The pandemic caused a massive halt to the food industry leading many restaurants to close their doors. Food trucks did not escape the financial hits, but they have persevered and become an essential part of the city’s culture and the growth has continued over the last several years. Now, as the pandemic slows, food trucks are coming back stronger just in time for the warmer weather.
The food truck industry in Detroit has become a fast-growing business venture. With a large variety of eateries, downtown Detroit has become a hotspot for foodies. Entering the prime season for food trucks, Downtown Street Eats has launched its tenth season bringing an array of food trucks to Cadillac Square and the Woodward Esplanade. As Michigan winter subsides, food truck operators are looking forward to the boom in business.
“In Michigan, the food truck scene is really popping, I would say, from May until the end of the year when you have things like the tree lighting and everything. In those cold winter months, there are no events for you to do so you are shut down,” said Jennyfer Crawford, Marketplace curator. “So, with that, they were really impacted just like a lot of small businesses. They were forced to shut down, some people were forced to close because they just didn’t have a place to set up.”
Food trucks have become a cost-effective option for cooks and chefs looking to brand their cuisine. Often having lower start-up costs than brick and mortar restaurants, food trucks allow food enthusiasts to branch out and brand their eats to a larger audience with the ability to travel to different locations.
“As a chef, instead of having your own building, you would want to have a food truck because it’s cheaper, you can maintain and watch your food costs. There is a low overhead for food trucks as in light, gas, water, propane or solar panels,” said Chef Nick Wilson, owner of The Lobster Food Truck and The Lobster Pitstop.
The pandemic did cause a damper on the food truck culture. Lack of events was a main catalyst for the slowdown. Like restaurants, some food truck owners were forced to close their operations. However, some owners got creative and chose to function from less likely spaces.
“I feel like with there not being a lot of events just like vendor shows, a lot of food trucks are impacted because there were no events happening. There was no place for them to actually go because everything was shut down. But one thing that did change [is] that I did learn about is that when the pandemic hit, a lot of food trucks — some didn’t make it, unfortunately, but some of them were actually going to cul-de-sacs and different complexes and actually setting up. That’s how a lot of them survived,” said Crawford.
Despite the pandemic, some food truck owners were able to see success. With restaurant restrictions and food shortages, food trucks became the next best thing in access to meal options.
“From my experience, I tripled in sales due to the fact that most restaurants were closed. A lot of food truck owners did very well because [customers] didn’t have any other choice to get food. Nobody was going to the grocery store and the restaurants aren’t open so that gave a lot of food truck owners a lot of creativity and flexibility,” said Wilson.
The City of Detroit also released new ordinances for mobile eateries establishing new guidelines for food trucks. The new ordinance allows food truck owners an easier way to capitalize on their business while bringing tasty cuisine to the masses allowing owners to park on many neighborhood streets across the city. Though there are stipulations to the revamped ordinance, food truck owners will have a larger pool of customers to service.
“I think that with the new food truck ordinance, a lot of people are excited because you’ll be able to see more food trucks,” said Crawford.
Chefs and cooks who may not be able to afford or access building space may consider a food truck as it allows for the same level of expression without the hassle of owning or renting a space. As the food truck culture continues to grow, there is sure to be a boom in operations.
“It’s becoming very populated. There are a lot of new trucks. There’s a way for people to be entrepreneurs since the pandemic hit. There’s a lot of fun food and also food trucks that are designed for certain cuisines as well,” said Wilson.