Editor’s Note: This is part two of a three-part installment of a blog series called “How To Start A Street Food Vendor Business.”
Finding the Right Hot Dog Cart
We all want the cart with all the bells and whistles, the best of the best. But even if you can afford the investment, it's rarely the best decision. Your hot dog cart is a tool, it's the equipment that functions to provide good, safe food. A fancy cart will not make any more money than a clean, used cart.
Your first priority in finding a cart is to know what your state and your menu require. That's it. No need to have a fancy fridge on a cart if a cooler will work. No need to have two steam tables if your state only allows a limited menu. Look at it this way: what's the least you can get away with so that the cart pays for itself the fastest? Make your second cart the one with all the bells and whistles, but let the first cart buy that second cart for you. You can find some great deals on used carts, but there are some very important things to watch out for.
New carts require just as much careful consideration as getting a used cart. Always perform a search online for the company you have found. Let's say you find a nice cart at Hoppity Top Hot Dog Cart Co. Take their name and search for reviews. This will pull up customer complaint websites and forum comments if any have been made. Another great spot is to check out the Facebook page of the manufacturer. If they allow posting, post a question to other customers. A reputable company won't mind this at all. Check forums such as StreetVendorForum.com and RoadFood.com.
Keep in mind, any manufacturer in business for a while may have some complaints. Your local hospital, Walmart, and Walgreens have complaints, but you certainly can get a good feel by talking to real customers and real users. Also, see if they've changed names recently and then ask them why. I know one manufacturer who's done this due solely to the number of bad complaints against his products. Remember, Google is your friend, and an hour of doing some investigative work may prevent you from purchasing from a bad manufacturer.
Before you decide on a cart, make sure to show your health inspector the schematics so they can pre-approve it before purchasing. It may take a few days to get the pre-approval, but it can save you thousands of dollars in mistakes.
A commissary is a place the health department wants you to use to do prep work, like cutting onions or pre-cooking products. It's the place where they will want you to clean up, wash your pans, and dump your grey water tank.
You can find some fantastic tips and advice on finding a free commissary here.
Contrary to inexperienced public opinion, some new vendors think that finding a location just means finding a spot where lots of cars go by. If that was the case, we'd all just set up next to the interstate. Why do you think there are thousands of vendors, yet in a big city, you my struggle to find one? It's because most professional vendors are working the spots no one thinks of:
- salvage yards
- flea markets
- truck stop parking
- state parks
- boat ramps
Very few vendors actually work a sidewalk spot, and those vendors have found the perfect ones. There's no need to worry; there are so many locations that will make you a small fortune if you know where to look and don't get stuck thinking you need to be at First and Main.
Be on the look out for the last installment of our “How To Start a Street Food Vendor Business” blog.