Commentary: Columbus Food Trucks -- Too Much Of A Good Thing?
Mobile dining isn't new: anyone who has ever visited a county fair knows where to find the funnel cake stand. Yet, food trucks have certainly grown in popularity with food choices that go beyond deep fried. Approximately 70 food trucks roam the streets of Columbus, offering a smorgasbord of tacos, perogies, and beignets. Don't have plans for the weekend? Schedule a taco truck tour. Or better yet, attend a food truck festival. Yup, mobile dining is very popular. Maybe too popular. With the rush of expansion and the creation of food truck food courts, I have to ask: is this trend about to reach its peak? Are food trucks the next dot-com bust? To find the answer, let's examine some positives and negatives of these restaurants on wheels. First, a food truck is an entrepreneurs' heaven. Trucks allow aspiring chefs, bakers, and business owners a relatively cheap option to sell their goods to the larger public. The Dispatch reports it costs about $50,000, to launch a food truck, a lot less than $400,000 to start an immobile restaurant. However, low costs also mean higher chances of competition. Recently some brick and mortar locations have joined the food truck craze. Take for example trucks from Los Jalopenos or Spineilli's Deli. Yes, expanding the business to the mobile market allows restaurateurs opportunities to widen their reach. The fear is the expansion could hurt the image of independent food truck operation. However, until McDonald's opens a food truck, this fear is shallow at best. Moving on, food truck diners love the trucks' diverse menus. Venezuelan cuisine, Cajun food, cupcakes, barbeque - the food truck culture provides a wealth of delicious food options. What it doesn't provide is a wealth of locations. With the exception of the occasional taco truck or the Surf and Trucks gathering at The Hills Market, mobile dining is located mostly within Interstate 270. Sure I love fusion tacos, I just don't love the commute to find them. Given its rapid growth, mobile dining has to move to new locations or else it will fall victim to over saturation. Lastly, food trucks at their core are quirky, fun alternatives to traditional fast food. But the development of food truck food courts or food pods is troublesome. The recently opened Dinin' Hall in Franklinton offers hungry customers a central location to sample food trucks and eat comfortably. It is a great concept that supports the local food industry. But remember that a food truck is just that - a truck. Customers eat on their feet or on a curb and trucks move from location to location. Providing customers with indoor seating, waiting service, and central cashiers defeats the very purpose of mobile dining. These pods threaten to turn food trucks into a stationary eatery - or what you might call "a restaurant" Or worse: a shopping mall food court. Who knows if the food truck craze will last. In the meantime, take advantage of them while you can. I know this summer you can find me chasing after my favorite food truck - the ice cream truck.