at the time of writing in 2019, kids are familiar with the jingle of the ice cream man (or woman). It’s an affordable experience continues to be as relevant today as it ever was to families.

Daily Service Schedule

After you’ve identified a vending area, it’s time to determine a service schedule. A service schedule will help you plan the weeks and months of your business operation. This can be created simply using a calendar or spreadsheet. Below is an example of a daily service schedule for one week.

Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday Sunday
Off Off 11 am – 5 pm 11 am – 5 pm 11 am – 5 pm 11 am – 8 pm All Day Event
Evening Catering 7 pm – 9 pm Evening Party All Day Event

With an ice cream business, the majority of your sales will happen in the afternoon or evening. A larger percentage of your sales will occur later in the week too. As a result, in our sample service schedule we’ve blocked off Monday and Tuesday as a day off.

Starting on Wednesday, we will begin driving through neighborhoods. Overtime, you will begin to identify the most profitable neighborhoods in your city. The profitable neighborhoods where sales are generated, you will return to. For the areas that you don’t get a return on investment, you can stop going to those neighborhoods and swap them out for more profitable spots.

How to Increase Profit on an Ice Cream Route

Coming up with a starting routes should not take a lot of time. You can likely come up with a solid route within 2 – 3 hours to test out. You shouldn’t get fixated on a specific route. The most important thing at first is simply getting out there and begin figuring out what works and what doesn’t.

One thing that you’ll learn with an ice cream truck is that the more time you spend driving through neighborhoods, the more income you’ll make. It really is as simple as that. Assuming you are vending during the summer time and during days when people are usually at home, you can expect to sell more cones, ice cream sandwiches, and shaved ice. The more you drive, the more you earn in this industry.

The second way you can increase profitability by offering catering services at birthday parties or corporate events. Believe it or not, catering is one of the easiest ways you’ll make money in this business. You’ll learn that as you begin driving your vending route, people will ask if you are able to serve at their event. Be prepared to give your customers a clear response to this important question!

You need to figure out the minimum amount you can drive to a location to vend at and how long you’re willing to serve at an event for that price. For example, you may be more than happy to come to an 9 year olds birthday party for 20 minutes if you’re able to generate $250 in sales to distribute 75 ice cream sandwiches. However, you may not want to take the same party if you are obligated to be there for 3 hours.

The third way that you can increase the profitability of an ice cream truck is by building partnerships with local sports teams and charities. It may come as a surprise to you, but middle and high school sports teams are always looking for new sources of funding. Thanks to the high-profitability of an ice cream truck, you can do a revenue split with these organizations.

This type of arrangement creates a win-win for both parties. You as the truck owner are provided with new customers and marketing for the business. The sports team is provided with a cut of a sales that can be used for a special trip or to purchase equipment like jerseys or pay fees. This strategy is so powerful that many ice cream trucks focus on this revenue channel exclusively.

The Conclusion

The mobile ice cream business is one that will continue to remain relevant for decades to come. In fact, some of new marketing channels like social media make the business an even bigger opportunity than in the golden ages of the the ice cream truck. At the end of the day, if you’re able to be consistent with the frequency of your vending route this is a proven business model for someone that likes bringing joy to others and delivering exceptional customer service.

 

Five Breakfast Food Truck Ideas Worth Waking Up For

Offering breakfast service on a food truck can be a major revenue source even though if regularly overlooked in the industry. In today’s post, we evaluate some of the most popular breakfast menu ideas we’ve seen work in the A.M. so you can add them to your menu.

One thing we want to point out is even if you don’t plan to operate a breakfast truck exclusively, many trucks are able to adapt their menus to serve the most important meal of the day. Being able to change the menu for breakfast will open up all sorts of opportunities from catering to events frequently held in the morning like marathons, church services, farmer’s markets, or catering.

If you like to wake up early anyway this could be an efficient approach to running a successful food truck. Here are a few of the most popular breakfast menus we’ve seen in our 15+ years of manufacturing mobile food units.

