Jayne Monat of Yellow Springs asked WYSO Curious how food trucks impact the local economy and how their impact compares to that of traditional restaurants. And the rise of food trucks, both locally and nationally, has been impossible to ignore.
Entrepreneur Magazine reports that revenue from food trucks has nearly tripled, from $960 million to $2.7 billion, over the last five years.
Food trucks are everywhere in the Miami Valley, and now some of the most successful mobile eateries are spawning spin-offs and transitioning into traditional restaurants.
Zombie Dogz on Brown Street in Dayton has become a popular restaurant, perhaps because it’s not your typical hot dog shop. There are murals of cartoon zombies on the walls. They look like you might expect—rotting flesh and the occasional exposed bone, but instead of eating brains, they’re eating hot dogs. And the food served here is just as unique as the ambience, like the dish they named “Calling in Dead.” It’s a hot dog topped with white truffle mac and cheese and parmesan garlic cracker crumbs.
“It just takes me back to my childhood because my mom would always make macaroni with hot dogs in it, and then for the grownup twist on it, we added the white truffle oil,” says Lee Ann VanArtsdalen.
VanArtsdalen and her husband started Zombie Dogz as a food truck in 2012. Four years later, they opened the restaurant. That makes VanArtsdalen uniquely qualified to address our listener’s question about the economic effects of food carts compared to restaurants.
One way to judge a business’s economic impact is by considering how many jobs it creates.
Zombie Dogz, the food truck, had five full-time employees, but they didn’t work year round.
“They had three months off in the winter,” VanArtsdalen says. “It all worked out because, unemployment wise, we had a pause and we were a seasonal business. They paid into it, so they could collect on their time off. So, it was nice to have that big vacation.”
How does the restaurant compare?
“This has a lot more overhead. More employees,” she says. “I believe, because for Christmas I bought everyone stockings and I had to buy 40 stockings, we had 37 employees.”
After a year in business, Zombie Dogz, the restaurant, has found its groove and the VanArtsdalens have retired their food truck. They now have 21 employees. That’s four times the amount they had as a food truck, and those employees work year round. They’re not collecting unemployment a quarter of the year.
There’s added purchasing power, too—the amount of food and drink, utility bills, napkin dispensers and mops. All of which play a role in Zombie Dogz increased economic impact since graduating to restaurant.
But Zombie Dogz is just one food truck story. Others run year round.
FOOD TRUCKS PAIR WELL WITH SMALL BUSINESSES
Yellow Springs Brewery has a different food truck parked outside every night, even in the dead of winter when the temperature can’t crack single digits.
Kelsey Eskin, the brewery’s merchandise and art show coordinator, says food trucks have become a central part of their customers’ experience.
“They bring business,” she says. “And then they get new business from our customers who come to the brewery. It’s kind of a nice checks and balance thing. You know, the drunk people get food, and the workers get great food, and everyone’s happy.”
Pa’s Pork is one of the brewery’s go-to trucks. Pete and Angela Olejnicek launched the truck in 2013, and the business takes its name from their first initials. Angela says the name might give people the wrong impression—that it might sound like simple BBQ. Pa’s Pork is far from that.
Last month, they rolled out a new dish that Olejnicek described as “a grass-fed hamburger stuffed with house-made pimento cheese topped with smoked pork belly.”
The Olejniceks make a point of shopping local and using organic ingredients. They also make a point of working closely with other small businesses, like the Yellow Springs Brewery and the distillery next door.
“Anytime they have a beer release, if we’re fortunate enough to be here when they have a beer release, we’ll get some beer in advance and make food with their beer,” says Olejnicek. “We’ll do that also with the distillery here at the same location.”
When it came time to expand their business, Pa’s Pork decided to start a second truck. This time it’s a mobile bar that they use to cater private and non-profit events. And, of course, they’ll be selling local beers and spirits.
LESS IMPACT—SAME GREAT TASTE
In the end, it’s probably unfair to compare food trucks and restaurants when it comes to economic impact. Food trucks can’t compete in that regard. The $2.7 billion dollars food trucks brought in last year is a far cry from the $800 billion American restaurants bring in each year, but food trucks certainly add a lot flavor to the Miami Valley.