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Inexpensive Business Model Provides Success for Local Food Trucks

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For less than $10, the Gainesville community can enjoy fish tacos with the complementing crunch of cabbage and sweet flavors of pineapple and mango.

Quick, affordable entrees like the fish tacos from Off The Griddle food truck has given a new meaning to the term eating out.

Off The Griddle started roughly five years ago, said owner Michael Musoke. He had always dreamed of opening a restaurant, but knew the risks and cost associated with it.

The food truck route made much more sense.

Getting Started

In 2006, Musoke started the farm Aqua Organics in Polk City. After five years of farming, he started searching for other outlets to sell his produce.

With a background in cooking, the food industry seemed like a logical choice for Musoke.

“I’ve been cooking ever since high school,” Musoke said. “And it kind of just dawned on me that going back into the industry I’d be able to take lettuce, cucumbers, basil and different products and use them on a food truck.”

A food truck made more fiscal sense than a restaurant, which played a large role in his decision making. By electing to open a food truck, he decreased overhead expenses and preliminary costs.

Charlie’s Snow Shack serves Hawaiian shaved ice out of a stationary food truck in northwest Gainesville. The food truck expanded from initially offering 18 flavors when it opened in 2012 to its current 32. Scott St. Lifer / WUFT News
Charlie’s Snow Shack serves Hawaiian shaved ice out of a stationary food truck in northwest Gainesville. The food truck expanded from initially offering 18 flavors when it opened in 2012 to its current 32. Scott St. Lifer/WUFT News

He said the vehicles themselves cost between $20,000 to $100,000. His truck falls roughly in the middle, costing less than it would to open and maintain a restaurant.

“It is and easy way to get into the industry,” Musoke said.

Food trucks in the industry follow one of two business models: variety and specialization of products. Off The Griddle sells a variety, ranging from the aforementioned fish tacos to corn nuggets and falafel wraps. Charlie’s Snow Shack specializes in shaved ice.

Food truck rallies, gatherings of mobile eateries, like the Original Gainesville Food Truck Rally, are hosted monthly in the High Dive’s parking lot, or Cymplify’s First Friday Food Truck Rally. These provide opportunities for attendees to try a variety of foods, while also driving traffic for vendors like Musoke.

Off The Griddle is permanently set up outside of High Dive in downtown Gainesville, but still does catering and corporate lunches during the day. Other trucks like Humble Pie and Soup to Nuts travel around the state.

Charlie’s Snow Shack, is another permanent truck, located in the Books-A-Million parking lot at 2601 NW 13th St. Like Musoke, owner Charles Smith joined the industry roughly five years ago after being inspired by a Jacksonville snow shack in 2012.

During the week, Smith runs his lawn care service in Jacksonville, while his mother, Linda, operates the truck. On the weekends, he sells his shaved ice.

Smith thought the location would be temporary, but this may not be the case anymore.

“So many people like the little stand and the mom-and-pop feel of it that we’ve kind of held off [on moving to a permanent location],” he said.

Licensing

Potential food truck proprietors such as Off The Griddle and Charlie’s Snow Shack must obtain a Mobile Food Dispensing Vehicle license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which costs $50 for an application fee and $150 for a plan review fee. The annual license fee is $347 and must be renewed every year.

According to the DBPR, there are currently 22 businesses that hold a MFDV license in Alachua County.

Businesses must adhere to a food code. If an MFDV is not self-sufficient, it must utilize a commissary to obtain water, dispose of waste, sanitize the truck and its utensils, and store food and other supplies, said Chelsea Eagle, deputy director of communications at the DBPR.

Future Endeavors

While many remain content running a food truck, Musoke hopes to fulfill his dream of owning a restaurant.

Eventually, Smith would also like settle into a permanent retail space. Until his menu has been expanded to include a year-round product, he said that isn’t an option. He has contemplated adding fish tacos, lumpias or pastries to the menu.

With expansion in mind, Smith has not forgotten about his staple item.

“You know how Satchel’s is a destination spot for pizza? We want to be a destination spot for shaved ice here in Gainesville,” Smith said.

About Scott St. Lifer

Scott is a reporter for WUFT News who may be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news @wuft.org

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