Coffee Trucks

Refuge Coffee Co. Truck in action.

Coffee trucks and trailers are some of the most popular breakfast food trucks out there. One of the organizations we built two trucks for is Refuge Coffee Co. Refuge Coffee Co. started their non-profit by serving coffees from a truck, but expanded quickly into multiple trucks and they now have a retail coffee shop location too. Their goal is to offer job training in the hospitality industry to refugees. Refuge Coffee Co. grew in part by offering catering services to the production companies on the set of different shows in the greater Atlanta area.

As you know, coffee is usually consumed in the morning with breakfast. Some simple menu items you can include on a coffee truck include pastries, donuts, muffins, and various breakfast sandwiches. The other advantage of operating a coffee truck is that you have a high-margin product. While you can sell a cup of drip coffee between $2.50 – $4.00 in most areas the product cost may only be .50 cents. That’s a pretty attractive margin compared to other food businesses!

Waffle Truck

Waffle trucks are another popular breakfast item that works in just about any tier 1 or tier 2 city in the United States. Waffles provide flexibility from a menu perspective too. You can have a sugary taste with syrups, powdered sugar and fruits of all kinds. On the contrary, you can make it a meal by adding fried chicken. There’s lots of options and is a recognizable food enjoyed by young and old.

Crepes Truck

Crepes is another food truck concept that does well at breakfast and lunch service. In the a.m., the menu item has a lot of flexibility. The crepe can be paired with strawberries and whipped cream for something sweet. On the flip side it works just as well with ham for a hearty breakfast.

Crepes got their start in France where they are a popular breakfast item. For the past few decades the food item has become more popular state side as well.

Taco Trucks

Believe it or not the taco truck can do really well in the morning by adding a dozen different spins on breakfast. There are breakfast burritos that come with eggs and your choice of meat. In fact, you could do extremely well by only doing breakfast on a Mexican food truck.

Mexican food has an incredible amount of flexibility. Here are a few breakfast menu ideas that sell well even if you aren’t South of the border: Steak and Egg Burritos (featuring steak, eggs, potatoes, and cheese), Sausage and Egg Burritos (with sausage, eggs, potatoes, and cheese), Breakfast Bowls (featuring potatoes, eggs, and choice of protein), Huevos Rancheros (Tortilla, Eggs, Salsa, Beans, Sour Cream). There’s no limit to the options available with this food concept.

Smoothie Trucks

Smoothie King Van Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Another great breakfast option is the smoothie truck. This item has a distinct advantage especially for the health conscious consumer that attend events like 5Ks, weight lifting competitions, or mud runs. But these nutritious beverages also taste great attracting observes at these events just the same.

Different variations of fruit smoothies can work well as a healthy breakfast meal, but continue to sell well throughout the day. The menu item sells well as a mid-afternoon pick me up as well so you can continue to sell the same menu throughout the day.

Keep in mind that the food truck ideas listed above do not need to vend during the morning exclusively. Coffee trucks can add nitro or iced options to attract the afternoon crowd. Taco trucks can essentially remove eggs from a product and the burrito can become a lunch or dinner option.

When most folks think about operating a food truck, they usually think about the lunch or dinner options first. While both of these are important, breakfast can be equally profitable if you have the right menu.

Three Ways to Design Your Own Food Truck and Layout Online

Thinking about designing a food truck yourself? The good news is you’ve got options on ways you can approach this important project. Some of the options require zero technical knowledge or fancy tools at all, while others do require a certain level of experience. Without further delay, let’s outline the options so you can choose the best route for your situation!

Before we dive into the meat of this post, one thing most people don’t realize is that when you create the layout for your food truck, you need to plan for more than just the kitchen area. Many chefs will have an idea of how they want their kitchen equipment setup, which is a great start. Understanding where to put the ovens, the sandwich prep table and the serving windows are all important.

