Food trucks are an integral part of 21st-century dining. They weren’t always this popular, though. The history of food trucks goes back 135 years, but they didn’t become ubiquitous until the past decade. Here are some fun facts about food on wheels and the rise of the American food truck.
The First Food Truck
Your great-grandparents weren’t even alive when Walter Scott invented the food truck. This momentous event happened in 1872, only a few years after the Civil War. Scott saw a business opportunity. He noticed that the people working at the local newspaper didn’t have great food options.
The entrepreneur cleverly parked his covered wagon just outside the newspaper office. Then, he delivered food through the pre-cut windows in the vehicle. He’d serve the hungry reporters coffee and pies to get them through the day.
Over time, word spread of this industrious wagon. Sixteen years later, a man named Thomas H. Buckley became the owner of the first food truck franchise. He built a lunch wagon that he intended for night usage, catering to hungry folks working the late shift. This food truck, The Owl, proved so successful that he duplicated it in 275 different cities. His popularity earned him the nickname of the Original Lunch Wagon King.
Image via Flickr by Ted Van Pelt
Modernizing the Food Truck
During the 1950s, the federal government took the food truck premise and applied it to military living. They built mobile canteens able to feed dozens of soldiers in a short period. When military personnel left the service, they replicated the concept. Many construction sites and similar industries used roach coaches, a less appetizing name for a food truck.
In the 21st century, the food truck premise evolved from a fad into a legitimate business model. Roy Choi, a Los Angeles resident, saw a unique opportunity. In 2008, he started a food truck business that served his not-yet-famous Korean BBQ at local hot spots. In a short time, that restaurant, Kogi, gained 135,000 Twitter followers. His popularity was a proof-of-concept for haute cuisine disguised as food truck street dishes. Choi raised the industry from its perception as roach coach food.
Food Trucks Today
From these humble beginnings, food trucks grew into a $2.7 billion industry, and the rapid expansion is astounding. It’s grown by a factor of four since 2012, and the future’s even brighter.
Millennials, a most sought-after demographic, are the most likely to try new foods. Also, 47 percent of them have eaten at a food truck. This behavior will only increase in future years as food trucks become a more culturally accepted form of dining. The next generation of adults won’t think twice about choosing a food truck over a conventional sit-down restaurant. They’ll know that the food is cheaper, and the atmosphere is more fun.
In fact, the best advice for potential restauranteurs is to start out with a food truck business instead of a regular store. You can find food trucks for sale at a fraction of the cost of a brick-and-mortar store’s rent or mortgage payment. Plus, you can move your vehicle to where ever the action is each week without feeling confined to a single place.
The history of the food truck dates back to the 19th century, but its future is even more exciting. It has become one of the staples of modern dining.