The food truck industry in Boston has seen fewer crowds and lower revenues since March, despite an increase in outdoor dining caused by the pandemic.
Chick-Fil-A Food Truck at Boston University. While the Chick-Fil-A-Truck was popular with BU students, other local food trucks have had problems since the pandemic began. THALIA LAUZON / FREE PRESS STAFF EVERY DAY
Even as chain restaurants enter the city’s wireless industry, long-standing local providers are struggling, said Malachi Hernandez, mobile business manager at the mayor’s economic development office.
“The food truck industry community has definitely been hit very, very hard,” said Hernandez. “Unfortunately, many had to close, either temporarily or permanently, and it was just a big challenge.”
These closings were noticed, said Anh-Phi Tran, managing partner at Zinneken’s, whose waffle cart had previously parked in front of COM.
“We used to see a lot of trucks when we were doing our shifts, but that’s no longer the case,” said Tran. “It’s a really lonely kind of business for now.”
Zinneken’s truck hasn’t gained much popularity in sales at BU in the past few months, Tran said.
“I have noticed that [students] were there but they just weren’t in class and weren’t walking around so they didn’t come to the trucks, ”Tran said. “It just doesn’t make sense to get out of there and not make any money.”
In addition to significantly lower demand from customers, the challenges of the pandemic also included higher supply and labor costs, Tran said.
“The minimum wage is also going up so you make less money,” he said. “Everything costs more … at some point it was impossible to find gloves.”
As local restaurants and cellular operators face these financial barriers, they have been met through COVID-19 relief grants from the Mayor’s Office for Economic Development.
“We did our best to support them,” said Hernandez.
Those grants come from a number of operations including the Reopen Boston Fund, Hernandez said. These and other awards enable financial support, including up to $ 3,000 per small business for PPE materials.
“Since COVID was successful, we’ve really tried to figure out what it means to really support food trucks during this time,” said Hernandez. “With food trucks in particular, it’s an industry where this social interaction, the huge presence of people and the huge presence of COVID are really difficult right now.”
Although the city has offered financial assistance to businesses, the losses caused by pandemics are beyond operating costs, said Patrick Lynch, CEO of Boston-based restaurant Bon Me, which also operates food trucks.
Lynch added that the city has created new food truck locations in residential areas, but the proximity to restaurants in the neighborhood makes zoning difficult.
“I’m sure restaurant owners … when their business is way down, don’t really want a food truck to be parked outside,” Lynch said.
Lynch added that he was concerned that Chick-fil-A’s expansion into the food truck business – having recently started selling on Commonwealth Avenue – may not match the industry’s original personality.
“It feels a little bit against the spirit of the food truck program,” Lynch said. “I think it’s more like local businesses starting out or having been around as food trucks for a while and not necessarily like an advertising medium for a bigger brand.”
Chick-fil-A’s presence in Boston is relatively new. Former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino denounced The franchise will no longer operate in the city in 2012 due to an anti-LGBTQ + vibe from the company.
Lynch added that large companies can afford to run a truck to add to the risk.
“You can drive a truck and lose money to get notoriety,” said Lynch, “while a local brand has to make money when they go out there.”