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How To Build A Food Truck In Kansas City

Step outside your office at noon or go to down to the Crossroads on First Fridays and you'll see a huge crop of Kansas City's food trucks in all shapes and sizes, splashed with attention-vying graphics. But, how did their owners decide which vehicle was best for them?

On KCUR'sUp to Date, host Steve Kraske caught up with Chef Tito, owner of American Fusion Food Truck and Catering, Chef Brett Atkinson of Wilma’s Good Food Truck and Catering and Dan Stacks, sales manager of Mag Specialty Vehicles in Grain Valley, Missouri, for some truck talk.

At Mag Specialty Vehicles, they begin with an exploratory process with their clients. Stack says buyers have to decide between a food truck verses a trailer first.

“For the most part, [food trucks] can get in it and go," Stack says. "They don’t have to go out and find a truck to move the trailer. Sometimes turning a trailer takes a little bit more than turning a truck the same size.”

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Credit Caperton Morton / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3
Chef Tito's American Fusion Food Truck and Catering

Tito spoke to the maneuvering challenges of his high-end trailer that’s 40 feet long and 12 feet high.

“Sometimes you can’t go in some neighborhoods... If you go to an event, you have to be the first one there because finding a place to park is so difficult," Tito says.

But, he says that if his truck breaks down, he can find another vehicle to pull his trailer and still make it to a job.

And, he adds, “It’s very big, but we have capacity for more volume."

He designed his kitchen with interchangeable modules, such as multiple stoves, prep areas, and other appliances, which give his catering service more flexibility.

“I have a smoker with [capacity for] 450 pounds of meat that give me the ability to attend a 1,000 people,” Tito says

On the other hand, Atkinson is happy with his food truck’s serving capacity of 200. “After 200 people I’m spent and my brain is fried," he says.

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Credit Courtesy of Brett Atkinson
Chef Brett Atkinson's Wilma's Good Food Truck and Catering

His food trailer challenges came early, while retrofitting his 1966 Avion trailer.

“The only flat surface in that thing is the floor," Atkinson says. "Imagine a 25-foot-long Twinkie that’s hollow on the inside and putting square kitchen equipment into it.”

As for the food truck costs, Mag Specialty Vehicles offers less expensive, pre-engineered models that include the “must haves”.

According to Stacks, that includes, “refrigeration, some type of storage, and most municipalities require you have three sinks and a hand wash sink." Costs for a food truck begin at $85,000 and go up from there. Food trailer costs begin at $65,000.

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Credit Caperton Morton / KCUR 89.3
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KCUR 89.3

Mag Specialty Vehicles also offers custom models where the customers “can come to us and dream big... whether they want a 40 foot trailer or a 20 foot truck... with all the bells and whistles," Stacks adds. Those prices go as high as $250,000 and sometimes keep on going. Stacks says a customer once ordered a mobile radio station with a food truck kitchen on the back for close to $600,000.

Tito has a few of those extra options in his trailer.

“I have a sound system, I have television, I have computers," Tito says. "I have a bathroom. I have 180 gallons of water.”

A food truck or trailer’s exterior makes the first impression, so a lot of thought goes into the design.

 “[The design] depends on what the client is looking for," Stacks says, "They typically work with a graphic designer in order to be able to match [the design] up on their truck or trailer platform and then we do installation from there.”

For Tito, that means showing some patriotism.

"[My truck has] the flag of the USA and the name is American Fusion,” Tito says. “[Atkinson] put much passion in the whole trailer... His is more beautiful because he handmade everything.”

As for Atkinson, he let others take over the design.

“I worked with two artists here, local in KC," Atkinson says. "I just basically gave them free range because I cook, I don’t paint. So, I let them take over."

Caperton Morton is an intern with KCUR's Up to Date.