One person can run a food truck and be owner, driver, waiter and recipe tester.
DessertTruck, which roams the streets of New York, features sweets made by a former pastry chef at Le Cirque.
"Street vending has always been a way for people to get good food without having to spend much money, but it has changed with the times," says Dan Delaney, host and executive producer of VendrTV, an online show dedicated to street vendors and their foods.
These are not the street carts of your grandfather's day. A number of professional chefs have left brick-and-mortar restaurants to become vendors -- and the sophistication of the menus reflects this. These include DessertTruck in New York City, co-owned by Jerome Chang, a former pastry chef at Le Cirque, and Spencer on the Go!, which is the mobile version of the San Francisco restaurant Chez Spencer. To Delaney, it's not as much a trend as it is an understandable evolution: "It would be odd if there was still only dirty-water hot dogs."
Street carts are evolving in other big cities, such as L.A., Portland, Ore., and Pittsburgh, and in smaller ones like Austin, Burlington, Vt., and New Haven, Conn. The most important factor is city zoning regulations, which can make or break a person's ability to set up such an enterprise.
With little overhead and just a few menu options, one person can run a food truck all by himself. He can be chef, driver, owner, waiter and recipe tester. "The way to do it is to make three items and do them well," says Matt Rohdie, owner-operator of Carpe Donut, which serves homemade cider doughnuts in Charlottesville, Va. "I'm not going to have room to be Dunkin' Donuts, so I have to stick to serving one type of doughnut, locally roasted coffee and hot mulled cider. And people love it."
And with Facebook and Twitter, nomadic street carts that appear on a different corner practically every few hours are able to inform patrons of their exact location. "These sites are great for a street vendor to gain early traction," Delaney says. "But at the end of the day, it's still about their product."