Every Bride Expects a Lovely Food Truck
The Wall Street Journal 6/14/2011
By SUMATHI REDDY
Amy Maureen Yee had all the trappings of a Brooklyn wedding. An off-white lace dress that was a remake of a vintage gown. Bundles of tulips grown by her and the groom.
And food trucks serving huaraches, schnitzel and dumplings on paper plates.
“We started to look at traditional caterers and the costs were just crazy,” said Ms. Yee, who got married last month in the Green Building in Carroll Gardens. For a third of the price she hired three food trucks instead.
Street sales aren’t the only source of revenue for the gourmet food trucks that have taken the city by storm in a few years. Some are deriving as much as half of their income from catering and rentals.
They cater everything from weddings to bar mitzvahs to movie and television crews filming on the street. Food trucks also are being hired by businesses to woo corporate clients.
Some are even papered over with ads to promote products ranging from Coach bags to airlines to corporate food chains.
“We have a major company that is looking to us to promote their brand,” said Grant Di Mille, president and co-founder of Sweetery, which has three trucks. “How interesting is that? That a company with 250-plus retail locations, a multimillion-dollar company, is coming to us to promote their brand.”
The expansion of food trucks underscores how quickly this independent band of meals-on-wheels has evolved into recognizable brands. Some of the most successful trucks, such as Schnitzel & Things, have opted to open brick-and-mortar restaurants. Because catering and corporate events often involve a service charge or slightly higher prices, they are more profitable than street sales.
There is no official count for the number of food trucks in the city but David Weber, co-owner of the Rickshaw Dumpling Truck and president of a newly formed trade group representing them, estimates there are 40 to 50 gourmet-food trucks. Rickshaw, which began as a restaurant, now has four trucks and just opened a second restaurant.
“Weddings have been really good for us,” said Mr. Weber, whose truck was at Ms. Yee’s wedding. “Bat mitzvahs are also really popular.”
Some in the industry say the interest in rentals and catering was a surprise. David Belanich, an owner of the Joyride truck, which sells coffee and frozen yogurt, said that once the weather got warm the calls started streaming in.
“At first it was the films, we worked on ‘Arbitrage,'” he said, referring to the Richard Gere movie. “We got a call at 4:30 p.m. and they wanted us in the Bronx at 2:30 a.m. We did a couple of pilots. It’s been crazy recently.”
He estimates that about 20% of his revenue is from catering and corporate events. The truck has a corporate client it delivers coffee to every week for a half an hour.
While Rickshaw and Joyride focus on catering, others like Sweetery do a lot of corporate promotions.
Mr. Di Mille and his wife, Samira Mahbourbian—who have marketing and advertising backgrounds—rent their trucks for promotions, wrapping part or all of the truck with the brand of the company they are working with, while almost always co-branding so their logo is also visible.
“What I can make one day in our promotional truck could take me two-plus weeks in our regular truck,” said Mr. Di Mille.
Sweetery has worked with the Food Network, Hewlett-Packard, Lacoste and Capital One, among others, in promotions that almost always involve dispensing food from the truck. At a Yahoo promotion last week, the truck was giving out free whoopie pies. The promotions can net the business tens of thousands of dollars.
Not all truck owners are fans of the corporate advertising model.
Thomas DeGeest, owner of the Wafels & Dinges truck, said that even though he’s worked with HSBC and the New Yorker on events, he doesn’t want to become an advertising billboard: “I feel like it’s prostituting my identify. I work hard to get my identity established. I don’t want to confuse my customers.”
Mr. DeGeest, whose enterprise has expanded to include four carts, said his company focuses on catering.
Yassir Raouli, owner of the Bistro Truck, which dishes out Moroccan food, estimates he makes as much as half of his revenue from catering and special events. He has wrapped his truck for Rocco DiSpirito’s book launch and for the Ace Hotel’s opening. “It doesn’t matter to us as long as we get paid,” he said.
Corporations aren’t the only ones using trucks. One New Jersey man rented the CupcakeStop truck to propose to his wife last year, said Richard Kallman, owner of the business, which has two trucks and a retail location in Montclair, N.J.
And recently he had the truck wrapped with the picture of a young woman for her bat mitzvah at Espace.
For Ms. Yee, the food trucks were the hit of the wedding. In addition to Rickshaw, the couple hired Schnitzel & Things and Country Boys, a Mexican food truck that is part of the Red Hook Vendors group that are stationed at the ball fields on summer weekends.
Ms. Yee said she ended up spending about $3,580 for the three food trucks at her 110-person wedding. She used separate vendors for appetizers, coffee and dessert, and also had to pay for general food staffing and chair and table rentals. But the total cost was still significantly less than the approximately $20,000 quotes she was receiving from traditional catering companies, which included all food-related costs, equipment and staff.
“We love food trucks. When it’s summertime we go to the Red Hook Ball Fields almost every weekend,” she said. “So this is sort of a big part of our relationship together.”