The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University

Xpress Magazine

Money on wheels

Hazelle Arcega takes an order through the window of The Yolk food truck in Vallejo. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
Hazelle Arcega takes an order through the window of The Yolk food truck in Vallejo. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

Food trucks are quickly evolving into an economic engine

Nonet Arcega’s day begins at seven in the morning. The slicing of food on a chopping board can be heard from his kitchen. A variety of chopped meats and vegetables fill Arcega’s countertop, creating an abundance of color.

Even though his day job does not start for another four hours, the preparation for it begins bright and early. Once finished, Arcega loads the prepped ingredients into his mobile business and is ready to serve his customers.

Since mid-May of this year, Arcega, along with his family, have started running a food truck called The Yolk. Their food truck service travels around Vallejo, California and serves unique Filipino-style breakfasts.

Pork sisig tacos and longanisa kimchi fried rice are two of the main dishes that are included on the truck’s menu. These two dishes are typically known as “silog.” According to Señor Sisig owner, Evan Kidera, silog is best defined as “a Filipino breakfast dish that includes meat or some other protein with garlic rice, fried egg, and a wedge of tomato and vinegar.”

As lunch comes around, customers of all ages come to enjoy the food that Arcega and his family provide.

“We love to cook and we love breakfast,” says Jhing Arcega, wife and business partner of Nonet. “We just want to be different, not so much to follow the trend.”

The Yolk owner Nonet Arcega (left), daughter and employee Hazelle Arcega (center), and employee Joelle Hilario (right) pose out front of their food truck in Vallejo. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
The Yolk owner Nonet Arcega (left), daughter and employee Hazelle Arcega (center), and employee Joelle Hilario (right) pose out front of their food truck in Vallejo. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

While their business is on the right track, it was certainly difficult to begin. Some food trucks today are born out of a chef’s desire to deliver exceptional street food or simply take a test drive in the industry.

Established restaurants have also started their own food trucks in order to expand their catering business. For example, Gott’s Roadside, a popular gourmet burger restaurant in the Bay Area, offers a red-and-white food truck that specializes in catering services for a variety of events.

The food truck industry experienced an evolvement just as the economy began to sink. According to an article in the Huffington Post, “Restaurateurs who were hesitant to drop serious cash on launching a restaurant turned to mobile trucks as a less expensive way to sell food in a down economy.”

Although the food truck industry is in a constant boom, starting out in the business is not easy. Many factors, such as health and parking permits, need to be taken into consideration before deciding when opening day is. Running a food truck also includes other expenses, like the average monthly food cost. These are aspects that street food lovers probably do not take into consideration when they purchase their delicious meals.

What truly matters to the food truck owners is seeing their customers enjoy the unique food that cannot be found in restaurants. The modern-day food truck is a combination of traditional, cultural cuisines with gourmet restaurant ingredients. Even though the growth of the food truck phenomenon has started even before the modern-day food truck, it is still continuing to grow.

While starting a food truck may seem easier than starting a restaurant, it is still quite the journey to undertake. The food truck industry is costly and the process of starting in it can be lengthy.

According to Food Truck Empire, a food truck can cost about $50,000. At this price, the owner may have bought a used food truck that has been remodeled to fit a new focus.

“We saw our food truck on Craigslist. It was actually a famous truck in Sacramento,” says Nonet Arcega. “It was called, OMG Burger. We bought it for about $16,000.”

This, of course, does not include the cost of outfitting the truck. Priceconomics states that customizing a food truck can cost between $20,000 to $100,000. This includes the outer design and possible new appliances, such as burners and a refrigerator.

Licensing and permits also constitute a major part of the expenses. The required licenses include a business license and food and health certifications.

For the Arcegas, acquiring health certification was not difficult because the previous owner of their truck already acquired the necessary paperwork.

“The truck had a license before,” says Arcega. “When we had applied for the Vallejo licensing, it was almost ready. Only minor fixing had to be done.”

Certain cities and counties oversee different licenses so that food trucks can travel to different areas to serve customers. For example, a truck that is usually located in Berkeley would need to be cleared by the city of San Jose in order to serve food there.

Overall, certification and licensing expenses can cost between $2,000 to $4,000 per year depending on the percentage that the truck operates during the year as well as coverage plans.

