NEW YORK - Prior to opening his first Lumpy€™s Ice Cream shop in Wake Forest, North Carolina, Buck Buchanan bought a food truck and developed a loyal local clientele, the Associated Press reports.
"My thought was to build a clientele, build a customer base, so when I actually opened the store, people would flock to it," Buchanan said. After about five years, "people started hollering and screaming on Facebook: 'I love your ice cream but I can't get it anywhere.'"
Lumpy€™s story is a similar one for foodservice operators who launched their business reputations selling tacos, barbecue, ice cream and other food from food trucks in cities and suburbs across the country. The training wheels approach has proved a prudent way to begin a bricks-and-mortar food business.
"We grew what I called smart," Buchanan said. "We'd get a new contract, and we'd figure out how we'd work the contract. We wouldn't grow any further until we figured it out. You never want to promise something and not be able to deliver."
Food trucks are much cheaper and less risky than opening a storefront, where failure rates (for stores) are roughly 30% in the first year of operation. The trucks are also great advertising "vehicles" for fixed locations.
For Tiffany Kurtz, owner of Flirty Cupcakes, which launched its first truck in May 2010, the $60,000 startup trust cost was far less than the $150,000 it took to open a bakery and restaurant earlier this year.
However, now that she operates both a storefront and food truck business, Kurtz said a food truck business isn€™t necessarily a long-term solution, with maintenance being an ongoing concern for food truck operators. Laura O€™Neill, owner of Van Leeuwen Ice Cream trucks, agrees.
"The trucks needed maintenance, with the engines breaking down and the batteries going flat. We knew a store would have less technical difficulties, and once we got the store manager, the store could more or less run itself," she said.