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What comes before food trucks for Phoenix entrepreneurs? Unique mobile concepts

What comes before food trucks for Phoenix entrepreneurs? Unique mobile concepts

What comes before food trucks for Phoenix entrepreneurs? Unique mobile concepts

They’re not food trucks, but they’re not physical restaurants either. They’re mobile food concepts, or at least that’s what we call them.

Think retro cart selling bagels or a pizza oven dragging on the back of a truck. They’re highly stylized and popping up all over town. And, according to Gabe Gardner, they’re a great way for food entrepreneurs to get a foot in the door.

Gardner is the director of food entrepreneurship at Local First Arizona. He spoke more about the topic on The Show.

Gabe Gardner

Full conversation

GABE GARDNER: Food entrepreneurs are trying out these kinds of specialty food stands, or as you said, I’m not sure what the correct name is, but we’re trying them out as a stepping stone between starting a business where you do a temporary stand in a 10-by-10 tent, say, at a farmers market or on the patio of a brewery or a coffee shop, on the way to a mobile food stand. And then, I think, ultimately, to a brick-and-mortar restaurant.

LAUREN GILGER: It seems like it’s a stepping stone for a lot of people.

GARDENER: Of course of course.

GILGER: So, it’s the new version of food trucks, even before they existed.

GARDENER: Yeah. And I think the thing to understand about them is that they have lower barriers to entry, right? A brand new, fully equipped food truck can cost, for God’s sake, $60,000 or $70,000.

Gilger: Wow.

GARDENER: Yes. And these smaller units, whether it’s a cart or something built into a mobile pizza oven or something built into a smaller piece of equipment that’s still mobile, gives you the flexibility to be able to go into multiple spaces, multiple locations and be installed, but also just requires less investment.

Customers Jamie Boros (left) and Caroline Bueno at Caffio Espresso Bar inside Pueblo on Grand Avenue in Phoenix on Friday, July 5, 2024.

Customers Jamie Boros (left) and Caroline Bueno at Caffio Espresso Bar inside Pueblo on Grand Avenue in Phoenix on Friday, July 5, 2024.

GILGER: Yeah, less upfront investment. There’s a big branding component to this. It seems like with a lot of these companies, they have to have an online presence to tell people where they’re going to be next and people will follow them around, right?

GARDENER: Yes, absolutely. And I think what these smaller hypermobile units allow is that there is a focal point for the business.

There’s a very popular one, Caffio Espresso, which is built into an old Vespa like you might see in other countries as a taxi. And what’s really cool about that is that it offers a focal point and they use that as part of their branding. But also, if I’m walking through a farmers market or a street fair or a festival of some sort, you see it from afar and you’re drawn to it because it’s so visually striking and, I mean, they happen to have really delicious coffee and of course the food or drink or whatever they’re selling has to be perfect. But I think what initially draws them in is the fact that this is off the beaten path.

GILGER: Yeah. What kind of concepts are you looking at? You mentioned the Vespa coffee cart, but there are also bagel versions of this. There’s like a pizza oven that someone’s bringing around town, right?

GARDENER: Yes, of course. It’s definitely built on an old Vespa cart. The cart is a very popular thing. There’s Bagelero, their space in South Phoenix, they work all over the city and their cart is kind of an old retro style thing, like you see in the movies. And again, that’s what attracts them.

And there are people who use mobile wood-fired pizza ovens that still have that classic domed Italian pizza oven look and are used for various events. And again, the focal point of the business is the equipment that draws people in.

Barista Madison Ellis at Caffio Espresso Bar inside Pueblo on Grand Avenue in Phoenix on Friday, July 5, 2024.

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Tim Agne/KJZZ

GILGER: Let me ask you about the state of food trucks in the Valley, because it was a huge phenomenon there several years ago. I’m wondering what’s happened. Are there a lot of them, a lot of them have closed? Do you still see big events with a lot of food trucks these days?

GARDENER: Yes, I think food trucks have become part of the Valley’s culture and food scene, which I think is fantastic. But what I would say specifically about the units we’re talking about today is that the more, the merrier, and that creates some diversity.

And also, as I mentioned before, it’s about removing a barrier or at least lowering it for people to start and grow a business. And that’s precisely what Local First is about: we’re a nonprofit, created and designed to help people start and grow their businesses. And we believe that economic development happens best when entrepreneurs do entrepreneurial things. So the more people that are involved in the food system in that way, the better.

GILGER: Do you think some of these food concepts that you’re seeing will be circulating around town on carts or, you know, Vespas or whatever? Do you think they’ll ever make it? Will you be working with them to try to open a brick-and-mortar location or many more?

GARDENER: I hope so. I mean, selfishly, I like having really great places to go out to eat. And I would love to see a place like Otra Pizzeria, which is, you know, a business that has a mobile wood-fired pizza oven, go brick and mortar and maybe that’s the dream that’s going to happen. But for now, I’m content with having a thriving, bustling street food and events scene in the city.

But I’m also all for fantastic new restaurants. I think the beauty of these mobile units is that even though you open a physical restaurant, it doesn’t mean that the Vespa or the cart or the pizza oven is no more. So you have two revenue streams. You have a business that makes money in a physical establishment in a certain location day in and day out, but you also have the ability to go out and do special events, do catering, do street fairs with the mobile unit, which is really cool. And ultimately, you’re bringing more money into the business.

Onyx Delight Lattes at Caffio Espresso Bar inside Pueblo on Grand Avenue in Phoenix on Friday, July 5, 2024.

Onyx Delight Lattes at Caffio Espresso Bar inside Pueblo on Grand Avenue in Phoenix on Friday, July 5, 2024.

KJZZ The Show transcripts are created on a deadline basis. This text is edited for brevity and clarity and may not be in its final form. The official record of KJZZ’s programming is the audio log.