Running a food cart is hard work! A look at the people and stories behind successful mobile food businesses

Co-Founder of Behind the Food Carts: Phil Shen

We recently connected with Phil Shen, Co-Founder of Behind the Food Carts. He spoke to us about challenges facing mobile food entrepreneurs, some early investments they can make to help their business, and the compelling reasons to focus on the human stories behind each food cart.

Behind the Food Carts is a culinary travel blog highlighting the amazing people behind the street food movement across the globe. Their book, "Food Truck Road Trip: A Cookbook", features over 100 authentic recipes, stories, and photos from 63 amazing street food vendors in 12 cities across the country.

KIVA: What are the main challenges that mobile food businesses face today and how can they be overcome?

PHIL: I think there’s still a strong stigma that mobile food businesses are serving unhealthy foods that are either greasy or fried. In reality, people don’t realize that at gourmet food trucks, you’re getting restaurant quality or better food. A lot of chefs and owners we meet make everything in-house, even ketchup! A lot of the food is made-to-order and I find the standards higher than most restaurants.

KIVA: What are some common characteristics of successful mobile food ventures? And of ventures that fail?

PHIL: It’s a tough business. Lots of hard work and hours. You have to have a lot of passion in your craft to make it work. I think that’s why our blog and book is really focused more on the people behind the scenes and what makes them tick. The stories are quite amazing. A lot of times it’s people quitting their careers and starting over to share the love of their culture’s food or grandmother’s secret recipes.

KIVA: What early investments should mobile food entrepreneurs consider making?

PHIL: Good photos and social media. These are 2 things that the more successful businesses understand and are willing to put money to make it shine. You’d be surprised by how many businesses don’t even have a website. There are so many tools (sometimes even free) that can help small businesses. It’s simply knowing about them.

KIVA: If you could say one thing to new mobile food business owners, what would it be?

PHIL: Don’t put out food you don’t believe in. Customers can always feel the care and love you put into your food.

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To find out more about Behind the Food Carts, visit behindthefoodcarts.com or find them on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

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Posted by Junho Hyun-Sack, Kiva U.S. Intern

Oct 18, 2016

Junho is an intern on the Kiva U.S. team. He’s worked as a management consultant for Oliver Wyman in London since 2014. He previously worked with UNICEF Water and Sanitation in Sri Lanka, and Mercy Corps, a microfinance institution, in Jakarta. He grew up in Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka and would love to travel some more when he gets the chance.

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