This is not new that many have tried to outfit the back of their pickup truck bed into a DIY food truck. Many entrepreneurs and food truck owners have been successful in their ventures. They have turned their trailers and truck into a successfully running food truck business. On the other hand, you should expect some troubles and some last minute expenses if you are doing it the first time.
In this blog, I will help truck owners to overcome a few mistakes that they may make and assist them in building their own mobile food unit.
On the downside, if you are not experienced it will be an issue retrofitting a truck bed. If you don’t understand the mechanics and how motorized vehicles operate, it is going to take a lot more than just reading this blog. On top of that, you also need experience in doing electrical work all by yourself. Furthermore, you should have access to the tools and equipment necessary to pull this off.
Other problems in doing it yourself are that it will take a lot more time than if you hired someone to do it. It could take up to 3 months to completely turn your pickup into a food truck. There are many examples and interviews on the internet that you will find helpful if this is the first time you are doing it. It’s going to be even more difficult if you have a full-time job. However, if you are serious you should give yourself enough time, effort, expense, and proper planning before taking this job. On the other hand, if you are not sure, you can always hire someone to do it for you.
That said, the advantage of doing it yourself is that you would know your truck inside out, considering the fact that you have that engineering and electrical experience necessary for the job. If you do it yourself you can always fix it on your own during breakdowns because you will have a much in-depth knowledge of your truck and can even guess the problem on your own. Most importantly, you will save a ton of money and can design the way you are more comfortable with. You can certainly design a mobile food unit that is more agreeable to your needs and demands. However, if you don’t have all the tools you can always borrow it from your neighbors and friends.
Turning Pickup Truck Bed to Food Truck
- The first step would be to determine the model of the food truck you want. You obviously want the food truck look in a certain way and definitely different than others. You will have to list out all the equipment you will need to cook and serve your food. Because if you want to open a coffee truck, it will have its own set of equipment and a very different space than if you want to sell burgers.
- Take a notebook or fire up a word document on your PC and start listing down each equipment you will need for the motor food unit. You should list stuff such as freezer, fryer, refrigerator, storage, stove, etc.
- After you have got all your equipment, your next step would be to determine the amount of space you need to fit it all in. Get the specific dimension of each piece of equipment which you want to fit in the truck bed and them layout your design on a piece of paper.
- Take your time while determining the layout of the truck. Your truck layout should be designed to allow you a good space to prepare your food. You could listen to interviews of successful food truck entrepreneurs on youtube to get an idea of what you are dealing with. It’s important because you have to make sure you are comfortable standing long hours in the space you have to get more meal out of the service window to increase profits.
- Now clean the truck bed and mark the layout on the walls and bed. You will be clearing out any anchor points, tonneau covers, storage boxes and make changes to the walls to fit your desired kitchen in the space. You may have to cut out a drill or well a few other parts for other equipment such as a generator or a small refrigerator.
- Now, you need to mark out truck bed where each equipment will be placed and also figure out the location of the serving window inside the truck. You could use white chalk or a sharpie marker to outline the floor. Furthermore, you will have to mark out places where you might be having some fixtures and where you will place the propane tank.
- Next step is setting up the electronics, which is extremely important and can seem like a complicated process in the beginning. This is the stage where you have to get your electrical supply right; not only will you have to fit all the fixture to the power source but also makes sure it works as intended. If the electricity goes out in the middle of the operation, you will be losing customers and furthermore, it will be difficult to determine the electrical problems after it is operational. If you are not sure of what you are doing, it is better to get the help of an experienced electrician to finish the job.
- The next step would be to reinforce the interior after finishing the wiring setup. The reinforcing step of the interior begins with the framing process which is the common construction industry. The frame is typically made using wood and a foundation is built which will support the walls and other fixtures. You should start with aluminum square tubes to create the frame of the outside walls. These square tubes will go around the serving window, the generator, air conditioner, frame divider, etc. Aluminum is a good option because it is lightweight, corrosion resistant and durable.
