Thursday, March 26, 2015

A Modular Factory Producing Food Trucks

When you think of an industry like system built construction, you usually think of modular, panelized, manufactured, log and shipping container conversions.

However there are other industries using system built methods to produce buildings such as the Food Truck industry. Just because you can't sleep in them and they have wheels doesn't mean that they aren't built to strict codes and standards.


East Coast Custom Coaches in Mananas, VA is one of the leading food truck factories in the US. What surprised me is how much engineering and work goes into each one.

Lee Campbell, the owner, praises the workers, tells them to stay cool, and promises to let them go home early. “If you want to be here,” he says, “you’re going to leave tired, because you go home and you know that you did a really great job, that you didn’t just put something up and hope it stays there until it gets out of the parking lot.” He retreats inside to the relative cool of the factory and its high ceilings.

The 53-year-old general manager of East Coast Custom Coaches, the largest mobile food truck outfitter in the greater Washington area, assumes you prefer your Cajun taco without trickled sweat from the neck of your food truck chef. That’s why he ensures that every truck the company works on is framed, insulated, and equipped with air conditioning.

Build-out is the single most expensive start-up cost for a mobile food vendor, usually notching between $40,000 and $65,000. The process can take anywhere from three to seven months or longer, depending on equipment and installation requirements. Some D.C. food truck entrepreneurs choose to purchase preoutfitted trucks and tweak them on their own. Campbell insists his custom-built trucks are safer.

East Coast will make sure trucks are properly outfitted, but the design—what Campbell calls the “sex appeal”—is left to outside graphic designers. (Campbell’s staff then wraps or paints a graphic onto the truck.) The company doesn’t sell trucks, but works with a vendor to connect buyers to popular models like the Nissan Sprinter and the Chevy P30.

The team tailors every detail to the client’s needs, from the hood to the radio system. “If you’re right-handed, left-handed, tall, heavy, we’ll custom-build it to the chef,” Campbell says.

The next time you are waiting in line to buy that unique food you crave at your local food truck remember that it was built in a factory.

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