If you've seen the movie Chef, you might think you just go get a truck, max out some credit cards, and have a kid run your social media then you'll be good. Well, the movie glossed over a lot of the nitty gritty (and for good reason). What follows is as complete an account of what to do when starting a food truck in this fair city.
All of this information was painstakingly gathered by combing through regulations, making far too many calls to City of Houston employees, multiple visits to the City of Houston Health and Human Services Department, and other encounters with helpful albeit shady characters along the way.
By sheer knowledge of best business practices, common sense, and sifting through the utter shit storm of the City of Houston's collection of codes and outdated pages, I was able to piece together what it would take to start this business. Here's what it takes outside obtaining your physical food truck:
- Start your business (we went with an LLC; $300 filing fee) and obtain an Employer Identification Number and Sales Tax Number. (2-3 weeks)
- Get the proper documents in order to get your food truck permitted (in Houston, this is called a medallion). This webpage was helpful, but it takes a ton of time to put together what you actually need to do. This is it in human format:
- Submit two sets of plans ($36.98 per submission) to the city of Houston (8000 N. Stadium Drive) Pay attention to the plans checklist and look at these sample plans.
- Complete your Route List (list of places you plan to park)
- Complete your Menu Disclosure
- Get insurance for your truck. You'll bring proof of insurance to your inspections.
- Make sure you are a Certified Food Service Manager and have your card
- Have your driver's license on you
- Once you have your documents in order, you're ready for inspection
- Get your LP system tagged or inspected. You can usually get this done at the commissary you use.
- Get your LP system permitted at 1002 Washington ($175; bring property letter/commissary letter). You must do this after you have your unit tagged/inspected.
- Make sure you have a type K fire extinguisher in addition to the general type ABC. The fire extinguishers need to be tagged, which we were only able to find at AAA Fire Equipment Co. on Bissonet.
- Get your food truck inspected and hopefully permitted at 7411 Park Place ($583.42 Medallion, $240.86 Electronic Monitoring, Pre-opening inspection $117.75, $16.50 Water Sampling Fee) on either Tuesday or Thursday. Get there early, seriously. They open at 7am, but people show up at 4am to start waiting in line.
- This is some weird stuff that the City of Houston requires from food trucks:
- All of your electrical must be enclosed (not in conduit, but behind an enclosure). This is a serious pain in the ass of any food truck builder and has zero bearing on safety.
- If you have a 2 compartment sink, you must have a very particular type of combination detergent sanitizer on the truck. We only found that this was available at a particularly off-putting food truck builder's place of business and that it costs $100 a bottle.
- There are multiple crazy regulations about propane system plumbing that we have not yet gotten to the bottom of. We passed our inspection, but have heard conflicting opinions on the state of its compliance by (thankfully) people that don't have a say in us passing inspection.
- The afore-mentioned fire extinguishers. Seriously, we only found that one store that sold them.
If you're starting a food truck and need some help or some straight talk on any of this, reach out to us. We'd love to help.