- Further, cut out openings for serving window and air conditioner. A typical size serving window is nearly 4×4 feet and then you will have to cut out an opening for the A/C at the top of the truck.
- Your next focus will be on finishing the inside wall of the truck. A few things to note here is that you have to use non-flammable material or tiles for the wall behind the cooking line, which is a requirement as per most fire code. Which means wood or plastic won’t make the cut. Next, you have to fix installation panels to the ceilings and the walls of the truck. You could also insulate the outside walls using styrofoam or similar material. Next, the sub-walls and finish walls will go into the truck. Most truckers recommend using stainless steel sheets for the outside walls. They also suggest installing floors with metal sheets.
- Next thing to consider is the propane tank. For this, you will have to check you the local authority for fire regulations. It will ensure that every setup of your is rightfully done based on the demand of your city. Many would suggest installing the propane tank at the rear of the food truck, at the same time it is illegal in many cities. Ask your local authority to determine where your propane tank will go. This also reminds the fact that you have to check with them before designing the outline of the kitchen.
- After receiving instructions from the authorities, you have to install a gas manifold, then connect it to the propane tank. Furthermore, you have to create and install and tank rack to hold the equipment. You can definitely check out some YouTube videos online on setting up a gas tank; it may not be for a pickup but could be for an RV.
- Now, you have to set up the interior hood in the truck. Here too, you will have to check with the local laws and authorities to confirm everything is well planned as laid out by our city’s laws. The interior hood help in the ventilation of the vehicle so it’s definitely an important aspect of the design.
- By now, you are nearly done with the making of your food truck. As of now, you will be installing windows, door, A/C unit, countertops, and other general equipment. After this, you should be able to see how your food truck in panning out. Your pickup should really start to look like a food truck by now.
- Now you have to finalize the electric work by installing the light fixtures, switches, panels, breakers, outlets and then link the wires to the breakers. If you can’t do it on your own, you could take the help of a professional electrician who has the experience with food trucks and mobile food units.
- Then, you have to load all the cooking equipment on to the food truck. Here, you will be installing the equipment in its place, which includes a refrigerator, a cash register, etc. This should at least make your food truck appear complete without the plumbing and generators.
- Next, you have to hire an experienced plumber who will set up to give its final setup. Make sure that plumbing is done enough to hand frequent flowing for the long term. It may cost you some to hire a plumber because he will be working from scratch without any prior knowledge of the construction of the truck. The plumber will connect the sinks to water supply, install a dump valve and also keep the construction in line with the local city laws.
- Now without an operation generator, you will not have the power to keep your equipment running, so you might have to spend a little extra in this department. Make sure the generator is placed securely and is firm in its place. Then connect the generator to eh panel and transfer switches. Plus, keep in mind that they get hot so make sure it gets ample ventilation for cooling.
- Now it’s time to give some final finishing touches to the truck as it is near to completion. Although the truck is complete, there are still a few more things left to be done before hitting the road. But first give it a test run to inspect if the plumbing, gas, electricals are working as intended. This is also the time to give that generator a full run. Next, you will have to wrap the truck from the outside, which of course should be done by a professional as they can give you food truck the look you want to project.
A Short List of Food Truck Accessories
- Electrical wiring
- Service windows and A/C
- Setup generator
- Gas tank installation
- Interior hood
- Finish with fireproof material
- Cooking equipment
License, Permits and their Costs
You know starting a food truck business in the USA demands more than a few permits from the authorities. Although the total cost of licenses will change depending on the city and state you live in; however, in general, the approx cost would be somewhere between $1000 to $2000. You need permits just to keep staff and also you have to get permits from the health department along with seller’s permit.
