These days food trucks run the gamut from “roach coaches” at construction sites to glam, shiny tricked-out coaches staffed by top chefs. But the history of food trucks begins way back in 1866 when a rancher had a problem.
Charles Goodnight needed to move 2,000 head of steer from Texas to New Mexico through rough desert inhabited by hostile Indians. Preparing food for the workers on the eight-week cattle drive was a challenge. He took an old Studebaker wagon and retrofitted it with a kitchen, hired a cook and the rest is history. The food needed to travel well, so the men mostly ate beans, salted meats, biscuits, and coffee. Slang for good simple food was “chuck” so the cattle hands began calling it the chuck wagon.
At the same time in cities along the East Coast horse drawn carriages were beginning to be retired for streetcars. Industrious citizens, mostly immigrants, repurposed the old carts and buggies (and later street cars) and turned them into places to grab a quick bite to eat. The pushcarts sold primarily oysters and clams, according to MidTown Lunch. They later evolved as different ethnic groups emigrated to the US and took up the business, such as Greek souvlaki making a bit of room for Middle Eastern Halal.
Urban Food Trucks
The first pushcart market (or group of pushcarts) was established in New York in 1886 when four Jewish brothers decided to go into business together, selling different items on each cart. This was in violation of a law at the time that required pushcarts to move every 30 minutes. There were other issues as well with cleanliness and freshness of food. The food carts were hard to regulate.
In November of 2008, Kogi BBQ opened a gourmet street truck in Los Angeles. The food world snapped to attention as the patrons loved it, and his competitors saw a potential new way to make money. These days start-up costs for a food truck run anywhere from $30,000 to $80,000, which is cheap compared to the range for a restaurant that is between $125,000 and $500,000. It’s still a great entry point for an entrepreneur looking to make his way in the food business.
Finding a Food Truck Near You
We love the new trend of farmers markets leaving space for food trucks so you can grab fresh produce and maybe a little treat as well. Today there are over three million food trucks in the United States. Ask the locals who’s good or check out RoamingHunger.com for some foodie trucks to try out. In Boston, we recommend Clover Food Trucks and Red Bones BBQ. (I so, so love Red Bones).
The past five years have seen huge industry growth and mostly Mom and Pop trucks have jumped into the fray. The market is about $857 million per year employing just over 14,000 people (which isn’t a ton because most of those Moms and Pops don’t hire employees). The market is expected to grow another 9.3% this year, but IBISWorld thinks the growth will begin to level off with market saturation.
What is your favorite food truck food? Tell us below and we’ll hunt up a few recipes!