But the kitchen is only one component of the design process! Before we start work on any food truck, we develop three specific design layouts:

bedroom concession

Concession Trailer Kitchen Blueprint #1.

1.) The Kitchen Blueprint: This is what most people think about when they envision the layout food truck design. This is the commercial kitchen section of the vehicle. The layout of this area is extremely important to ensure food can be prepared efficiently and comfortably by operators.

2.) The Electrical Blueprint: This is a blueprint most people don’t think about, but it’s extremely important. Developing a specific layout that will efficiently power each piece of cooking equipment on your truck. Without having a solid layout or blue print in place to handle the electrical requirements of your commercial kitchen, you could find out that your electrical foundation wasn’t built correctly at an opportune time. Many food truck owners discover their electrical hookups and installation where done wrong after using all their equipment at once during a dinner rush. When you have a long line of hungry customers this is not the time you want to experience a blow out.

3.) The Plumbing Blueprint: This layout ensures your hot and cold water hookups are setup correctly and waste water is going to the correct tank. The health department in most areas has very specific requirements for the size of waste water tanks, and hot / cold water flow in a food truck so you want to make sure you’re working with a professional.

To view examples of each type of concession blueprints, read our previous post on the topic here. We complete all three of these layouts at no charge for our customers or potential customers.

Tony’s Clam Chowder Food Van Conversion by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Option #1: Have Us Design Your Food Truck for Free

If you’re in the market for a food truck or concession trailer, we will develop each of these layouts free of charge even if you decide to choose another manufacturer for the job. After 15+ years of manufacturing concession units, we understand the how important it is to be able to demonstrate to our customers exactly how their layout and design will look in a truck before outfitting a truck.

By doing all the designs first, it allows us to have discussions with you about the ideal layout that will work best for your commercial kitchen on wheels. It’s not uncommon at all for us to share ideas about the optimal placement of refrigeration, flat tops, or propane tanks on a mobile unit. We believe this collaborative approach helps us deliver world-class trucks that will serve you and your business for years to come.  Click here to sign up to get a custom concession quote from M&R Specialty Trailers and trucks. This is the first and easiest way to get your food truck designed!

Option #2: Learn CAD Software

At M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks, we layout each of our designs using a program called AutoCAD. This is industry standard software used by architects, engineers, and food truck manufacturers to build plans. You can learn more about CAD software here. This software is now available online as well.

While there’s a bit of a learning curve with CAD software, anyone can learn to use it if they dedicate themselves. If you do with to go the DIY route with design, we recommend consulting with someone that understands the plumbing and electrical aspects as well to ensure that you’re designing something functional. We also advise speaking with a professional chef or someone that’s operated in a busy commercial kitchen before to get their feedback on the flow of the kitchen and installation of equipment.

Option #3: Back of the Napkin

Believe it or not, you can use a good of fashion pen and paper to get the idea for your first food truck down. If you prefer, the free program Paint could also be used. While these basic renderings may not be to scale, it’s a good way to brain storm ideas for your equipment if you’re just starting out.

We’ve had more than one customer over the years bring us a drawing they’ve sketched on a notepad to see if we could make the kitchen a certain way. These can be a helpful visual starting point for us to understand your goals and discuss the options to make it happen.

This is at the point that we always like to sit down and have a discussion, either at our offices or over the phone to discuss your goals and share our perspective on the optimal layout and process that we recommend. After having this discussion, we can move forward with a finalized blue print that we create and present the plan to you at no charge.

If you’re in the process of designing your food truck, don’t hesitate to give us a call at 904-397-0246 with questions.

Are Food Truck Owners Required to Get a CDL?

Are you required to get a Commercial Driver’s License or CDL if you drive a food truck? In most situations, you don’t need a CDL to operate a food truck. A standard Class D driver’s license issued by the state you live is sufficient to legally drive and operate a food truck.

There are of course always exceptions to this general guideline. We will spend the rest of the post exploring some of the rare situations where you might actually need a CDL to drive a food truck. If you’re unsure, make sure you contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in the state you plan to operate for more information and guidance. Requirements for CDLs vary slightly from state to state so it’s important to understand the local laws.

Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

Rare Situations You Would Need a Food Truck CDL

Weight: If you plan to operate a food truck with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) 26,001 pounds or more then you will need to obtain a CDL.  The total weight of a unit includes the mobile kitchen equipment and employees that are expected to be on and operate the unit.

Although food trucks are heavy, a typical food truck won’t come close exceeding the 26,001 pound weight limit. Since the weight of a food truck is dependent on the size of the unit and equipment installed the final weight will vary. But based on our experience a typical food truck will weigh 12,000 – 16,000 pounds. You find food truck weight estimates for trailers, food trucks, and food buses in our previous post.

If you plan to convert a school bus into food bus, you’ll want to keep weight considerations in mind and may actually need a CDL. Depending on the type of school bus you acquire it may fall under or over the weight requirement depending on the size. Some larger school buses weigh approximately 30,000 pounds when you include seating so this is a scenario where you might need to obtain a CDL.

If you have a food trailer that you plan to tough to events that is over 10,000 pounds, a CDL will also be a requirement. Even large 22″ food trailers weigh about 8,000 pounds so most vendors will fall well below the threshold.

Passengers: You are required to obtain a CDL regardless of vehicle size if you plan to transport 16 people or more. This 16 person limit includes the driver.

In our decade and a half experience manufacturing food trucks, we’ve never built a food unit for someone that intended to transporting more than 16 people. When you get more than five people working inside a larger sized food truck, you’ll hit a threshold where there are literally too many cooks in the kitchen to operate comfortably.

The Final Word

Bottom line, most food truck owners don’t have a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Odds are you won’t need one either if you don’t fall into one of the rare scenarios listed above. If you want to learn more about the CDL process, check out the informative resources below:

Who Is Required to Get a CDL? This piece is published on TruckingTruth.com and outlines in plain English who is required to obtain a CDL. The piece also explains the exceptions for individuals working on farms or driving an RV.

CDL Class Types: Learn about the different class types for CDL driver’s licenses.

How to Start a Healthy Juice Bar Food Truck in 2019

Happy 2019! The start of a new year always marks a time for reflection and looking ahead to the future. Some of the top resolutions you’ll find each year is the goal to eat better and get healthier overall. According to a 2017 poll by YouGov, eating healthier is actually at the very top of the resolution list, tied with saving more money and working out.

While eating better is a common goal it’s not as easy to accomplish as you might already know. Eating consistently healthy meals means investing the the time required to meal plan, prepare and shop for healthy food items.  This can be tough if you’re busy running a business, have a job, or a family to take care of. It’s easy for busy people to fall back into a routine of eating fast food or other meals out of convenience only a few weeks into the new year.

Enter the business opportunity of the increasingly popular juice bar food truck. A smoothie or juice truck provides customers a no-hassle way to get their daily serving of fruits and vegetables. The juice and smoothie bar industry overall has continued to grow over the past 5 years according to IBISWorld industry reports. According to the report industry revenue will hit $3 billion 2019. In the United States alone there will be approximately 5,861 businesses that fit into this business classification.

With a mobile food unit, you can deliver this healthy product to customers with money to spend, but the lack of time to make a healthy drinks themselves. Some proven popular locations for smoothie trucks to serve are at large corporate offices and special events that focus on active lifestyles like 5K runs. You can take a video tour of a Smoothie King ProMaster Food Truck below that was built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks below.

Depending on your needs a truck, trailer or step-van can be all be converted into mobile juice bars so plenty of flexibility in the build out of these units.

You should expect to invest well over $100,000 to start a retail juice bar location. You will be able to invest well under $50,000 on a mobile juice unit. Aside from a lower cost to get started, some of the unique advantages to mobile juice bars is that you won’t be locked into a longterm lease. One of the biggest risks with a juice bar when starting out is finding a profitable retail location. If you end up opening in a location without sufficient foot traffic or the wrong demographics of people, the business could fail. Finding the perfect location is not as important when going mobile because  you can move to greener pastures at any time.