Complete list of licenses and permits you may need:
- Employer Identification Number
- Business License
- Vehicle License
- Seller’s Permit
- Food Handler’s Permit
- Food Service License or Health Department Permit
- Fire Permit
EIN (Employer Identification Number) (Free):
If you are planning to run solo then you may not need the Employer Identification Number permit, but if you are planning to have a staff in the truck, you will have to apply for an EIN and officially become an employer.
Business License (Up to $200 per year):
Next stop is to acquire a business license to actually run a food truck. The registration will cost you under $50 and the license can cost between $30 up to $200 per year depending on the city and state as well as the type of food truck you have set up. On top of that, you may have to share a small portion of your profit.
Vehicle License (Up to $60 per year):
Running a food unit on wheels, you will also have to get a vehicle license which can cost you between $20 up to $70 plus, you will need a commercial driver’s license and that will cost you up to $300. Other optional costs include taking commercial driver training which can cost up to $3000.
Seller’s Permit (Up to $70 per year)
When you have a seller’s permit the state considers your business as a sales tax collector. A seller’s permit will help you buy food and goods at a wholesale cost because you will not be paying the sales tax. Application is free to buy the security deposit every year cost up to $70.
Food Handler’s Permit (Up to $30 per year):
Next, you will have to acquire the food handler’s permit and it costs just under $30. Moreover, some of your staff will also have to take training to handle food, storage, sanitation, and knowledge to prevent food-borne diseases. The training cost something between $10 to $30 but the employee heat permit with the cost you nearly $200.
Food Service License or Health Department Permit (Up to $300 per year)
Just like the restaurants, you will also need a permit from the health department. There will even be an in-person visit to your truck from the department to make sure that your food truck meets all the food safety guidelines. The food service license can cost up to $300 per year for a big food truck.
Fire Permit (Up to $200 per year):
Personnel from the fire department may visit your food truck. After all, a food truck will be carrying an onboard fire and that too in a crowded place. They would first educate the owner and the staff and then make a few visits every year. The cost for permits varies from $50 to $200 depending on your location.
What Other Permits I May Need?
- Business certificate – approx. $200
- Food truck permits – approx. $1200
- Hawker and Peddler permit – approx. $150
- Music license (optional) – approx. $500
- Vendor Identification badge – approx. $20
- GPS contract – approx. $300
- Sign permit – approx. $60
- Resale permit – approx. $70
All the license cost mentioned above are on the higher side, the actual cost incurred could be significantly lower. An average cost breakdown of all you expense in building and running a food truck on pickup truck bed:
One-Time Costs (approx. between $60,000 to $260,000):
- The truck – approx. between $15,000 to $100,000
- Food truck accessory and fittings – approx. between $40,000 to $150,000
- Initial inventory – approx. between $1000 to $2000
- Tools – approx. between $2000 to $2500
- POS system – approx. between $500 to $1000
- Fire extinguisher – approx. between $200 to $300
- Uniforms – approx. between $500 to $1000
- Paper products – approx. between $300 to $500
- Permits – approx. between $1000 to $2000
- Miscellaneous – approx. between $500 to $2000
Recurring Costs (approx. between $100,00 or $130,000 per annum)
- Phone and internet – approx. between $100 to $200 per month
- Gas and Propane – approx. between $200 to $500 per month
- Paper products – approx. $300 per month
- Kitchen space – approx. between $500 to $1200 per month
- Social media marketing – approx. $1000 per month
- Website – approx. $1000 per month
- Repairs – approx. $1500 per month
- Food and beverage supplies – approx. $2000 per month
- Insurance – approx. between $4000 to $10000 per annum
- Salary – approx. $40,000 per annum
Building a food truck on your own is a daunting task that has its own advantages, disadvantages and maintenance problems. Before walking this road, you will have to figure out why you are doing this and what plans you have for the future of the food truck. Moreover, in metro cities and high-profile towns, it’s really going to be a challenge keeping up and competing with other great food truck units. Therefore, we suggest you understand your vision, get in touch with the authorities, take advice from the locals with market research and go for building your food truck.