Tales From the Food-Trucker’s Road

Lucky J's, Austin, Texas

After working his way up in the kitchen at local restaurants, Jason Umlas said he realized he wanted something different -- a new entrepreneurial endeavor and a more fulfilling and creative job.

“I wanted to do something for myself, and while I was working as a chef at a restaurant I bought a trailer, set the menu up and did the renovations to the trailer,” Umlas said. “I reached a point where it was time to quit the day job and dive head on in.”

Armed with the idea to combine chicken and waffles, help from his wife and friends, Umlas said he opened Lucky J’s Chicken and Waffles food truck in 2009 and has never looked back. He recently put a second company truck on the road.

However, he cautioned, it hasn’t always been an easy road.

Starting out, he didn’t know what to expect, and since has learned that the food-truck business is an up-and-down process. He said to drive profits, you must experiment with the highs and lows of the industry.

As for advice to other food-truck business owners, Umlas said the main logistics to focus on are 1) getting your health department requirements and 2) finding the appropriate location.

“Finding the right combination of traffic and other trailers to draw a crowd in is certainly important,” Umlas said. “For me personally, I like to be in an area where there are different choices for customers. I like to create an environment where people and their friends can come a couple different times a week and get what they want on any given day.”

But it may make more sense to try your luck on the road as a side project at first, to see if it’s a potential long-term opportunity.

“I wouldn’t give up the day job, because it’s a lot of hard work, and the money is not great at first,” he said. ”It’s something you have to have a lot of passion for and a lot of respect for. It’s a tough road you have to really be committed to it. “

Fishlips Sushi, Torrance, California

Out in California where food trucks are widely popular, Takeshi Kimura decided it was time to open a sushi truck.

“I was trying to start something different,” Kimura said. “A food truck was one of the options, and I have never seen a truck that sells sushi.”

Kimura said he expected the sales to be equal to that of a sushi restaurant or sushi to-go shop. He was looking for an investment with less overhead and more profit. So he opted for a custom-made truck, which he said is the first step to starting the business --- buying a truck. However, he did everything all at once.

“The food truck business may be easy to start, but it’s harder to keep on than a restaurant,” Kimura said. “Everyday you do something else and finding promising locations can be the toughest part for truck operators.”

Kimura’s truck is parked in Hawthorne, Calif.

Kimura said he went into the food truck business with no original intentions for advertising, but during the two-and-a-half months while his truck was being constructed, he learned about Twitter. Today he uses the social-networking site as a form of communication to  customers.

Kimura said the biggest advantage of owning a food truck is following the crowd. Your shop can go where the people are, but parking, he said, is a disadvantage. Without spots to park available, sales can suffer.

On the Fly, Washington, D.C.

Michel Heitstuman opened a “a healthy, grab n’ go food option on the streets” of Washington, D.C.

“No matter what the industry, the same analysis, work, planning, strategy, perseverance and development go into starting the new business and making sure it will thrive,” Heitstuman said.

Heitstuman also stressed the importance of getting a truck approved and licensed.

“On starting a food truck business --- research the area, the city, the regulations, making food, food on karts and competition,” Heitstuman said. “Begin putting together a plan that takes advantage of what you found in step one, and finalize the strategy, purchase the truck, taste test the foods, start the operation.”

On The Fly has experienced success since it’s start up, from award winning all-organic tacos to popular American-theme foods, consisting of all-natural hot dogs, organic sausages, mac-n-cheese and turkey chili.

“Know your market and look at all the possible issues and problems that could come up to derail what you believe is the best, easiest and most fun job in the world,” Heitstuman said.