Food trucks remain a popular trend in the commercial foodservice space. Here are two examples of on-site operators leveraging food truck technology to provide meals during a dining hall renovation and feed children in need during the summer months.
Last year, as part of the transformation plan for its Revelle neighborhood, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), closed Plaza Café, the 50-year-old dining operation that served this student housing community.
"During the renovation, we wanted to offer a hot meal for breakfast, lunch and dinner to the students, faculty and staff who were eating at Plaza Café," says Steve Casad, UCSD's director of dining, retail and conference services. "A food truck seemed like the best option to support the campus community."
As a result, Incredi-Bowls found a parking spot near Revelle's well-known plaza, and it was not long before students sped to this new dining option, which features an Asian-style bowl menu. "The initial concept and presentation was so popular that after one school quarter the truck revised its hours to include a dinner service," says Jason Andrews, assistant to the director.
Each day, customers purchase 600 to 700 bowls prepared by the culinary team. The static breakfast bowl menu comes with cage-free scrambled eggs, tater tots, a breakfast protein, fruit and a biscuit and/or English muffin. The lunch and dinner bowl themes rotate each day of the week with a varied core choice of ingredients, including rice, mac and cheese, french fries, mashed potatoes, pasta, vegetables and protein. The menu moves orders quickly with a scoop-and-serve concept. All bowls cost $5.95.
The Housing, Dining and Hospitality Administration building houses the Revelle catering kitchen on the west side of campus where food production for the truck's menu begins. In this space, staff cut and cook vegetables, rice, macaroni and cheese and mashed potatoes. Staff transport the food to the truck via a mini golf cart with an exterior wrap that looks exactly like the truck's. "The mini truck allows staff to run food and staff to the truck for each meal period," Casad says.
At the truck, up to three staff members assemble and/or cook ingredients, take orders and serve the food. Along the back side of the 20-foot vehicle, equipment from left to right includes an upright, full-size refrigerator; a stainless steel counter; a 3-well steam table with an inverse latching lid; a 36-inch griddle with refrigerator drawers beneath; a fryer with a custom-fabricated latching lid; a fry hold station; an exhaust hood and make-up fan; a fire extinguisher; a stainless steel counter with a utensil drawer; a trash container; and a freezer.
The opposite side of the truck's interior space includes a holding-proofing cabinet, a 48-inch refrigerated sandwich prep table, a stainless steel countertop with a pair of beverage refrigerators beneath; a hand sink with a mixing faucet, a 3-compartment sink with drainboards, a mixing sprayer faucet, dispensers for liquid soap and paper towels, a 4-gallon water heater and a chemical storage cabinet. A concession window and pass-through window sit in the middle of this equipment lineup. An external door allows access to the beverage refrigerators. The unit also holds two air conditioners.
Also on this side of the truck, a service window allows staff to take orders and pass food to customers. A staff member places orders at a point-of-sale terminal, which sits on a small podium outside the vehicle during peak traffic periods and inside the truck during evenings and slower periods. A wireless modem sends orders to a database for validation of campus tender. Upon completion, the orders print via a wireless printer sitting inside the truck. Staff assemble the orders and present the food to customers. "Truck staff work so efficiently that they fill orders in 30 seconds," Andrews says.
Following several months of operating the truck, Casad shares advice for others. "The key is not to expect the ability to do anything and everything," he says. "You must focus your menu and degree of desired flexibility. The challenge is how much square footage you have to work with and how you want to lay out the equipment to allow for enough aisle space and counter space so workers don't bump into each other. We established the baseline of equipment that allows for flexibility and change of menu. However, we must always be aware of layout restrictions due to mechanical, electrical and plumbing limitations, door swing, wheel wells, and flow of production to account for staff crowding. In addition, you have to think about balancing the weight and therefore the placement of the water — both the reserve and waste water — refrigeration and propane."
Casad also recommends devoting enough time to plan for menu design, promotions infrastructure, commissary infrastructure, proposal process and fuel sourcing. "Rely upon the upfitter's expertise and provide flexibility in vision," he says. "Make the truck something special with the menu, look, feel and experience. Break the mold and have fun. And make sure the IT team develops a way to tell people through social media where the truck is and when."
During the summer months, with limited hours of operation at Revelle, the truck served 700 potential students visiting campus. After Revelle's dining facility renovation is completed, the truck will become a mobile service that will frequent different spots on campus to serve the community's need for food at athletic and other special events. In designated campus locations the truck operates on shore power to reduce unnecessary fuel usage and emissions. When the truck becomes mobile, it will run off a generator. "The gasoline-powered generator was specifically sourced to allow for ease of fill-up with the vehicle gas tank too," Casad says. "Exhaust was specifically routed away from the service window, and a noise dampening case helps keep the beast quiet during service."
Also in the planning stages is a second vehicle to come into service for the 2015 winter quarter with a world flavor concept theme. Casad and the UCSD team are closely watching for changes in regulations. "As the growth of trucks increases, so do regulations," Casad says. "For example, we must park within 50 feet of a restroom. County regulations do not impact our services directly, however, increased regulations may impact resale value of the truck from foodservice safety features, emissions and service regulations in the vicinity. We do keep a watchful eye open for possible state regulations that would affect the UC campus."
Many children from lower-income families rely on their school foodservice systems to provide breakfast and lunch for them during the academic year. And when school's not in session, many students still visit their school cafeterias to partake in federally subsidized meals as part of the USDA's Summer Food Service Program. Such is the case in Colorado's Jefferson County School District (Jeffco Schools).
But when Linda Stoll, executive director of foodservices for Jeffco Schools, realized that many of these children can't get to cafeterias for government-subsidized meals, she shifted her problem-solving skills into high gear. After brainstorming with the transportation department, the decision was made to retrofit a school bus to deliver meals to students in need in their neighborhoods. The initiative proved so successful that Jeffco Schools elected to add a second bus for the second year of the program, which kicked off earlier this summer.
A colorful motif with images of nutritious food wraps around the exterior of the buses, which are part of what is called the Summer Lunch Club. The bus retrofitting was made possible through a $6,000 grant provided by a nonprofit group called Hunger Free Colorado. The USDA's Summer Food Service Program picks up the remaining costs.
Staff prepare, plate and chill the food for this program in a central kitchen. When staff place the food in the truck, they put cold menu items in a stand-up refrigerator and hot food in two hot holding cabinets. Meal components are preplated, so students pick a sealed hot tray and then select a zipped plastic sandwich bag with washed and cut fresh fruit and vegetables.
Each bus also includes an 8,000-watt generator to create electricity, a portable evaporative swamp cooler and a kitchen sink so staff and kids can wash their hands. Small-size cafeteria tables and booths offer seating for 30. An awning outside the bus can be extended so kids can sit in the shade on portable tables and chairs while eating their meals.
One bus stops outside the Arvada K-8 school and then a mobile home park in Arvada, staying for one hour at each location. The other bus stops outside Stein Elementary. The two buses combined serve 220 to 225 students daily.
"We're reaching kids who otherwise might go hungry during summer months," Stoll says. "This way, when they receive at least one nutritious meal a day, they're hopefully healthy and ready to come back to school in the fall."