Photo by Emilie Boenig
Small startup costs entice mobile vendors and home businesses
The developer behind Avery Ranch is laying the groundwork for a small food trailer park near Cedar Park at the southwest corner of West Parmer Lane and Avery Ranch Boulevard.
Waterstone Development President Bob Wunsch said plans are under way to have up to four food trucks parked behind the McDonald’s by spring 2013.
“We’re still going through and interviewing people to see what kind of selection we’re going to have,” Wunsch said. “We’ve talked to one that does Greek food, one that does Indian food, and it’s just got to be the right fit. We want to make sure it’s complementary to the other uses in Avery Ranch.”
Waterstone is still considering other potentially long-term options for the area as well, including a large ice and water kiosk, a small fast-food restaurant or a pastry shop, but Wunsch said the site is ready for a food trailer park now.
“It’s a ready-to-go site for anybody. We can even do it permanent if we want,” he said. “It’s approved for several uses—one is an office building. But that market is not that deep, so we were just looking for some uses we could do on a short-term or long-term basis.”
The Avery Ranch food trailer park would host only a few mobile food vendors among more than 1,400 with active permits in Travis County, many emerging in the past six years, according to county documents. Because of its location, the Avery Ranch food trailer park would be regulated and permitted through the City of Austin.
“Getting permitted in Austin and Travis County is considered—in the food trailer business—one of the toughest inspections and permits to get,” said James Beard, co-owner of Beefcake Shop, a mobile food truck based in the Round Rock Food Trailer Park. Beard said passing the permitting process in Travis County gave him confidence to pursue a spot at Williamson County’s first mobile food vendor park, which was established in September.
Like the planned Avery Ranch park, a private developer organized the Round Rock Food Trailer Park. Any future food truck parks that emerge in Leander, Cedar Park or other parts of the county would go through the same permitting and inspection process as the Round Rock park, said Marcus Cooper, Williamson County and Cities Health District spokesman.
“Round Rock was our first experience and will probably be the model, but every community in Williamson County is different, and we will have to make adjustments,” Cooper said. “We knew that trailers and food trailers would—because of the popularity in Travis County—eventually arrive here in Williamson County. It’s literally taken on a life of its own, and we are taking slow steps to make it work properly.”
Food trucks have become a plausible launchpad for many entrepreneurial cooks such as Beard. His business, Beefcake Shop, spurred from a part-time catering business as an attainable alternative to opening a traditional restaurant.
“The risk and the investment are much more reasonable and much more manageable. You’re looking at $25,000–$50,000 or maybe more to open a food trailer, and you’re looking at a quarter-million dollars minimum to start a brick-and-mortar [restaurant] after you outfit it,” he said. “This is a good chance to get your product out in front of a lot of different people and also see if you have an idea that’s viable without having to sign a one-year lease or make an investment in all of the equipment. So our decision, not only was it less expensive, there was also much less risk involved.”
Food truck model comparisons
Beard, similar to other business owners outside the food industry, chose to operate his business in a nontraditional venue. The World Entrepreneurs Network, based in Williamson County, coaches new and hopeful business owners and recommends keeping costs low in any industry.
“With a food truck, we would tell you don’t go buy a truck if you can find and rent one. And the reason is that you don’t have a huge capital outlay,” WEN President Robert Felps said. “Let’s say you saved up $30,000 to buy the truck. If you can rent it for $1,000 per month, and take $12,000 out of your budget for the first year of rental, you now have got another $18,000 of capital to work with.”
Felps encourages all new business owners to keep overhead costs to a minimum.
“In general, we tell people they should run with no overhead for as long as possible. So work from home or a coworking space,” he said. “Starting a business, you’ll never have enough cash, so any way you can keep cash in the bank longer is going to help you down the road.”