The food economy is changing and everyone is trying to understand a world turned upside by the pandemic. Food truck organization Roaming Hunger believes mobile kitchens can play a central role in a transformed restaurant industry in which delivery, ghost kitchens and virtual brands are playing an ever-increasing role.
Started by Ross Resnick, Roaming Hunger is a hub for food trucks and food truck catering. The company began as a website that gathered up locations of food truck operators on an online map, and grew into a catering company, marketing agency, and a marketplace to buy and sell food trucks.
“A lot of what Roaming Hunger has become grew organically,” said Mircea Vlaicu, director of marketing at Roaming Hunger.
Resnick wanted to provide valuable products to the food truck industry, and it has branched out over time. The company became known as experts in the food truck industry and started to host catered events with food trucks and provided food trucks with locations to vend.
“At about the same time,” Vlaicu said, “food truck owners were, ‘I need to buy another food truck’ or ‘I’m closing my food truck,’ ‘I want to sell my food truck.’ That was how the marketplace got started.”
Eventually, the company got into organizing popups and experiential marketing events with large brands. When the pandemic hit, restaurants turned to Roaming Hunger. Many restaurants had to quickly pivot when they were forced to close. One example was Wayfare Tavern in San Francisco. The fine-dining restaurant needed to get a food truck in operation quickly during lockdown. Within two weeks, Roaming Hunger helped the restaurant get a food truck up and running with a revamped menu.
Food trucks have a role
Over the last year, the organization has been having a lot of conversations about where food trucks fit in the current trends in the industry. A large number of restaurants and organizations have moved into ghost kitchens and virtual brands, and Vlaicu said the food truck industry has a vital role to play. They require less capital to operate than a traditional brick-and-mortar location and have the ability to adjust quickly.
“A ghost kitchen is great but it is tied to real estate,” Vlaicu said. “Food trucks can go wherever the demand is. It is essentially a kitchen on wheels that has the unique ability to make a direct customer connection.”
The whole point of ghost kitchens and virtual brands is the ability to adapt quickly. Food trucks are mobile and require a minimal amount of investment. They can quickly be moved around based on fluctuating demand.
Vlaicu believes food trucks could operate as the hub for delivery operations. Food trucks could serve as a delivery center, and delivery drivers could pick up orders at the food truck rather than the ghost kitchen. The food could be placed in different areas of a community at different times. A food truck might be placed at a certain location during sporting events or conferences, or any place where a large number of people gather.
“We are seeing a lot of what’s going on right now, from ghost kitchens and all of the technology, as a wild, wild West,” Vlaicu said. “We are asking the question — where does a food truck come into play? We believe the traditional food truck is part of it, but we think you can reimagine the food truck. You can brand them, and they are better than a ghost kitchen because they can go anywhere. They are not tied to real estate.”
Vlaicu said food trucks are not the “roach coaches” of other eras. They are highly sophisticated, mobile kitchen infrastructure. They can be built to suit the needs of an operation and come in many shapes and sizes. They can be carts, kiosks, trailers and even larger vehicles like buses and RVs. They can contain almost any piece of equipment that is inside a restaurant kitchen.
Vlaicu believes Roaming Hunger is in a perfect position to help all food brands, including virtual brands and ghost kitchens, to expand. Opening a food truck is not at all similar to opening a brick-and-mortar location. The permitting and licensing are very different, and Roaming Hunger has a long history of helping food trucks wade through the regulatory environment – and then most importantly, helping owners determine where to go once they hit the road.
“At Roaming Hunger, we are well-positioned because operating a food truck is very different from operating inside traditional real estate,” Vlaicu said.