Passion + planning: ingredients for food truck success

We recently connected with Shay Yellin, Co-Founder of New York Street Food. He spoke to us about the importance of planning and innovation in running a successful food truck. is one of NYC’s most popular Street Food blogs. Founded in 2009 – just as the New York street food scene was starting to accelerate - the site was created to highlight the great quality and variety of street food in NYC. However, it slowly grew bigger and started covering all sorts of food venues in the city, and became a great source for both New Yorkers and tourists alike. has been featured in many distinguished Newspapers and Media Channels, such as the New York Times, the New York Post, CBS, Forbes and many more. Lately – has been chosen by The Sunday Times as one of its leading food tips providers for their new interactive NYC Food Map.

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

SHAY: Unfortunately, there are lots of challenges for street food vendors. The first thing is that you need to learn how to navigate through the maze of permits and certifications that are required, or – you’ll be fined! This red tape includes a seller’s permit, health department certifications, food safety training, permits and licenses for the food truck itself – like registration, inspection etc., liability insurance, mobile vending laws, and more. The secret is to remain calm and just get the required permits – one by one. It might look daunting – but you get it eventually.

Another big challenge is PARKING. You can’t just park your food truck wherever you want. You’ll either need to lease the spots you want or negotiate a percentage of your sales.

Obtaining a bank business loan can also be a challenge at times. Banks don’t like giving money to new food trucks. Best advice is to prepare a solid business plan, and try to offer some form of collateral.

Other challenges include the weather (no one likes eating a falafel out in the rain), the storage challenge (can’t store too much food in a truck!), and payment methods (accept only cash or cards as well?). However, all these challenges can be dealt with. Planning it all in advance is key, but being flexible is a “must” as well.

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

SHAY: Successful street food vendors are passionate about their food truck and products, and always stay ahead of the competition. If you don’t innovate, bring up cool ideas and invent new delicious concoctions – then you’ll probably stay behind. To become big, you need to differentiate yourself, build your small truck into a brand, focus on consistent tasty food, great customer service and efficient operations.

Another key component these days is to know how to use online marketing, be it operating a cool website and a strong social media presence.

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

SHAY: Well, part of the appeal of starting a street food truck business is definitely that the startup costs are less than those of a restaurant.

However, while still cheaper than a restaurant, starting a food truck can still hit around $100,000. The biggest investment is of course the truck and permits. You could get a used truck for $15,000 or $20,000, while a new one can cost you $50,000 or $60,000.

As for the permits, a legal permit in NYC costs around $200. However, these permits are renewable and very limited in number, which created a short supply and a black market, where permits can reach prices of $10,000 or more.

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

SHAY: If you don’t have a real passion for the food business, then keep your job.


To find out more about New York Street Food, visit or find them on Twitter and Facebook.


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

Nov 17, 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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