Crafting the Right Menu

Coming up with a menu for your juice truck is part art, part science. You may need to tweak the recipes of the beverages you sell depending on the location you plant to vend. If you are willing to listen to your customers and continually refine the menu overtime, you’ll figure out what’s most profitable.

With that being said here are a few type of beverages you should consider for your future menu:

Cold-Pressed Juice – This is an increasingly popular form of juice that is made without heating up the fruit to retain its vitamins and minerals.

Organic Juices – If you’re catering to a more healthy conscious audience, knowing whether or not the fruit you use is organic or not is important. You will need to pass along the added cost of organic ingredients to customers.

Traditional Smoothies – Traditional smoothies made with fruit have gotten a bad wrap as of late since so many of them contain high amounts of sugar. Still these beverages remain top sellers at juice bars nationally.

Coffee and Other Beverages – While you may not specialize in serving coffee or other drinks, it can be beneficial to offer this beverage. It’s not at all uncommon for juice establishments to sell a type of coffee that aligns with overall mission of the business.

Equipment List Considerations for a Juice Truck

Some basic things to keep in mind is that if you want to keep the cost lower of these units, a van or trailer conversion will be more lower cost than a food truck. If you plan to serve drinks and basic add-ons like pre-made muffins or energy bars a van can be a great option and will run well with regular maintenance for years to come.

If you plan to have more than two people working in the juice van or if you need larger menu, a van won’t typically work due to the space limitations. If you need to fryers, prep table, coffee makers, and blenders all installed onboard a step-van the equipment can be extremely tight. Give us a call if you’re working to determine the layout and type of equipment that will fit comfortably into your unit.

The final equipment consideration to make is that blenders, ice machines, and other equipment that you need on a juice truck is going to take a lot of power to run. If you plan to serve gourmet coffees on the unit, you’ll need even more power and will need a generator with sufficient wattage. You can read our previous post on how to determine the electrical power needs of a food truck if you want to go more in-depth on this topic.

Here is a list of commonly installed equipment on a juice truck: 

  • Prep Table / Cutting Boards – You’ll need plenty of space to cut fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Refrigerator – This will keep product like milk, fruits and veggies cool.
  • Ice Machine – Products like smoothies and juice require ice so you’ll need a reliable machine that can keep up with sales volume.
  • Commercial Juicers – A way to quickly extract pulp and seeds from oranges and other product.
  • Commercial Blenders – You’ll need at least two reliable blenders installed on the unit to keep up with rush time periods.
  • 3-Compartment Sink + Hand Washing Sink – This is a requirement for washing knifes, spoons, cups and other utensils on the truck.
  • Coffee Maker – Even if you specialize in juice and smoothies many vendors increase their sales by offering coffee as well.
  • Display Unit – We recommend installing a customer facing display unit into the vehicle to increase sales. You could choose to display food or drinks in this area.

Market Analysis and Competition

Before jumping into any business opportunity, it’s wise to check out what the local competition is doing in your area. More than likely there will already be some brick-and-mortar juice bar locations operating successfully in your area. Two of the most popular franchises in this industry are Smoothie King and Jamba Juice. Smoothie King has over 1,000 locations globally with an average gross revenue of $681,724 for the top 25% of locations in the United States. Jamba Juice has over 900 locations according to their franchise website. You can’t hit this level of locations without strong market demand for the product.

If you do plan to open a smoothie truck, you should visit these local stores to view their menu and taste their products. You should also hang out in these locations and observe the clientele. What kind of people frequent these establishments? How busy are the locations? Does this seem like the type of business you would like to operate? What is the price being charged in your area for a small, medium, and large size juice? This is an easy and fast way to help determine if this is a business opportunity you would like to explore further.

Should You Take a Food Truck Training Class?

Why you should take Food Truck Classes.

