Why Food Trucks Are Bellwethers For Potential Entrepreneurship

Photo of Patrick Sims Patrick Sims · March 21, 2018

Why does it costs roughly $5,000 a year to operate a food truck in Portland, Oregon but over $30,000 in Boston, Massachusetts?

My home of Washington, DC is ranked 19th — the second least-friendly city — according the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s new Food Truck Nation study, the most comprehensive report on food truck regulation in the U.S.

Boston and DC are not anti-food truck or against entrepreneurs or startups. By contrast, Boston is one of the most innovative cities in the U.S. — with its vibrant ecosystem of investors and research universities — and DC’s food incubator/accelerator, Union Kitchen, is churning out delicious new food concepts.

Talent and capital are just two major components of cultivating a healthy startup ecosystem — but that’s not all that’s needed to unlock opportunity. When it comes to food truck regulation, the problem stems from the fact that many cities are applying brick-and-mortar regulations to a mobile industry.

Many well-known brick-and-mortar restaurants were once food truck operators.

In many cities, though, the odds are stacked against food trucks.

In the case of Boston (from the report):

“Possibly the greatest challenge to a food truck operator in the Boston area is not the city itself, but the overlapping rules and fees administered by townships across the metro area. Food truck owners consistently cited “having to reapply in every municipality” as a major barrier to doing business. One owner, speaking for his industry, said that “we spend most of our time getting these permits, even for a one day event.”

There are many theories as to why the tech industry’s growth has been so explosive in the past few decades, but one that really sticks is that tech regulation is less restrictive compared to regulation of more mature industries, largely due to the amount of market access the internet provides. In other words, there are fewer barriers to reaching consumers and completing transactions.

So when we measure the difficulty of owning and operating food trucks across the country, we need think about whether the policy environment is encouraging innovation and opportunity across businesses of all types.

Doing so allows for a greater understanding as to which cities are better positioning themselves for innovative concepts and economic possibilities.

Kudos to the LGND team for their work on Food Truck Nation. The website, report, and map are insightful and beautiful. And thanks to the USCCF for being a great partner and trusting us to get the job done!