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How to start a Food Truck Business

Johnathan Muller is a very inquisitive Capetonian who takes an interest in everything around him. Follow his journey of lifelong learning


Unbranded Trailer

Unbranded Trailer



Owning a food truck can be very rewarding and a lot of fun. If you love cooking then this is an opportunity to explore your creative side. The success, i have have found, lay is finding your niche. It pays to be different. No two food trucks are the same and never ever see another food truck as competition. Always remember that you are your own limitation or success. This is a place for out-of-the-box thinking.

Sometimes it becomes a strain to get up every morning, hook up your trailer to get to your site on time. On days when this happens it pays to reflect on why you do what you do. In other words your Vision will be your driving force when things get tough.

This is of great importance.


At the time of writing this article, the City of Cape Town (CoCT) had no legislation regarding food Trucks. Click on this link to get and idea of what is required before you can trade. They were in the process of putting some in place.

It is a requirement to have the required permits and licenses in place no matter where you trade. These include:

  1. Business License
  2. Certificate of Acceptability
  3. Health and Safety Permit
  4. Gas Certificate of conformity if using Gas
  5. Electricity Certificate of Compliance if using electricity
  6. Trailer License

Places to trade... here are some suggestions

  1. Community Markets
  2. On Private Property
  3. Motor Car Rallies
  4. Trade Shows

Please note that at all of these places you still need to have all the permits in place.


Which Food Truck or Trailer to buy

In South Africa Food Trucks and Food Trailers and Mobile Kitchens are known by one name, Food Trucks. When you apply for a Trading License the authorities talk about a Food Truck.

Know what you want to do produce before investing in a trailer. It is an expensive investment and you don't want to get it wrong.

There are 2 types of trailer construction. They are:

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  1. Paneled trailers
  2. Insulated Trailers

A Paneled Trailer is a metal frame built on a chassis and the frame is covered in metal sheeting. Usually this is galvanized sheeting or some type of rust resistant material such as Chromadek. These trailers are usually lighter in weight than the insulated trailers. They're easier to tow around but they become very hot inside when you're working outside in the sun. They are cheaper in price than the Insulated Trailers.

The body of the Trailer usually becomes buckled and appears dented after a few months from being towed around.


The insulated trailers are made from the same material used to make blast freezers. Its insulation material sandwiched between two sheets of Chromadek. Its rust proof and the insulation keeps the trailer cool inside when working in the sun. The trailers made of this material is usually heavier. They are more expensive that paneled trailers but they display a lot more professionally and they look very neat.


Food trucks

Strictly speaking, a Food Truck is a suitable motorised vehicle that has been converted into a Food Vendor entity.

The advantage here is when you have a situation where there is a race for space situation and you have to get on the road and to the venue very quickly. You don't have to worry about hooking up a trailer. On arrival you don't have the hassle of unhooking the trailer and having to level it with the dropdown stabalisers.

Other trailers

I've seen trailers that are made from various other material such as wood but theses are not ideal for many reasons. For one, they are not easy to maintain and they do not display or maintain their integrity very well.


When considering any trailer:

  1. make sure that you are satisfied with the overall condition and appearance.
  2. make sure that the trailer has efficient drop-down stands to keep it stable and to adjust the level. It's very dangerous to have an uneven trailer when you're working with hot oil.
  3. Ensure that the serving hatch is the height and size that you require. In other words, will you be able to serve through it comfortably, does it allow for good airflow through the trailer etc.
  4. Is the workspace inside large enough for a minimum of 2 people. Remember that with the Covid19 protocol you, ideally, do not want the person who is preparing the food to handle the money as well.


This too is of utmost importance and can cost a lot of money and time. It is essentially important to have good branding. Advertising your business and what it does needs to be hugely displayed. If you are not well displayed you will not attract curiosity and you will not become well known. If you're intending to trade at various markets, you will become well know very quickly by your vehicle branding.

This means that a combination of your Colour scheme, Logo, Specialty (what you're known for) and description and price of your foods must be well displayed. Regards this to be as important as the food you sell. Coca Cola and a few other Food and Beverage offer free branding of their products on your vehicle and in turn they print the name of your business and pictures of your menu. You will need to negotiate vwery clearly about what it is you want displayed and how.


Do not have a menu with too many items. It seldom works. It looks impressive but it also means you have to carry more stock. You don't have a huge space to work in and you don't have lots of space to store things. The menu also determines how many people you need inside the trailer, and the less people the better.

  1. I suggest a menu of maximum 3 items with having some ingredients that are common across all three.
  2. It is even ok to have just one good item on the menu like doing a variety of Toasted Cheese sandwiches, which are easy to make, ingredients are easy to store and you can turn them out quick. I've traded next to other vendors, at Markets, that sold Gourmet type food and I've done better on profits than they have. This is because I sell great tasting food, at high volume, at good prices and speed.
  3. Your food needs to be great tasting, affordable and Hygienic.
  4. You need a minimum of 2 people per trailer because you can't have the person who is making the food to handle the cash. It poses a hygiene problem. If you have another way around this, then great.
  5. If you are more than 1 person in the trailer, it pays to discuss the roles that each person will play. You cannot be bumping into each other when things get busy and it's dangerous especially if you are working around containers of hot oil.
  6. Branded packaging is always a great idea, though not essential in the beginning.
  7. People do not like to wait too long for food and you don't have the time to discuss your menu with people when you are busy. So, make sure that your items are clearly displayed on the outside of your trading unit, that there is a clear description of what your food contains and the price.
  8. With the Covid19 pandemic it is advisable to have Card Machine with a "tap" option.

Choosing the right equipment... Gas or electricity

This will depend on what it is you intend to sell and where you intend to trade. I have Gas operated equipment only and it has served me well. I can trade just about anywhere. I don't have the convenience of a Fridge but I get along well with an Ice box. Yes, it does limit me a little bit with how much stock I can carry but I overcome that with careful planning.

Gas Chip Fryers pose a huge danger if you don't have temperature control because if your oil reaches dangerously high temperatures, it could ignite and cause a fire inside your trailer. This is where having an electric fryer is an advantage because you have better control over your heat.

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