Behind the Scenes of Food Trucks
by Brandon Yam
Re-PLACE-ing Philadelphia is building an expanded archive of cultural memory that includes multiple histories, re-place-ing the established with new narratives and understandings. Notes consider place via the street, sound, food, trees, and other portals.
In partnership with educator Joshua Block, students from Philadelphia's Science Leadership Academy are creating and publishing their Philadelphia Field Notes. Brandon Yam talks to the owners of food trucks within in the city to get a behind the scenes look at the tasty and convenient spots.
Food trucks. We eat at them and love them. They are our “go-to” spot during our lunch breaks. The price of their food is great and the taste, even better. But have you ever wondered how these food trucks happen? Perhaps, what is the life of a food trucker? I’ve traveled around the city and interviewed three food truckers from different areas to see what it is like.
My first location had to be in the heart of Philly. I went to 19th and Market and interviewed a man named Vern. He told me a lot about the industry in the short amount of time that I was able to speak to him for. He spoke about how there’s a food truck association and that the association is the one picks the location for these food trucks. They don’t just place themselves wherever they please (which most of us may think). He also told me about how hard life is running a food truck. There are a lot of fees and processes that the truck has to go through in order to be established and this could take a lot of time. His daily routine is pretty brutal as well. He usually takes 2-3 hours to prep the food for the day and doesn’t get much sleep. Though food trucks may look like they receive very good business, it isn’t as good as we think. Vern is struggling financially to keep up with the cost that the city puts on him for his food truck while taking care of his family. He wishes that he knew about all of the obstacles he would have to go through such as the fees before going into the business.
My next location was 8th and Washington. Here I met Mohammed. He too has problems financially because of the fees. It’s to the point where he doesn’t even know if he can keep the food truck up within the next couple of months. He wasn’t always in Philly. He was from New York and upon moving into Philly with his food truck he didn’t know that there were different regulations and that took a toll on him and his business. There isn’t a central regulation that is carried among states/cities. Mohammed told me about how unpredictable the food truck business can be, your truck could break down, you could have underprepared, perhaps over prepared. There were too many variables for things to go wrong. He mentions that large empires are capable of “stomping” food truck businesses due to them not having a big enough name (trademarked business). His hours are very stressful and he always finds himself doing something for his job whether that is running out to grab supplies, preparing the food, cleaning the cart, etc.
Running food trucks are not as easy as they look. There is a massive amount of work that needs to be put into the truck before the truck even starts and even when it does start, the work doesn’t. The business is hit or miss and most of the times, not worth it. The hours and workload is straining physically and mentally. Many of the food truck vendors wished they knew more about the business before going into it. Some wanted to even expand and make their truck into an actual restaurant but could not find the funds to do so anytime soon. There wasn’t a lot of positive aspects to running a food truck aside from meeting people and hearing their stories. Their advice to us is if we want to go into the industry, we better have a unique approach to it or else we’ll be eaten alive.