Running a food truck is just as hard if not harder than running a restaurant.  Would you start a restaurant without any formal training? Probably not, right?

You should be taking training of some sort before you get started on type of serious business endeavor. There’s literally no profession or real business you can start with a realistic chance of success. Would a dentist hang up their shingle without first attending school and acquiring the necessary certifications? We certainly hope not!

But for some reason there are plenty of people that think they can start a food truck business without any sort of mentorship. Keep in mind that there are plenty of different ways to learn. You can certainly learn a lot of the concepts and numbers behind operating a food truck business in a class, but working part-time or being an intern on a food truck can often be even more valuable. Ideally, you would get trained on both aspects of the business before rolling out on your own.

A lot of community colleges are now offering food truck classes and we think the perfect mix is online training and class based training now that they are being offered. Also, community college classes are always more affordable than universities and you might even be able to figure out a way to get some of your books and schooling paid for with a scholarship.

Tony’s Clam Chowder – Built By M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks.

What should you be learning?

This is really tough to say because each food truck owner brings a different and unique set of skills and knowledge to their business but here is a general list of things you should be competent in before you set out to start your truck:

  • Food prep and Food Safety
  • Marketing and Menu basics
  • Managerial Leadership and Conflict Resolution
  • Truck Safety and Rules of the Road
  • Food Truck Regulations for your city
  • Food Truck Finance
  • Marketing
  • How to Pull off a Catering Event
  • How to Create a Weekly Operations Schedule

This is a basic and sparse list of everything you’ll master as an experienced food truck owner but you don’t have to know it all before you get started.  After all, you’ll never be a food truck owner if you don’t take the first step, right?

Start your apprenticeship

We highly recommend reaching out to a local food truck and ask to tag along or work for free.  Yes, we said work for free.  Every great technician, professional or master of any craft always served under an apprenticeship.  You should too.

Pick your favorite food truck and call the owner up.  Tell him about your dream and offer to help for free for a few months.  It’s gonna suck, but its the best way to learn the job on the go and those are when the real lessons get absorbed the best.  Good ‘ol hands on training.

This is one of the approaches that Dave Krolak of the of the Cas’ Pierogi and Kielbasa food truck used to start his business. Instead of going it alone, he reached out directly to one of the prominent local food truck owners in the area and offered to compensate him for training. That modest investment in training has yielded all sorts of benefits for Krolak’s business in return.

First, he got an understanding of what it really takes to operate a food truck from someone that’s successfully operating the business. Questions that could take other inexperienced vendors weeks to figure out on their own could be quickly solved by Dave’s mentor.

In addition to a better understanding of the business this arrangement yielded some immediate monetary benefits as well. As you may know, a lot of owning a food truck is getting to know the players in your community. Specifically, getting to know the people that are organizing events in your town, other food truck owners that understand the most profitable daily service locations, and the corporate contacts that book catering events.

Having a teacher rapidly increased the speed the Dave’s food truck business that would have otherwise took years to experience the same levels of success. Why not fast forward through early stages of trying to figure out who the local players are and where the biggest events are in your area? Instead find and compensate a mentor to send your success into hyper drive.

Crepe Myrtle Cafe Food Truck – Built by M&R Specialty Trailers and Trucks

Apply what you learn

You don’t have to have your food truck to apply what you’re learning already.  If you can try a pop-up or catering event for a friends birthday party…then apply and practice these skills before you start your food truck. Imagine yourself in the food truck while you’re practicing some of these skill sets.

If you’re putting together your business plan for your food truck with all of the financials, apply that new knowledge to your business as well.  Most of the skill sets your learning translate over to what you’re currently doing so flex these muscles as much as possible.

If you’re going to be investing tens of thousands of dollars into a food truck or hundreds of thousands into a restaurant, it makes sense to spend some time investing in yourself through classes, a mentor, or reading blogs and blogs like this. While taking a class is no guarantee of longterm success it will certainly increase your chances.

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