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Act Two.....
Old 07-03-2013, 10:15 PM   #1
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Act Two.....

Been contemplating what a second act might look like.

Can probably FIRE in 5 years but suspect I will be bored without some part time work. Plus with kids in college at that point, the disposable/discretionary cash that a small business will toss off will come in handy....... so Act 2 is important to me. My dad is 77 and working part time, so maybe it's in the genes too.

I have a couple of options but the one that I'd like to toss out here is a part-time (part of the year) business that can be "packed away" during summer months and/or travel time (planning to spend some ER time in other countries since living overseas has been a part of my life for the past 25 yrs or so).

Anyway, I am from the west coast originally and the "food cart" craze took off during the economic downturn of 2008 when many restaurants closed and chefs had no choice but to cut overhead and pedal their wares on the streets of major west coast cities (Portland Oregon now has a strong food cart culture). Selling quality food for low prices in a "to go" environment.

I am not a chef, but i would like to bring this concept to other locations of the USA...namely the mid-west. Thinking college towns are ideal for this - seasonal work when school is in session, game days, weekends, late nights after bars close, etc.... also these types of places tend to be where people are more open minded to new foods and dining concepts, are on a budget, and looking for healthy choices.

Just wonder how the "food cart" culture resonates with the readers on this list, who tend to be educated and have time on their hands to try new things and are occasionally on budgets.

Not thinking hot dogs .... more gourmet and/or international cuisine. Market research under way to determine popularity of that cuisine and selling price points (and profitability). I think i can clear $40K profit before tax for a 1-cart operation per year (operational for 8 months/year) ...but that is dependent of course on many factors but an estimate none the less.

I would be owner and Chef (i very much enjoy cooking as a hobby ) and have a menu and concept in mind. Investment would be my time, necessary licenses for food cart and health inspections, and of course the vehicle/food cart. I would be sole proprietor. DW and kids might help man the operation, or i will more likely hire some well-deserving and hard working college kids.

Anyone in this business? What are local laws governing food trucks, carts, places to park/set up? I've even considered sub-leasing parking lot space from a retail location to park my food cart/truck regularly, so as to have a few "regular/reliable" locations around the city. Is it as flexible as they say, or, as soon as you go on vacation, you lose brand equity and thus this suddenly becomes a 24x7 business vs a seasonal business. Portability of a cuisine truck is also attractive -- maybe allows me to operate in a few towns vs just a few locations in one town.

I realize this is way off topic for FIRE but the folks on here are smart and i've been toying with this idea in my head for a couple years now and ready to take next steps to get things going, so what questions would you ask if I came to you for financing (as an owner), or if you were going to do this business, or if you were ..... me.
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Old 07-03-2013, 10:25 PM   #2
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Food trucks have only recently been enabled in Seattle, and they seem to be very popular. Mostly lunchtime food for downtown workers. If people will stand around in the rain to eat a sandwich, then it will likely work almost anywhere. These trucks are not exactly cheap, though.

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Old 07-03-2013, 10:41 PM   #3
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Restaurants kicked up a fuss when they started putting a dent in their business so be sure to explore your local health codes and zoning ordinances. Because this may be a new concept in your town it will take a lot of research.

The Portland food carts are owner-Chef operated, I don't think they support much in the way of staff. If you haven't visited with our food cart proprietors you should. What looks great from a distance may really be hell on wheels. BTW, they rarely move once they have a following.
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Old 07-04-2013, 01:01 AM   #4
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I worked inside a food truck about 20 years again when my dad owned a "roach mobile" as they used to call it back then.

Woke up at 4 am. Leave the house early to buy the supply. Clean the truck. Get to our first route at 7am. Drive to about 5 different location till 2pm. Then it's back to the parking lot filled with 200 other food trucks and you spend the next 2 hours cleaning the truck. Drive back home at 4pm.

Now that I think back about what I had to do, I'm going to stop complaining about my 10 hours a day Corporate job having to listen to people whine all day about corporate policies. Listening to whiners is easy compared to the food truck!

Working inside the truck was hot...hot.

Now the "roach mobile" is cool and people track on the internet where the "cool" trucks are going to next. It's very popular here in LA. They have food truck fest all the times and food trucks are parked at every big events and their are long lines.

I think you really need a niche and you really have a passion about this to make it work. This is a real job. The food truck is going to cost you money. You'll have to built a reputation. You have to check local law as some city have strong restaurant association so you can park near their shop. And some people own route. You don't want Guido asking you why you're trying to muscle in.
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Old 07-04-2013, 01:54 AM   #5
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They're very, very popular here. Trucks and stands. The gourmet/ funky ones tend to do the best, especially with college aged kids.

We've got a really successful food stand popping up around here that sells different flavored french fries and sweet potato fries, covered in all sorts of sauces and frosting and herbs, whichever you choose.

Anywhere with lots of festivals will be good too. An artsy city would be nice. We've got at least 5 art festivals a year and an arts market on various weekends where food trucks make a killing. Beaches are nice too. There are tons of festivals, plus people don't want to have to give up parking spaces to find food, so close trucks are really nice
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Old 07-05-2013, 05:46 AM   #6
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A fast food eatery recently opened here, part of a major boom going on in our town, leading up to the opening a new commercial district (our sixth!) built around a new Wegmans opening in Spring 2014. What's interesting about this new eatery is that it is part of a chain, which started with a fleet of food trucks, and only recently backed into storefronts.

I'm seeing the food trucks as popular not so much because they're in any way less expensive - the fact that the food trucks charge the same prices as this new storefront charges refutes that - but just as a matter of trading off a place to sit and eat sheltered from the elements for the convenience of proximity to where you are. So, to me, that means that food trucks are going to be highly sensitive to where they're allowed to operate, changes in the (foot) traffic patterns in those areas, and the willingness of patrons to both trade off comfort for proximity and trade off convenience of either sort against economy. In other words, all the same problems of restaurants, with lower costs, but also some unique disadvantages and some unique advantages.
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Old 07-09-2013, 12:51 AM   #7
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thanks for all the great insights. yes, I am willing to put in time and some hard work to get this going -- but like the flexibility of packing up and leaving town for a while to enjoy semi ER.

The zoning laws and local ordinances as well as health codes etc are my biggest concern. No one seems to be able to answer those specifics -- it's a new concept where I am planning to set up and the local government is fairly "back water".... I think they even use dial up internet stilll... sshhhhhhhhhh buzzzz boink boink.... ha ha. The local bank isn't even online yet (is this 1991 or 2013) !!

Keep the thoughts coming. Does anyone "own the parking lot" where the food trucks set up? just charge rent for a powered/plumbed space to the food truckers / vendors (is that what they are called)? kinda like a camp ground? Set up industrial tables and umbrellas / chairs? Seems like that would be even better passive income. Cost is expensive, but if reasonably central location, you would create "pull" to bring people to you....then again, the concept of a truck is that you go to the people...right?

confused about food carts (let alone dryer sheets)....
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