Starting a Food Truck Business: FAQ
If you’re starting a food truck business, these are some FAQ for soon to be vendors:
*If you are considering renting a truck from Avalon Foods or Roadstoves, please contact us before hand.
Is owning and operating a food truck easy?
No! Owning a food truck is a very time and resource intensive endeavour. There are long hours, tough schedules and you must be very dedicated. Food trucks do not have the traditional infrastructure that a restaurant has. You typically can not get deliveries so you must source all of your own food from Restaurant Depot or another big box food store. This takes time. You must park at a commissary every night which is typically located in industrial parts of the city. Finding a place to park and sell can be a full time job. Lots, organizers and events do not have open door policies. It’s hard to find and develop places to vend and many organizers already have their favorite food trucks they like working with. Before getting into the industry, go to as many food truck lots, events and street spaces that you can and talk to vendors. The more you know, the more you’ll be prepared.
Is it ok to buy an out of state truck and get it permitted in Los Angeles County?
California—and by extension Los Angeles County—has some of the strictest standards for building food trucks and carts. The 2009 California Retail Food Code requires that all equipment in the truck be ANSI certified (Section 114130). Most older trucks and out of state trucks do not meet the most recent standards. Please make sure that the truck you want to purchase meets all applicable standards before buying it. It’s best to have your the plans checked and stamped before buying. This way, the Health Department has given an preliminary approval on the vehicle you wish to get permitted.
The Number for the Health Department’s Vehicle Inspection Program is: 626-430-5500
I found a builder to build my food truck. Is there anything I should require?
Make sure that your food truck builder understands the requirements of the California Retail Food Code. Create a legally-binding contract that ensures that if there are mistakes and your truck does not pass inspection that the builder is responsible for whatever is necessary to bring your truck up to code. If the food truck builder has a deadline, make sure that there are financial penalties if the builder does not meet that deadline. For example, if the builder says June 1st, 2016, will be the day that the truck is permitted and ready to operate, insert a penalty for every day the builder is late, e.g. $100-$150 per day. Make sure that the penalty is attached to the day the truck is permitted, not to the day the truck is completed.
Ask to see other trucks the builder has done. Talk with those vendors if you can.
I’m thinking of renting my truck from a Commissary, is there anything I should look out for?
Make sure the commissary and the trucks being rented are permitted by the regional Health Department. Before agreeing to rent the truck make sure you have a rock solid agreement. Consider things such as: Who pays for the truck to be towed if it breaks down? If the truck isn’t working and you miss out on an event or a daily stop, who is liable for your lost revenue. If the truck continues to have mechanical problems making it hard for you to do business, is the lease agreement null and void (it should be)? What kind of security measures are in place to make sure there your truck is not robbed? If you are robbed, who is liable? Are there security cameras? Do they work? If they don’t work on the day you experience theft, who is liable?
Be sure to take detailed pictures on the inside and outside of the truck. Log all issues with the truck and the commissary/rental employees that you’re dealing with.
Who do you recommend that I talk to about:
Wrap One has over 10 years experience with vehicle wraps. Their attention to detail and quality is of the highest standards.
1185 North Red Gum Street
Anaheim, CA 92806
1 (800) 688-1620 ext. 2
Let them know the SCMFVA sent you!
Which commissary should I use?
Currently, Slauson Commissary (750 E. Slauson Avenue Los Angeles, CA 90011) is our preferred commissary. They’ve had years of experience in the business and have fostered a great relationship with the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association. Many of our members have their trucks parked there. You can contact: Luis Cruz firstname.lastname@example.org (323) 235-6659 for more information.
Can you recommend a prep kitchen I can use with my food truck?
Slauson Catering Commissary also has prep kitchens available for food trucks. These kitchens are located on the commissary grounds close to where your truck will be parked. Contact for the kitchens and the commissary are the same: Luis Cruz email@example.com (323) 235-6659
Does my menu matter?
Your menu matters!!! If your truck kitchen can not support your menu, the Health Department won’t give you a health permit. Make sure your truck kitchen can support the food you are making. If you’re ordering food to cook on your truck, make sure it’s from an approved source (meaning a licensed food facility).
Should I wrap my truck?
Please do not get your truck wrapped (the outside design or graphics) until your truck is permitted. You don’t want your truck to be rejected and lose the money on the wrap. We recommend WRAP ONE.
Will the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors’ Association help me start my food truck business?
No. The SoCalMFVA is, first and foremost, an advocacy group for trucks currently on the road or close to launch. We focus our attention on the regulatory issues that trucks are facing on a day-to-day basis. However, we will try and answer some preliminary questions you may have.
If you are interested in a food truck Q & A session, go here for more info.
Can I just pull up anywhere and sell?
In most Cities in LA County, you can vend from the street. You’ll be subject to the same regulations that a car has (see below for exceptions). But do you want to pull up just anywhere? Los Angeles doesn’t have the foot traffic of a typical densely populated city. Finding places to vend sometimes takes work and a commitment to develop a location. The food truck areas that are currently popular with customers took years to develop. This means that trucks went to spots and developed followings over time. Developing a spaces can take weeks and months of making very little money. It’s important to have a customer acquisition strategy before getting on the road. The strategy should not be- “I’ll just go where all the other trucks go and try to get on to lots.” The industry thrives when everyone works to create new markets instead of just wearing out the markets already developed.
Can I just go to already established lots and vend?
Only if an organizer approves you to be there. If you’re a new truck why does an organizer want to work with you? Have you gotten favorable press? Do you have a lot of twitter followers? Organizers work with trucks they know will make them look good. If you have no history or twitter followers there isn’t a lot of incentive for an organizer to work with you. Blazing your own trail in the beginning is the best way to ensure that organizers will want to book you into events and lots.
