David Weber co-founded the Rickshaw Dumpling Bar in Manhattan in 2005 and took it mobile with a food truck three years later. Now the dumpling-monger has two storefronts, four trucks, and a kiosk in Times Square. The hipness of selling gourmet food out of a vehicle may have faded even before Burger King announced it would deploy food trucks to hawk its new menu, but Weber, a 34-year-old former business consultant, sees trucks as a lasting part of the restaurant industry. He started the NYC Food Truck Association last year (it now has about 30 members) and recently published The Food Truck Handbook (Wiley, 2012), a guide for would-be chefs on wheels. I sat down with him last week at the World Financial Center’s Food Truck Court to talk about using trucks to test-drive restaurant ideas and about truckers’ battles with cities, restaurants, and each other. Edited excerpts of our conversation follow.
What’s appealing about the food truck business?
Starting a food truck takes a lot less capital than starting a restaurant. Opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, you’re going to have to sign a lease that lasts 10 or 15 years, set up your kitchen, build out your interior space. You might be looking at half a million or a million dollars just to get up and running. With a food truck—for $100,000 or $150,000—you can test out the brand and test out your operation. It lets you nail down a concept and figure out who the customers are, so that next step of opening a restaurant is a lot less risky. I think of these trucks as hospitality incubators: Let’s try this food concept in a beta.