Food Trucks: An Operator's Journey From Mobile Business to Brick-and-Mortar

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large

There are several perks to starting a restaurant business on four wheels. 

Food trucks have less overhead costs. Not to mention, it's faster to get the concept up and running, and menus tend to be simpler. 

With all of these things in mind, there is less risk involved when starting a food truck than opening a brick-and-mortar, making it a great environment for amateur operators to learn the food service landscape.

However, there are also several challenges to operating a food truck. Getting a loan can be more difficult, the local regulations can be strict, there is limited space for meal prep, the mobile food industry is competitive, and the weather can heavily influence traffic. 

The particularly successful mobile food businesses that overcome these challenges often decide to expand the concept to a traditional brick-and-mortar. 

We decided to chat with two food truck owners who have had so much success on wheels that it led them to expand their concepts with a permanent store location. Brett Chiavari has two B.C. Tacos trucks, which he expanded to a brick-and-mortar in the South Florida area and Michael Davidson operates the GrilledCheezGuy truck and will be debuting a permanent store in San Francisco February. 

See what they had to say about their journey from food trucks to brick-and-mortar below.

Why did you decide to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant? 

Davidson: We have fans all over the bay area always asking where and when they can come visit.  I felt it was the time to start looking and this opportunity came from a client and seemed too good to pass up! 

Chiavari: We decided on opening a brick and mortar really early on in the business, roughly 6 months. We saw the response and the reaction to people with the truck, the tacos and we knew we were on to something. From that moment we weren't in a rush but just keeping our eyes open and looking for the right opportunity. We were excited to start growing the brand and finding a permanent spot where our customers can always find us. It has been very successful. We are getting ready to hit the four year mark of being opened and it keeps getting better and better. 

Why did you start the food truck first?

Davidson: I had won the Regional and National Grilled Cheese Invitational and with 2 trophies I thought it would be fun to try and sell my winning sandwiches on the streets. We started at the Oakland Art Mur Mur and it never stopped from there!

Chiavari: For a couple reasons: the love of tacos and to be my own boss. After I graduated college from University of Central Florida in 2007, I went right into an assistant food and beverage manager position at a top country club in the nation. I just knew this wasn't the right atmosphere for me. I'm not, nor have I ever been, a corporate guy and I could only do it for so long. I had a real passion for food, that comes from both my parents being executive chefs, I always had jobs in restaurants and I loved tacos. My original business idea was a restaurant, but with the boom of food trucks I thought "instead of the people coming to me, why don't I take my tacos to the people!"

 

A photo posted by BC Tacos® (@bc_tacos) on

 

What does a store offer that the food truck doesn't?

Davidson: We have some exclusive sandwiches for the store & during happy hour will be doing grilled cheese boards. They will be like your fancy cheese boards but grilled cheese strips instead of various artisan cheeses. 

 

A photo posted by Natalia (@natleonn) on

 

Chiavari: SPACE! The busier we get, the more product we have to put out on a daily basis. To have a restaurant and a crew that handles prep for both trucks and the restaurant is amazing. At the beginning, we were doing about 95% of the prep for the entire menu on the truck and some days it would be next to impossible. Now, we probably do about 5% of prep on the truck and everything else is handled in the restaurant. 

How is it different operating a food truck versus the brick-and-mortar store?

Davidson: I think it will be easier as it's a stable and stagnant set-up as opposed to having to go all over the place and set up our kitchen everywhere. Now the people come to us!

Chiavari: I feel its definitely more stressful. Not only are you opening a restaurant, but you're putting an automobile on the road. Worrying about the engine, how it drives, is that noise normal, should it be vibrating, etc. It's much easier, in my opinion, to set up a restaurant where you only have to worry about the restaurant, not everyones mode of transportation.  

How did you decide on your brick-and-mortar's location?

Davidson: I didn't really. I was offered this location and knowing SF and how it's booming, I felt this was a great up and coming location to start. It also has a LOT of local tech businesses nearby to serve.

Chiavari: We were looking for an up and coming area, that was in a good location and had the best price. We felt like Davie had that to offer us. Davie has a great mix of young families, young couples, older families, and college students. We feel our menu and our brand truly has something for everyone.