“My [Hispanic] culture is a very dominant culture, and it’s imposing and it’s causing problems. If you don’t do something about it, you’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.”
So warned Marco Gutierrez, the founder of Latinos for Trump, in an interview on MSNBC TV last September.
The much-quoted remark prompted a storm of tweets and had Americans throughout the 50 states debating. A majority seemed to say, "So what's wrong with that?" After all, tasty and affordable tacos are as American as apple pie -- aren't they?
Tacos -- the Mexican kind -- are less likely to be found being hawked by trucks in Japan than are "takoyaki" (octopus balls), but as Nikkan Gendai (Dec 10) reports, more and more people have been taking to food trucks to hawk their wares, either as a sideline to their regular occupation, or as an attempt to achieve financial independence. Setting up shop at festivals or in areas of Tokyo lacking competing businesses such as convenience stores, the numbers of food trucks in the capital are estimated to range somewhere from 1,000 to 2,000.
The tabloid sent a reporter to interview Susumu Hirayama, operator of the consultancy "Kurusyoku Kitchencarz Life Ido" (http://www.idou-hanbai.jp ) about the business side of the operation.
"Start-up costs for a restaurant run in increments of 10 million yen," Hirayama tells Nikkan Gendai. "Then there are running costs, such as rents, etc. And if the business fails, you can still expect outlays of up to 3 million yen just to shut it down. So starting a business on the street has the merit of minimizing risks."
In most cases, a food truck -- typically a small wagon -- can be manned by a single operator. The rear seats are modified into the working area, which usually requires a 40-liter tank for water; a gas burner for cooking; and a small electric generator. The whole setup can be purchased for anywhere between several hundreds of thousands of yen to 1.5 million yen. The cost is usually doubled to 3 million yen if the operator decides to contract with a franchise.
A key factor to consider is where to set up operations. The traffic laws prohibit operation without permission on public thoroughfares, which means food trucks are basically limited to privately owned streets and driveways, or at festivals and events.
"The organizers of events may require payment of several hundreds of thousands of yen per day," points out Hirayama. "So the best way to operate is to negotiate renting a space from the property owner, in much the same way as do vending machine operators.
"Another way is to join together with other food trucks and set up the equivalent of a 'yatai-mura' (food stall village). The usual cost in this case is 15% of the daily revenues. On top of that, you can expect outlays of 30% for raw materials. So roughly half remains as working profit."
To estimate income, Hirayama suggests a rule of thumb of 30,000 yen in sales per day times perhaps 20 days a month, which would leave 300,000 yen after operating costs. Prices of food items are usually set between restaurants on the high end and convenience stores on the low end.
To attract business, it's important to come up with a theme or concept, and be able to offer a "kanban shohin" (the main item displayed in the sign on the truck).
Hirayama also pointed out that customers enjoy watching a show of the food being prepared, and often prefer to opt for a tasty hot meal from a food truck over take-out from a supermarket or convenience store.
"About 80 or 90% of sales by successful food truck operators tend to be from their repeat customers," he said.© Japan Today