Research, research, and more research. Running a Food Truck for Dummies by Richard Myrick is a great resource. The most important thing you can do is gather information. Start with with the “where.” Where will you operate your business? Orange County? Los Angeles County? What cities? Do those cities/counties permit trucks? Do you plan on renting or buying? Call around to different commissaries, truck manufacturers, and truck rental companies to get quotes and information. If you are in need of legal services, such as formation of a company, contracts, and/or regulatory advice, we recommend our attorneys.
How much does it cost to start a truck?
Every food truck business is different, so it’s important that you get quotes from every truck manufacturer/renter, commissary and truck wrapping (the design on the outside) place you can find.
What should I be concerned about when renting my truck?
If you’re going to rent a truck, make sure your lease is rock solid. Don’t sign a vague one-page lease. Make sure to protect yourself with a rock solid lease that protects your interest. Think about all the things that could go wrong: Who’s responsible for towing if your truck breaks down? Is your renter responsible if you’re unable to do an event because the truck breaks down?
Try to protect yourself.
Do you need a business license for every City you do business in?
Yes. You need a business licence for all 88 cities in Los Angeles County. You only need one business license for the 66 unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County. The County Business License includes Malibu and Calabasas.
How many cities are there in LA County?
88 – List
How many cities are there in Orange County?
34 – List
How many cities are there in San Diego County?
18 – List
How much do business licenses cost?
It depends on the City.
LA – free
Culver City – $370
Santa Monica – $270
El Segundo – $190
Arcadia – $170
Irwindale – $169
Manhattan Beach – $250
Alhambra – $300
Which County is harder to get permitted in, Orange or Los Angeles?
Los Angeles County has stricter rules for getting your truck approved. If you want to operate in both counties, it’s best to get your truck permitted in Los Angeles first. Always ask the truck manufacturer if the truck you’re going to lease is ANSI Certified. [Cal Code 114130]
Will the Los Angeles County Health Permit work for all 88 municipalities in LA County?
No. Pasadena, Long Beach, and the City of Vernon all have their own health departments and therefore do not come under the jurisdiction of the LA County Heath Department.
UPDATE: Long Beach now allows a truck with an LB Business License and a LA County Health Permit.
What is the bathroom letter all about?
UPDATE: You no longer need a letter. In order to operate anywhere for over an hour, you must have access to a bathroom within 200 ft travel distance of where you’ll be doing business. 200ft is measured from the bathroom to the entrance of the building where the bathroom is located. The bathroom must have warm water 100º [Cal Code 113941], single use dispensing soap, and be kept in clean working order. The health department does not recognize “jaywalking” as a part of travel distance. There is a difference between warm water (100º), which is required for hand washing sinks, and hot water (120º), which is required for ware washing sinks. If you do obtain a letter, you can be located 300ft travel distance to a bathroom of where you’ll be doing business. 300 feet is measured from the bathroom to the entrance of the building where the bathroom is located.
What are some of the regulations I’m going to be dealing with in Los Angeles/Santa Monica?
• You must obey the posted parking restrictions, including, but not limited to, restrictions on stopping, loading, and parking from either posted signs or painted curbs. [ LAMC 80.73(b)2(B)]
• You must dispense food from the sidewalk side of the street. No truck may dispense food street side. [ LAMC 80.73(b)2(C)]
º Trucks are not regulated under 42.00 of the LAMC. That code is for sidewalk vending only. 42.00(k) exempts food trucks from this code section.
• You must have a CONSPICUOUS litter receptacle which is clearly marked with a sign requesting its use by patrons. [ LAMC 80.73(b)2(D)] In-truck hatch receptacles are NOT sufficient.
• Trash shall be removed from all areas VISIBLE around the truck. The truck shall take all bags with them when vacating an area. Trash is to include all materials originally dispensed from the truck as well as any other items left by patrons, such as cigarette butts. [ LAMC 80.73(b)2(E)]
• The “hatch” of a truck shall be at least 7 feet above the sidewalk in order to avoid patron collisions. [LAMC 56.08(e) disputed]
• Trucks must be parked at a Commissary every night. [Cal Code: 114295(c)]
• Trucks must have a bathroom letter from an accessible bathroom with hot water (103-108 degrees), single serving soap, paper towels, kept in clean working order, if vending for over an hour. [Cal Code: 114315]
• Trucks must have current and valid registration clearly marked on their plates while vending on the street.
•Trucks should have all their permits readily accessible while doing business.
•You must have a business license for the municipality you are doing business in (even if it’s a private catering event).
•You must have a health permit for the municipality you are doing business in.
•Long Beach, Pasadena and the City of Vernon are not covered under the Los Angeles County Health Permit and require a separate permit and approval process.
Santa Monica Codes:
• SMMC: 6.36.010
• SM: You must be 35 feet from the closest truck.
• SM: On a sidewalk of less than 8 feet you must keep 4 feet of the sidewalk clear.
• SM: You must be more than 10 feet from the entrance to the front door of a business or 4 feet from a building.
• SM: You must be more than 10 feet from any street corner.
• Every employee must have a seat with a working seat belt while moving. [Cal Code 27315]
• Trucks shall be cleaned and serviced at least once per day. [Cal Code: 114297]
• Employee entrance doors to food preparation areas shall be self-closing and kept closed when not in use. [Cal Code: 114303]
• The exterior of a mobile food facility and the surrounding area, as relating to the operation of food service, shall be maintained in a sanitary condition. [Cal code 114317]
• Preparation kitchens must be approved by the Health Department.
• A properly charged and maintained minimum 10 BC-rated fire extinguisher to combat grease fires shall be properly mounted and readily accessible on the interior of any mobile food facility that is equipped with heating elements or cooking equipment. [114323(e)]