San Francisco Street Food Trend

The street food trend in San Francisco offers cash-strapped consumers and aspiring restaurateurs an affordable alternative to the common brick and mortar restaurant.  Economic hardship is forcing aspiring restaurant owners to start with something humble, like a food cart, so they can grow into a brick and mortar restaurant.  Many in the food industry are saying that the poor state of the economy has forced food into the streets; others are arguing that it was a desired niche.  Regardless, street food has become a cheap alternative for thrifty consumers.

Currently, there are roughly 100 to 150 active street food services in San Francisco, according to San Francisco Office of Small Business, more than double what it was before the recession.

“I think the economy has definitely affected the street food business,” said Martha Yanez, a long time case manager in the Office of Small Business.  “People think this is a cheaper way to break into the business.”

Chef William Pilz, owner of the Hapa SF food truck, was unable to get the loans he needed for a brick and mortar restaurant, so he started a food truck for a fraction of the cost.

“Yeah, the economy forced us out into the streets, but it was kind of like a blessing in disguise,” said Pilz. “I realized I wasn’t going to get the money for a brick and mortar restaurant, and here we found a much more financially viable business.”

Pilz and his wife have been running the food truck since April of last year, and thanks to steady business, hope to have it paid for within six months.

“Most brick and mortar restaurants take anywhere from three to five years to pay the loans and start generating profits,” said Alex Flom, business banking specialist at Wells Fargo Bank in San Francisco.  Pilz is way ahead of the game.

“We’re going to try and get more trucks, do prepared foods, and ultimately end up in a brick and mortar restaurant,” said Pilz.  For many, this is the logical progression into the business.

For many Americans, money has been tight since the start of the “Great Recession” in December of 2007.  As a result of the hard times, many people have become more frugal consumers than they were previously.

“There is no overhead like there is at a restaurant,” said Matt Cohen, founder of Off The Grid.  His organization has helped to bring San Francisco street food vendors together in a sort of roaming market.  Consumers can visit Cohen’s website, sfcartproject.com, and find daily location and menu of their favorite trucks and carts.  Many have credited Cohen for bringing the street food trend to San Francisco by bringing all the vendors together and promoting street food business.

“I think that the economy has definitely had an impact,” said Cohen.  “The success is people seeking value, but not wanting to compromise quality.”

Whether it is location, or value, it is evident that food trucks are becoming more popular in San Francisco.  According to Yanez, there are more and more people trying to start their own trucks each week.

“We are seeing more and more established chefs wanting to do this,” said Yanez.  “The demographic is changing.”

For many, this is their cost conscious way into to business.  For others, it is just a fun way to fill a niche.

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~ by Anotherfoodbloghuh? on March 7, 2011.

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