Lessons Learned: Use food trucks to bring more diverse food offerings to customers in underserved areas, and stabilize or boost revenue during periods of renovation.
UW Street Food line of trucks was built three years ago as a temporary way to feed students and faculty during a planned renovation of the foodservice facilities. Their instant and sustained success, however, made the trucks a permanent part of the institution.A collection of three food trucks, seeing 15,000 passersby daily, lines up around bustling Red Square on the campus of the University of Washington, Seattle. The
"Washington state law says you can't outsource foodservice, so internally we had to pull together our culinary and marketing teams to come up with the food truck strategy," says Storm Hodge, assistant director at UW's Housing and Food Services. "We saw food trucks as a way to fill an underserved niche."
While a couple of the original five trucks closed with the reopening of one of the main dining halls, Hodge says the university's auxiliary dining service plans to invest in more trucks, possibly in a stationary trailer format, to continue offering a diverse food platform to both the 50,000 students and nearly 20,000 faculty and staff members on campus. That platform also consists of 42 total cafeteria and retail operations across campus, including 27 espresso stands, along with fresh grocery stores, a couple of express markets, a farmer's market and even a restaurant housed in a dorm.
The current offerings — Hot Dawgs' kosher dogs and vegan sausages; Motosurf's full-plate lunches and stick-based snacks of Hawaiian, Korean and Pacific Island street foods; and Red Square BBQ, complete with its own on-truck electric smoker — fall in line with the campus's sustainability goals, using compostable disposables and local foods sourced from within 250 miles. Powered by a central generator and water lines, the stationary eateries cut down on gas and energy consumption.
Operating mainly during the weekday lunch hour and at some special events and Saturday football games, the trucks together generate $2,500 a day and $1.2 million per year. That was enough to not only match, but also slightly exceed the stalled revenue caused by the closing of the main student union and 10 retail operations inside for renovations.
The trucks use a hot line consisting mainly of steam wells and a flattop for dogs and street foods like Hawaiian Spam musubi, a snack of grilled, shoyu-glazed Spam wrapped in rice and nori. Red Square BBQ slow smokes ribs and brisket in the main kitchens for 4 to 12 hours before finishing the meats on the truck.
About 35 feet in length, these smaller-size, stationary trailers cost around $30,000 a piece to start, and up to $80,000 fully loaded. They're also easily interchangeable, with flexible flattops and other equipment and external plastic wrapping (rather than paint) that can be replaced with new signage as needed.