Keep on truckin’ this summer

With food truck season coming back into full swing, three operators are shining a light on what it takes to run such a business and the differences between it and having a stationary restaurant. “It’s very much a scientific process,” said Alex Fegaras, owner of FunnelCloud, which specializes in funn

Last updated on May 03, 23

Posted on Apr 27, 23

4 min read

With food truck season coming back into full swing, three operators are shining a light on what it takes to run such a business and the differences between it and having a stationary restaurant.

“It’s very much a scientific process,” said Alex Fegaras, owner of FunnelCloud, which specializes in funnel cakes.

Fegaras has been in the restaurant industry for 20 years. This is his third season operating FunnleCloud, after previously owning an Italian food truck. The biggest difference is the ability to go to a different scene each day, he said.

“As a restaurant chef, you’re going to the same location in the same four walls every day – it gets a little mundane. Whereas in a food truck, you have the opportunity to open up in a brand new spot every day of the week,” Fegaras said.

There is also a lot more behind the scenes work than with a stationary restaurant, Fegaras explained.

“So, for me to go and set up somewhere in Kitchener, I need to get a special events permit. So every time I go somewhere where it’s a festival, I have paperwork to fill out from regional jurisdictions, health, fire licensing; I’d say probably 40 per cent of a food truck operator’s time is designated to administration and accounting.”

While festivals are a big part of what food trucks do, there is also a lot of prep work that goes into planning for the day, said Christian Giffin, owner of Hometown Hot Dogs, which he started with his wife and son in 2021.

“For the week before, I’m setting up my orders, I am estimating what kind of volume we’re going to have. And based on that estimate,  I order X amount of bread, X amount of meat, X amount of toppings. All these things have to be considered. You need to make sure your payment systems are working and make sure you have enough cash,” he said.

Depending on the event, truck owners may change their menus to fit the crowds they’re expecting. For larger events with several thousand people, a smaller menu is best in order to serve a large amount of people and get food to them quickly.

“So smaller events, you can bring out more products, because you’re giving the guest more chances to buy something. For an event where there’s 10,000 people, you don’t want guests [waiting] because if that guest at the back of the line is waiting for 20 minutes they are going to walk away,” Fegaras said.

“I think once you become a food truck, the onus is less about the food. Because once you’ve built the truck, and your menu is set, you’re known for [one thing].”

That’s done in order to bring a little more control to the environment, he explained. It is easier to set expectations with a staff of three instead of 45, he added.

“So they know what I expect, there’s a lot less things lost in translation because your staff is small, which means execution is better. Order times and pickups are a lot faster,” he said.

Owners will often focus on creating more of an overall experience putting less emphasis on the food.

“It makes it a party. If there was a DJ that’s spinning the music, we’d be like the DJ [with the food],” said Kevin Thomas, owner of Big Jerk Smokehouse which has both a commercial kitchen and a food truck.

Giffin agreed, noting that is the goal of the upcoming Food-a-Palooza event he is organizing for May 6 at the Drayton municipal parking lot.

“So when you go you have FunnelCloud, you’ve got Jamaican food, you have German foods, and you have Hometown Hotdogs. So you have that whole variety. If you go have a hot dog over here, then go have a schnitzel. I’m gonna have dessert, we’re gonna have live music, and then there’s gonna be a craft show. It’s a whole-day event thing, so it’s that atmosphere that you create,” he said.

While each of the estimated 35 to 40 food trucks in the region are their own businesses that need to make a profit, most of the owners work together to promote the industry.

“There’s a mutual respect also between us, especially those of us who know each other,” Giffin said.

“There’s no competition, we all have our core competencies. So if I do like cinnamon sugar pretzels, which we do do, I wouldn’t do that if  I have Alex around because I do hot dogs and sausages,” he added.

“We set up together, we share events, we share contact info. If I can’t make it to an event, I will reach out to another sweet truck in the group, so we do work together. However, we are our own businesses. At the end of the day, it’s up to the operator as to what they do,” Fegaras explained.

This also helps with fluidity at big events, Thomas noted.

“The line-ups at some of these events are 100- 150 people long. You want to get the food in their hands as fast as possible. So I wouldn’t go to an event and have five, six things on my menu,” he said.

However there are a lot of barriers to operating a food truck, particularly regulations and how they are enforced. Food trucks have to renew their business license every year, and rules are different across the province and even in the different municipalities across Waterloo Region.

“If we can create these laws to be [uniform provincially so that once a truck is licensed in Toronto, they can now operate in and about all of Ontario. The differences [across the region] are astounding. Some of them ask for police checks, some of them won’t ask for a fire inspection,” Fegaras said.

These expenses, combined with fees that some festivals require, which can be thousands of dollars, add up, Giffin said.

“What we would want is that the provincial and local governments would want to support entrepreneurs, rather than create more roadblocks and make it more difficult to be successful.”

The smile of customers and the satisfaction they give is what keeps these food truck owners going.

“I was at an event on Saturday that was rained out but two people actually stopped and they said ‘This is the best hot dog I’ve ever had.’ They were so excited about that it made my whole day,” Giffin said.

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