Running a Business on Wheels

Photo  (cc) of food trucks in Dewey Square, Boston by   Hellogreenway   and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Photo (cc) of food trucks in Dewey Square, Boston by Hellogreenway and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Earlier this month, Boston welcomed its first authentic Belgian waffle truck, an extension of Zinneken's on Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge. The idea for Zinneken's was borne out of culinary passion, according to co-founder Nhon Ma

"People usually don’t eat waffles everyday, so we had to become mobile and be able to move from one location to another. Thus, launching a food truck totally made sense," Ma said.

I'm going to spare my rant here and mention that eight years ago, fresh from a summer abroad in Belgium, I preached to anyone who would listen that a late-night Belgian waffle stand was just what college students needed in Boston. To credit Ma and his co-founder Bertrand Lempkowicz, the two actually followed through with their idea and are Belgian to boot! They opened Zinneken's in 2011, first as a Cambridge-restaurant and now on offer waffles on wheels. 

But where will the waffles go in a city that has limited space and competing trucks? This year the city will welcome 81 trucks, a 40% increase from the previous year in a city that has not yet limited the number of licenses issued per year. While Ma and Lempkowicz were awarded a license by the city, they must adhere to certain city-regulated locations for where they can sell. For example, Zinnekan's occupied Copley Square at Clarendon Street last Wednesday from 3 - 7 p.m., according to their Facebook page. They were assigned this location via the city's lottery system. Because Ma and Lempkowicz are new trucks to the scene, they had an unfavorable pick compared to others who have been in the system longer.

The alternative for food trucks is to manage shifts at private locations. Bryan Peugh, who owns Baja Taco Truck, told the Boston Globe, "If you’re relying on the lottery for your business, you’re in deep trouble."

For any brick-and-mortar business, location can influence success. This principle still applies, even when the business is mobile. It begs the question for a small-sized city just 48 square miles, what is Boston's food truck capacity? 

For Boston-based events company, Food Truck Festivals of America, may be an answer for owners like Peugh. Founders Ann-Marie Aigner and Janet Prensky plan festivals and charge an entrance fee to sample food from participating trucks. The locations spread a little outside the downtown office lunch crowd, like Dewey Square (pictured), and instead leverage the benefit of multiple trucks being in the same location. By charging an entrance fee, there is no more competition for Boston's limited 22 vendor locations. An innovative solution to a problem of space. For Aigner and Prensky, their innovative solution has gone beyond New Englad. They expect 15 festivals this year across the country.

Wherever the festivals take place, it can be expected that location in this instance won't be an issue.