Competitive food truck market presents challenges to newcomers

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Victor Jeong and business partner Brad Bae serve KPOP fries in the Bumblebees BBQ & Grill food truck. (Victor Jeong)

Provo residents and BYU students have seen a boom in the food truck industry over the past three years. The food truck business has become more competitive according to Victor Jeong, owner of the restaurant Bumblebees BBQ & Grill.

BYU graduate Jeong, who majored in food science, recently started running a food truck to promote his restaurant. He said there are many food trucks in the business currently competing for customers.

“It’s very saturated right now,” Jeong said. “There’s a lot of people that are still trying to get in.”

Jeong said food trucks like Waffle Love and Cupbop Korean BBQ currently control much of the food truck industry.

He explained there are fixed costs people must pay before starting a food truck. One of the costs is a health permit, which is $455 for a year in Utah County. Jeong said food trucks also need a business license for each city where they want to sell.

BYU graduate in recreational management Jinu Choi was a manager of a Cupbop Korean BBQ food truck and currently manages the Cupbop Korean BBQ restaurant south of BYU.

Choi said getting a health permit is frustrating because the Health Department is working to keep up with the surging interest in food trucks.

“The food truck business is a new one in Utah,” Choi said. “They keep changing (the rules) to make a better way I think.”

Edward Jeong, Victor Jeong and Brad Bae in front of their food truck. (Victor Jeong)

The number of food trucks available to buy in Utah is very small, according to Jeong. He said it is also hard to buy a food truck that matches the layout of a business perfectly. He bought a step van and renovated it in order to fit Bumblebees’ layout.

Jeong said the minimum cost for a step van and equipment is $45,000. He warns those who aspire to start a food truck to research prices to find good deals for these costs.

“They want to go fast,” Jeong said, about first-time food truck entreprenuers. “Then they end up spending way more than if they spent some time and tried to research where to get the cheapest prices.”

These prices can be researched on Amazon, Google and a restaurant equipment company called Webstaurant. Webstaurant has the lowest prices on food equipment, according to Jeong.

The owners of Cupbop saved money by buying their trucks from Oregon, according to Choi. The trucks they bought were renovated from old FedEx and UPS trucks.

Jeong said having a knowledge of electrical work and plumbing can also help those who are starting up food trucks save money.

Repairs are needed more often for a food truck than a restaurant, according to MJ Terry, a senior administrator for Waffle Love. Terry said people interested in a food truck need to budget for unexpected repairs.

“If our pipes freeze in the winter, we may not get out there to sell on time, meaning we’ve lost sales,” Terry said.

Customers at a Comic Con 5K event. Victor Jeong said going to events is a good way for food trucks to get their name out there. (Victor Jeong)

Jeong suggests people who want to start a food truck should get the best equipment, in order to avoid damages and breakdowns.

“You want to think, ‘Am I willing to risk breaking down over spending a little more upfront?'” Jeong said.

Because of these costs and risks, Jeong usually tells people not to do it unless they have a unique idea.

“There’s a lot of food trucks that are struggling, because they came in too late,” Jeong said.

Choi feels differently about the food truck market. He said if he could start his own business in the food industry, he would start a food truck.

“You can (gain) … supporters with food trucks way easier,” Choi said. “With food trucks you can go where (the supporters) are.”

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