Make. Learn. Grow. Food Trucks 101

Want to run a food truck? Four experts share info you may not know 

Four experts in running food truck businesses led a Make. Learn. Grow. workshop at the Knoxville Entrepreneur Center Tuesday and shared their knowledge with the group gathered. Patricia Robledo, business liaison with the City of Knoxville; Kevin Clark, food program manager with the Knox County Health Department; Brian Beaty of KUB’s Regulatory Compliance Department; and food truck co-owner Rebecca Saldiver offered these thoughts to people considering a food truck business. 



The number

The City of Knoxville adopted its food truck ordinance as permanent policy in April 2016. Since then, said Patricia Robledo, 140 mobile food units (MFUs) have received permits. Ninety-five are currently permitted in Knoxville. Forty-one have closed. Sixteen people are currently interested in starting the process. Fourteen are partially permitted. Five owners have added a second unit. Four brick-and-mortar businesses have added an MFU to their business. Three MFUs have transitioned to brick-and-mortar establishments.

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The procedure

Before submitting an application to the city, all MFUs must comply with regulations of the Tennessee Department of Health. If you reside in Knox County, contact the Knox County Health Department Environmental Health Division, (865) 215-5200 or environmental@knoxcounty.org. If you do not reside in Knox County, contact your local health department or health authority. 

You also need to contact KUB to apply for a Grease Control Program Permit. Call (865) 594-8337 to start the process. KUB will determine the size of the grease control equipment you need. There will be some other requirements, such as maintaining the equipment and posting a cleaning log of the grease control equipment according to a schedule set by KUB. You will also need to address your plans for disposal of the contents removed from the grease control equipment. More information is available here, or by emailing KUB at GreaseControlProgram@kub.org

Before the city will issue a permit, you must submit the permit fee; a copy of Tennessee Department of Health License; Knoxville Utilities Board Grease Control Program Permit Number; a copy of City and County business license(s); a copy of a valid government-issued driver’s license for all drivers; proof of Commercial, Automobile, and Workers’ Compensation Insurance, if applicable; an executed indemnity agreement; and a color photo of the MFU.

To complete the city’s online application, click here.  

The inspection

All MFUs must be inspected prior to operation and the issuance of a permit. The MFU will have to be inspected by the Fire Marshal’s Office and an Electric Inspector. Inspections are scheduled at the Knoxville Civic Coliseum at 9 am on the first and third Tuesday of every month.

The costs

MFUs pay an initial $200 annual fee and an annual $50 renewal fee to be permitted by the city. MFUs desiring to operate during a one-time event may apply for a temporary permit at a cost of $75. Costs for health department permitting is $210 per year; the KUB permit is $100 annually. 

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Where you can operate

In Knoxville, food trucks are permitted in private parking lots, in food truck zones in the downtown area, at special events, and, with permission, at parks and recreational facilities. Once you have the Tennessee Department of Health permit, you can operate in other parts of Tennessee. Be sure to check city ordinances and go through the application process wherever you go. 

Been there, done that

Rebecca Saldivar is available as a food truck consultant after having operated one since 2012. Among her advice to potential food truck operators: 

It’s a dance, figuring out what works for you.
— Rebecca Saldiver
  • To cater a private event, she requires a signed contract and a 50% deposit up front. The remainder is payable following the event. 

  • When she applies to a festival or market, she always asks what other food trucks will be there. It’s helpful to know who the competition is and it may influence whether you choose to attend and what menu you serve. 

  • The Central Filling Station takes 10% of your sales for parking there; Rebecca pays $80 at attend the Market Square Farmers Market. “If you go anywhere else that wants to charge a fee, be very careful. You may not make enough to even cover the fee.” 

  • Use food items that can be safely preserved if they don’t sell. Keep your eye on food recalls because you’ll be liable if your customers get sick. Donate what you can’t sell; don’t just throw it away. 

  • Rebecca finds catering to be the best way to make money with a food truck. “It’s a dance, figuring out what works for you,” she said. “Your business is going to be different from everyone else’s.”

  • A food truck operator wears many hats, she said: chef, salesperson, customer service, accountant, mechanic, buyer, negotiator, general laborer, waiter, dishwasher, trainer, human resources, safety enforcer, janitor, social media guru, greasetrap cleaner. 

  • Safety must be your first priority. “A fire suppression system is a giant pain and very expensive, but with the propane and gasoline and cooking oil, a food truck is a giant fire waiting to happen. There are a lot of people milling around at festivals and markets. You need someone to direct you through the crowd and watch while you back up. Safety, safety, safety.” 

  • “Only you can determine the success of your business,” she said. “You can’t blame the health department or the city or the farmers market or clients that cancel on you. Only you can make it successful.” 


Contact

All four presenters are excellent resources for information about food truck businesses.

Here’s how you get in touch:

Brian Beaty

Brian.Beaty@kub.org

(865) 594-8354

Kevin Clark

kevin.clark@knoxcounty.org

Phone:  (865) 215-5200