How to Start a Food Truck in Philadelphia

How to Start a Food Truck in Philadelphia

Living or working in Philadelphia, it would be impossible for you to escape the booming food truck business here. With food trucks like The Cow and the Curd, Brotherly Grub Food Truck and Foolish Waffles becoming popular, it is one of the fastest growing industries in Philadelphia. You see them on street corners satisfying hungry workers on their lunch or dinner breaks and even serving up grub at local festivals and other outdoor events.

If you want to get in on this action, there are a few things you should know about how to start a food truck in Philadelphia:

Pick a winning food truck concept

Because the industry has been booming since 2008, food trucks have evolved from the simple mom and pop little grey food truck or cart where you could grab a quick hot dog for steak sandwich in between meetings or classes to more sophisticated, branded food trucks that are selling an image as well as food.

Philadelphia is a foodie town and between all the restaurants and food trucks already out there, you will need to make sure that whatever you are offering your customers is unique, something they can’t miss out on. Think about what types of food you want to offer and if buying local and organic will be an important part of your mission. Food trucks today can offer culinary masterpieces as well as simple fare so think about what you are good at and where there is more of a need in the Philadelphia market. This will take some research, of course, so make sure you have a good handle on what food trucks already serve the Philadelphia market as you do your creative brainstorming.

Make connections with other Philadelphia food truck owners

As early as possible, make connections with other Philadelphia food truck owners. They are a good source of support and guidance because they have been where you are now and can offer you good nuggets of advice and help you navigate all the regulations and zoning requirements for operating a food truck in Philadelphia. Look for food truck associations like the Philly Mobile Food Association too. They are another good source of support. Having a mentor can really make a big difference as you are starting out.

Figure out your food truck startup costs

How much starting a business costs can vary not only by the types of business, but also by where the business will be located. Every city, county, state has its own regulations and the costs of services, rent, supplies etc. can vary as well in different parts of the country.

In Philadelphia, your food truck startup costs may include the following:

  • Permits, licensing and insurance which can run from anywhere between $500 to $1,000
  • Cost of truck (expect to pay around $80,000 for a good one)
  • Inventory (food and supplies) which can be $1,000 or more
  • Commissary fees which can vary but plan on at least around $400 a month
  • Upkeep and maintenance of the truck which can vary.

Use these numbers to help you create a solid business plan that takes into account how much you need to invest initially and how long it will take before you are earning a solid income from your food truck.

Buying your truck in Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, there are a lot of options for getting your food truck. You can buy or rent one. And if you buy one, you can buy used to save money or put out the extra for a custom-fitted brand new truck. There are pros and cons to all of these options so you need to consider your financial situation and figure out what is the best option for you. Check classified ads and visit local companies that custom design food trucks so you can make the best decision for your financial situation. The most important thing is to make sure the truck is in good condition so it is not constantly breaking down on you and that you have all the equipment, storage and cooking space you need to be efficient when serving your customers.

Find a commissary in Philadelphia

All food trucks in Philadelphia are required to have an off-site kitchen where they can prep food, clean all their equipment and store food properly. Find one that is in a good location and has all the tools you will need at a reasonable rent. You don’t want one that is too far away from where you will be selling because of food safety issues.

Cut through all the red tape

Besides figuring out your finances and buying or renting your food truck, you will have a lot of red tape that you have to cut through before you can even hit the road. This is everywhere not just Philadelphia.

In Philadelphia, make sure you stop by Health Department, Office of Food Protection for all the necessary paperwork and requirements. Here is the list of information you need to provide to get things rolling. You can go to their offices at 321 University Avenue, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA 19102 during their walk-in hours for help filling out the application.

The list includes a commissary application, a mobile food vending application, a fee assessment and a preliminary sanitation worksheet and business/liability/fire/auto insurance. You also need to get your truck inspected and apply for a commercial activity license, a non-permanent retail food license and a vendor motor vehicle license. Philadelphia requires that all your permits be in order before you can hit the road.  Also find out from the health department about food truck license cost.

Also find out if it would behoove you to get other licenses like the Philadelphia Business Privilege License, the “Food Establishment, Retail Non-Permanent Location” license and other licenses like sidewalk sales license and curb market licenses.

A health inspector will also come out and inspect your food truck and your commissary to make sure you are following all safety regulations.

Get food safety certified

Anyone who deals with food in the public realm needs to be certified in the proper methods for food safety. The food safety course must be approved by the Philadelphia Department of Public Health and you must receive an official City of Philadelphia Food Safety Certificate that you must display on your food truck for your customers to see.

Get the scoop on zoning ordinances

Like in any big city, finding places to park your food truck is one of the biggest challenges in Philadelphia. There are different rules for where food trucks are allowed to park and what permits you will need. Check to see if there are any restrictions on parking near restaurants or whether you need to be parked near a bathroom if you are going to be in that spot for a long time. Experienced food truck owners always advice that you schedule locations ahead of time so you know where you are going and when and makes it easier to make sure you have all your permits in order. Local events are also another good place to take your truck, but keep in mind that they have their own set of regulations to follow as well.

Owning a food truck in Philadelphia can be a great investment and a lot fun, just make sure you follow these guidelines to help get you started.

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