Because Of The Coronavirus, Kansas City Food Trucks Are Finding Success In The Suburbs
Once reliant on the lunch rush and big events, food truck operators are rethinking their business model in the pandemic.
Since March, restaurant enthusiasts have worked an ever-changing puzzle of how they can get their foodie fixes without endangering themselves or others. And one piece of that puzzle seems to be food trucks.
“I think people are having a really great dining experience without the risk of worrying about, 'Are the people at the restaurant I’m going to being responsible?’” says Jon Poteet, owner of Mr. Bevis Catering Co.
Poteet had just gone full-time with his catering business when the pandemic hit. Between March 14 and March 17, he lost more than $100,000 dollars in event cancellations. That’s when he decided to pivot, even though people told him he’d lost his mind.
Poteet, who already sells a line of barbecue rubs in 11 states, bought a food truck.
“I said, well, it’s either do something, or just take it laying down and get killed because we lost our catering business,” Poteet says.
He got the truck up and running by mid-June, and now has events booked all the way through October — but they're not the kinds of events you might imagine.
Homeowners’ associations and other neighborhood groups have started calling food trucks to their private streets, spreading word of their arrival on apps like Next Door or through Facebook groups.
Matt Geller of the National Food Truck Association, headquartered in southern California, says, “Well-connected suburbs are the bread and butter. If the region has well-connected suburbs, then you’re going to see success in the space.”
Poteet has seen exactly that. He says parking in suburbs “allows the neighborhood to come together as a community, and neighbors to be neighbors, and get outside of the four walls of the house and have some socializing.”
“I think that’s been a lot of the success of the food trucks. Food is only part of the restaurant experience,” Geller says. “Being out and about is the other part. The food trucks even expand upon that. The experience of a food truck, you almost feel like you're at an event, and that feels good.”
That’s not to say every single food truck is thriving.
Geller says that now, “You kind of have the exact opposite of what we understood to be the keys to success. So, pre-COVID it was densely populated areas, lots of people in office space, the ability for the office space to quickly get out to their tenants that ‘Hey, a food truck is coming.’”
Stephen Monroe, co-owner of KC Gyro Guys, says he has friends who regularly park downtown and are struggling now.
“The people having issues are the ones working downtown, because there’s no one there with people working from home,” Monroe says. “The ones that are succeeding are the ones that are doing events, that are doing HOAs. I want to say that food trucks are doing well, but it’s the ones that have events.”
In more normal times, a lot of food trucks rely invitations, regularly scheduled events, or a set pattern of stops for the lunch rush. But that business model doesn’t really exist right now.
“All of a sudden they had to figure it out themselves,” Geller says. “Running a food truck, if you’re doing everything you’re supposed to do, you’re the manager, you’re the owner, you’re the chef, you’re the special events director, and you’re the guy that does all the marketing. A lot of these trucks have basically outsourced a lot of that.”
So those who can manage every task solo are seeing large rewards during the pandemic, as Ted Long and Stephen Monroe can attest. “We’re going to sell half a million dollars in our first year,” Long says.
Army veterans Long and Monroe bought their truck this spring like Poteet. They participate in the monthly Blue Springs Car Cruise, but otherwise they’re parked at Blue Ridge Blvd. and State Line in the parking lot of a BP gas station in a busy suburb.
For them, the combination has been a winning formula. “We’re like one of the pandemic success stories,” Long says. “People are addicted to our food.”
In pandemic times, Geller says, “The food truck in a neighborhood that comes once a week is replacing the big events. Instead of going to one big event with concerts and corn dogs, you’ve got a little event where you get to see some people and experience a little bit of normalcy in this really crazy time.”