Food Trucks Serve Up Small Business Through Pandemic

Todays News

The global pandemic has impacted a range of businesses negatively, including in the dramatically changed restaurant industry. But vendors in the food truck world, while finding ways to adapt to a shifting environment, also have reports of success. With Small Business Week in full swing, some of those rolling chefs share stories of triumph.

That includes Kurt Turner, who opened The Maine Line after moving to Sarasota in 2018. He said the changing habits of diners since last year has been a net positive for his company. When restaurants shut down in-person dining for a period last year, food trucks like his could continue operating largely as normal. Selling lobster from the back of a vehicle, he found a hunger among customers for fine food without the trappings of fine dining.

“People get lobster as a pretty nice meal,” Turner said. If people couldn’t order such a dish from a kitchen and have it served by a waiter, they still could order it from a window and sit with it at a park bench. “It’s been a positive for us from that perspective.”

For Steven Nunn, who has run a truck for Nunn Better BBQ since 2017 and served barbeque from a trailer for years before that, the last year isn’t quite comparable to pre-pandemic business in rerms of demand. But he has found an appetite for his roadside offerings. He runs his truck on weekends to events around the region, and he recalls sensing early on the desire many had for dining out when everyone was cooped indoors. He decided to advertise a special outdoor barbeque event in his own neighborhood, and within a couple days saw an online listing receive 25,000 views. He ended up serving food for up to 235 people in a single day, serving ribs from his trailer and other entrees from the truck to a crowd willing to wait as long as an hour to have an order filled.

It’s all fed a word-of-mouth campaign for Nunn’s food truck, and he reliably draws loyal fans of his dishes to events and stops. “I have good turnout every time I am out,” he said. “It’s not bad but I have seen days that are better.”

Both trucks help more than just the owners. Turner supports three employees, and at peak time times Nunn pulls in as many as five to work the truck,

Nunn and Turner each rely on social media to get the word out on stops, and as platforms become a more central part of the business model for food trucks, there’s also tools coming online for owners, Facebook just announced an invoice fast track program, as well as a small business funding portal.

For both, reliable customer bases have led to continued success even after restaurants fully reopened. But at the end of the day, those running trucks say the greatest keys to success turn on the basic principle of treating diners right so they come back and encourage friends to do the same. “We try and deliver world class customer service and make it all fresh,” said Turner, who figures he’s serving between 700 and 800 a week from his truck.

Photo courtesy of Nunn Better BBQ

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