Food Truck Operators Set Up Permanent Restaurants

Offering a lower barrier to entry, food trucks have allowed local entrepreneurs to test-drive their food concepts—but there’s a growing trend of trucks expanding their brands to permanent restaurants.

Food trucks offer the allure of lower up-front costs and overhead compared to permanent restaurants. But some local truck operators, hungry for year-round profits, are driving their businesses to brick-and-mortar eateries.

Smack Shack began serving its signature lobster rolls on the streets of Minneapolis in 2010. Co-owners Josh Thoma and Kevin Fitzgerald say that they always intended to open a stand-alone restaurant—which they plan to do in the city’s North Loop in late June.

Meanwhile, Turkey to Go, operator of a State Fair stall, was unready to commit to a restaurant but wanted to expand its business. Co-owner Drew Levin said a truck was the perfect “half-step forward to prove our concept.” Prove it it did, and Turkey to Go opened quick-service skyway outposts in Minneapolis and St. Paul this past winter.

Both businesses continue to operate their trucks, which offered a lower barrier to entry. Levin said launching a truck costs half as much as a skyway location, while Smack Shack’s $90,000 food-truck investment pales in comparison to its upcoming seven-figure restaurant. “And it gives potential investors a track record of how the concept is seen in the current market,” said Thoma, whose business recently landed an investment from former Vikings receiver Bernard Berrian.

Investing in bricks and mortar can reap larger, year-round rewards. On summer days, the Smack Shack truck serves up to 200 people, generating $10,000 in weekly sales. The full-service restaurant will accommodate daily lobster boils and an expanded menu, featuring cuts of meat, fried chicken, and new po’boy varieties, Thoma said. The restaurant, which will feature a full bar, seats 210 indoors and roughly 80 on a patio. The truck required five workers; the restaurant, more than 100.

Sameh Wadi, owner of the World Street Kitchen food truck and Saffron restaurant, in April told Twin Cities Business that he was negotiating a lease for a World Street Kitchen restaurant—and the Star Tribune reported earlier this week that the deal has been finalized. The restaurant will open at 28th Street and Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis by the end of this year.

Levin and Thoma foresee a growing food-truck-turned-permanent-restaurant trend. “I think you’ll see a lot of trucks weeded out, but you’ll see a couple that will start resonating with customers, and they’ll want to be operating year-round—and that’s their next natural step,” Levin said.

At least one more local truck may be ready to take that “next natural step.” Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl of Mpls.St.Paul magazine reported in her blog in mid-May that the owners of the food truck Chef Shack are leasing a space in Minneapolis that was formerly occupied by Jack’s restaurant.

The front-of-house portion is reportedly being leased out as office space, but the tenant has left the tables, chairs, beer taps, and other elements intact, which would allow the space to be converted into a restaurant again. When asked if a full-service Chef Shack restaurant is on the horizon, co-owner Carrie Summer told Moskowitz Grumdahl: “We would love that. We would absolutely love it. It’s a possibility, we’ll see.”