The novel coronavirus pandemic has reduced the number of food trucks in Southern California, but new opportunities have opened up for some vendors during troubled times.
According to Ross Resnick, founder of Roaming Hunger, a West Hollywood-based food truck booking company, COVID-19 restrictions have polarized. Although times have been tough for more than a year, some trucks are doing better business than before, he said in a phone interview.
“It was a time of incredible creativity for food trucks, seeing where they can be, where they can’t be and being as flexible as possible.”
When Governor Gavin Newsom first locked California in mid-March 2020, the demand for food trucks dwindled. Most of the places where they did business – office buildings, schools, sporting events, trade shows, and festivals – were closed. Gourmet food trucks, such as those sought after by gourmets with unusual menus, have lost up to 80% of their business, according to an estimate by Arafat Abdelkarim, president of an Orange County commissioner named International Catering.
Full-service restaurants had to close their dining rooms and also had great success.
However, food trucks have advantages over stationary restaurants. For one thing, they can move.
“Many now offer gourmet meals that come right in our neighborhood so we can eat out even if indoor dining is restricted during the pandemic,” wrote economist Andrew H. Hait in an article published in September by the US Census Bureau was published.
With little corporate business and most events on hold, successful food trucks began wooing large apartment buildings and homeowners associations, Resnick said.
Matt Geller, chairman of the board of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, said vendors had also switched from working days to evening shifts.
“It went from high-density office buildings to suburbs, a neighborhood with, for example, 15 people who ordered delivery that evening,” Geller said in a telephone interview. “While it’s not nearly what it used to be, it’s still a touch of normalcy.”
One truck that learned to adapt was The Big Easy Sandwich at the Inland Empire.
When the pandemic broke out, it lost many weddings and major events like union picnics that feed thousands, Beaumont owner Aracely Jarrell said.
“But we did a lot of business. We got in touch with our own community and that kept us busy, ”she said.
The Big Easy went from providing Last Name Brewing in Upland to branching out for tractors in Calimesa. But their customers were ousting the store, and so the truck continued east, Jarrell said in a telephone interview.
The truck was awarded a 17-week contract for international horse shows at the Desert International Horse Park in Thermal.
“We just rolled with the blows and adapted to the demographic situation. But we had to find the market in which we would be successful. “
It’s difficult to know how many food trucks are out of business.
“Some trucks are completely shut down. Some trucks are leaving and are still waiting to come back, ”said Geller.
“There are so many permanent food trucks,” he added. “Nobody ever lets go of a permit when they have a permit to drive a truck in Los Angeles County, Orange County, or San Diego County. If you let the permit expire, you’ll need to update it to the latest California code when you get it again. So they sit there a lot, waiting to go out.
“If there’s a demand for food trucks, you’d better believe someone will step in.”
He said with new revenue streams, demand could potentially double when traditional business returns.
Resnick sees bookings for events like weddings and birthday parties increasing, though not before the pandemic.
Christian Murcia has had a truck called Crepes Bonaparte in Orange County for over 10 years. He and his wife, Danielle, also run a stationary restaurant in Fullerton, provide catering, and book other food trucks for businesses like colleges in Orange, Los Angeles, and San Diego counties.
In a telephone interview, he said the number of food trucks in Orange County had dropped dramatically, although he hadn’t seen it in the surrounding counties. He wasn’t sure why, but did realize that most vendors can’t just wait for business to come back.
Food trucks have a relatively low overhead, with employees being a major hassle and some being able to do without them.
Murcia said when the pandemic hit, “We’ve reduced the variable expenses we could, which is what our job was.”
The couple have passed on to themselves from 25 employees and are now back to 20. They had a truck they didn’t use and recently started stopping it in Whittier, where they are experimenting with online sales. Customers order in advance and then come to the truck to collect their groceries.
Geller and Resnick see food trucks offering the ability to pre-order online, but Murcia said that really doesn’t fit the business model.
“We are already the convenient option. It’s not much more convenient. “
Murcia said he was not expecting a speedy recovery.
“The Orange County’s food truck industry is a really big dump overall, and it will take a long time to get back to normal.”
In a recent report, data company IBISWorld forecast business growth of 6.8% for food trucks in 2021. Resnick said he hears from many entrepreneurs interested in starting their own trucks. Some are foodies with a dream, others are displaced restaurant professionals.
Murcia wondered if available trucks will be able to service a growing number of events they want and if new trucks can fill the void.
But with the arrival of spring and the appearance of things opening up, Jarrell is hoping for the future.
“Our president promised to vaccinate everyone. I think we are going to have a great summer, ”she said.
“People will want out.”
Resnick said people are ready to socialize.
“When we meet, how are we going to feed everyone? A food truck is perhaps one of the best ways to do this. It’s outside, reserved and aloof. It checks all the boxes. “