Despite the onslaught of food trucks and loosening regulations in recent years, there are still multiple cities, even some of the bigger ones, that are only within their first year or two experiencing the street food phenomenon, if even having passed food truck ordinances at all. These places offer a great avenue for those just getting into the food truck business to start up, providing areas with workable regulations that aren’t already over-crowded with tons of other owners, leading for room to develop, grow, and cement yourself into a local culture. Des Moines, Iowa is one of the cities right on the cusp of that perfect situation, but this likely won’t last too long, so those in or nearby the city should take advantage now.
If you’re ready to start your own food truck in Des Moines, click here to learn how you can begin raising the funds needed for your unit.
Though the trucks have been here for a couple years, Des Moines’ City Council only just approved a pilot program for them which requires vendors to license their truck with the city. This will last through October, and will approve 4 different ‘zones’ that they’re allowed to park in for service. But their popularity is already seen, gathering the different owners for events like a Food Truck Throw Down back in May. There’s plenty of other things to know about the scene, but we’ll leave that to Aaron from StreetEats DSM to inform us about; one of the implants from earlier this year, his first-hand experience with what’s needed to start fresh in his mind. We’re very grateful to him for taking the time to answer our questions, and can’t wait to get down to it and see what he has to say.
Aaron: StreetEats DSM started in February of this year. The idea was about a year in the making. Since there is never a good time to spend that kind of money on anything, the wife and I decided that there’s no time like the present. So we pulled the trigger, found a truck mostly equipped, brought it home, took it apart, retooled, cleaned and got rolling.
The Des Moines food scene used to consist of about 15 taco trucks that owned vacant lots around the city. They parked there 6 days a week, had their own electric meter, (most had satellite tv dishes mounted to their power pole) and served their regular customers there. The city’s regulations were so restrictive, that it was not possible to operate a food truck downtown. We’re in a pilot program right now that allows us to operate in ‘zones’ around the downtown area at parking meters. There are about 20 new food trucks operating right now, most of us are in a new food truck association called the Legion of Food. We keep ourselves in the know about events, opportunities, requests from businesses and events. We deal with the city on behalf of the members, and most importantly, we make sure each one of us is health code legal, clean, and following the ordinances. We believe that more trucks bring more business (we’ve found this to be true over the last few months) so we’re not really in competition, but work together to have multiple trucks in the same locations each day.
Q: How long have trucks been relatively active in Des Moines? What’s the ‘scene’ sort of like right now, considering number of trucks and ease of operation?
Aaron: Trucks that serve on the streets have only been around here in Des Moines for the last 2-3 years. Now there are over 20 in operation. I think the scene is up and coming. It’s nice to see 7 or 8 trucks lined up on the street with a few hundred people milling about, having lunch and enjoying the day.
Q: Are the regulations currently pretty mellow, or are they really difficult for trucks to work with on a daily basis? Basically has their been any good development for trucks since they started up?
Aaron: The regulations are what they are. We’ve seen other cities that are a bit easier to operate in, and cheaper, but the pilot program will be reviewed very soon and hopefully we can agree with the city on a plan that works for all parties concerned. For now, if you want to start up, it’s about 1k for the permit to park at meters in one of the zones, and an additional fee if you plan to park on private property.
Q: Besides what’s already been mentioned, are there any particular advantages to operating a truck in Des Moines specifically? Any disadvantages?
Aaron: Great advantages are that trucks are pretty new, and some of the good concepts have not been thought of yet. We have taco trucks, pizza trucks, but only a few of us have really stepped outside the ‘norm’ to offer something different. This is a young, upper middle class city, people are looking for something funky and new.
Q: What sort of resources are there for food truck owners, new or old, to help with operation? Whether it’s figuring out regulations, finding events, or any other help with local concerns.
Aaron: We have our food truck association, The Legion Of Food that helps with finding events, helping to understand the regulations and laws, and support.
Q: Are there any particular parking areas in the city, events/festivals, businesses, or other such places you would suggest new truck owners look into and consider when starting out? What sort of room would you say there is to expand outside of where most trucks park nowadays?
Aaron: A lot of the trucks regularly park at the Western Gateway Park / Papajohn Sculpture garden. Also, food trucks can park at the State Capitol Complex with permission from the powers that be there. We have many festivals throughout the summer: 80/35, world food festival, Latino heritage, Asian heritage, Italian heritage, assorted farmers markets, music festivals, large office parks. There really is no shortage of places to make a good living with a food truck.
Q: Finally, is there any last bit of advice or factoid concerning Des Moines’ food truck scene that you would like to say?
Aaron: This is a great place to operate a food truck. The people are eager to try new things, get outside their offices for lunch. Out of their homes for fairs and festivals. My advice would be to have something familiar but different than you can get at a brick and mortar restaurant. Make your truck a destination for food and fun, not just a necessit