In order to create and provide quality service, food truck owners legally have the option to prepare their food in a commissary. Commissaries are kitchens that are leased to food truck owners. These kitchens provide the necessary space for food chefs to park and restock their trucks with items that they need.

Once all immediate groundwork is finished, the food truck is ready for business. After customers have ordered their meals, the preparation begins.

“On a regular basis, it’s all cooking,” says Arcega as he describes what happens once an order is placed. “There is usually two or three people inside the truck. I do most of the cooking and the other two do the prep, garnishing, and take orders.”

The cost of running a food truck compared to a restaurant is quite moderate. For Arcega, labor costs are not much of an issue as majority of the workers of The Yolk consist of his children. Arcega states that since he and his wife pay for their school tuition and car payments, their children in return work for the truck. However, if an individual who is not a part of their family works, he or she would be paid $8 per hour.

According to Mobile Cuisine, “labor costs vary with the type of food service operation.” In general, if a food truck sells higher quality food, then the business will have “higher food and labor percentages than a typical taco truck.”

For The Yolk, Arcega spends about $300 per week on food since labor is not an important factor. Acquiring food is not difficult for the owner as he is able to purchase food wherever he parks the food truck. Local grocery stores happen to be conveniently close to the usual spots where he parks.

Parking is also a component that must be taken into account for the food truck business. It is an aspect that is important because it is where much of the business occurs. Food truck operators typically must contact property management officials to gain permission to operate. Positioning the truck in a place where customer attraction is high, such as a plaza where businessmen go to have lunch, is good practice.

Social media is another important factor to the food truck business. It is one of the primary ways for vendors to break into the food business. By food trucks utilizing various social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, the word about their business can easily be spread.

Food vendors use these platforms to tell their loyal customers where their truck is going to be located and their hours of operation.

Arcega states that while 75 percent of their marketing is through word of mouth, it is social media that gives their truck an extra boost in business.

Social outreach helps promote “brand loyalty” as well as help the culture of street food flourish. With the usage of social media, customers can easily share their food truck experiences as well as give a description of how delicious the food provided on the menu is. By doing this, loyal customers are providing new customers a share of their knowledge on good street food.

As the food truck industry keeps expanding, finding customers to benefit infrastructure is quite easy.

Off the Grid, which is highly popular to many Bay Area natives, gives food truck owners the opportunity to have easier access to loads of hungry customers. On the organization’s website, it states that it offers “thirty-five weekly public markets throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Food vendors offer a variety of foods, from Asian to Mexican cuisines, apply to this  organization so that they can serve attendees of the event. Some food trucks even offer “fusion” food, which is a blend of two different types of food.

One popular food truck, Señor Sisig, serves Filipino-Mexican style dishes. Food on their menu includes the sisig taco and the “señor” sisig burrito. Both dishes combine the meat from pig’s shoulder and the usual ingredients found in tacos and burritos.

After questioning several customers about why they choose to sometimes purchase meals at food trucks rather than restaurants, most say that the variety and quality of food is what draws their attention.

“You don’t find sisig nachos at a typical Filipino restaurant,” says twenty-two-year-old, Erwin Macalalad. “Some trucks offer food that give a different take on cultural dishes. I sometimes crave for food outside the norm.”

The variety of foods listed on food truck menus tend to change, unlike restaurants. Pricing for full meals normally ranges between $8 to $10, because of the convenience of these mobile vendors. The fact that food trucks offer fancy food at nearly the same price of food at a restaurant is what attracts customers; the bringing together of communities through shared cuisines is what keeps the street food culture growing.

The cost of creating a food truck is lower than ever as compared to big-named restaurants. Mobile food vendors also have the advantage of changing their menus if customer feedback of certain meals is not up to par. These two aspects contribute to the reason why street food vendorsThe unique food that these mobile businesses offer is extremely convenient. Within a couple minutes, an affordable, delicious meal is ready. Hungry customers are satisfied with their fusion-style meal that may not be found in restaurants.

It is highly apparent that the industry is successful as of now, but who is to say that it will be in the future? Perhaps heavier law regulations and food permits will be put into action such as it is for liquor stores and restaurants. No one will ever know.

Infographic created by Catherine Uy using Piktochart.
Infographic created by Catherine Uy using Piktochart.
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The student-run magazine of San Francisco State University
Money on wheels