I was chatting with my husband the other night when he mentioned that The Congregation of St. Joseph’s School on Wheels bus was for sale. I got really excited and said, “Lets go look at it!” I’ve fantasized about owning a business in a truck and the wheels literally began turning at the thought of buying this bus. He looked at me oddly and asked, “Why?” Why? Because I would consider buying it to start a business. How could he not know I’ve been dreaming of having a business in a truck since I was a kid? He seemed taken aback and I was taken aback that he was taken aback.
It all started with ice cream trucks. I loved that a guy could drive into our neighborhood and sell us ice cream and candy out of his truck. What fun and he could probably eat whatever he wanted. So as a teen, I became very excited when I was scouring the want ads for summer employment and came across an ad for an ice cream truck driver. It paired two of my favorite things: the desire to be my own boss in a self-contained business space and my love of anything sweet. Three things kept me from applying: the large outlay of money to get started, my lack of confidence in myself to run a little business and my parents who thought it was a dumb idea. This desire to have a business in a vehicle had been dormant until I saw the movie Chef this past summer.
While I was wondering why my hubby had such an odd reaction, I remembered that he had spent countless hours on that bus teaching English As A Second Language (ESL) to Latin American immigrants. Did the selling of the bus mean the program ended? I didn’t know. But I do know that we live in a recyclable world and that bus has to have good energy and I hope that it is the vehicle for someone’s dream to come true.
As I mentioned, I recently saw the movie Chef, starring Jon Favreau and John Leguizamo. The movie is about a seemingly washed up and not-allowed-to-be-inspired chef who quits his fancy restaurant job and starts a food truck business. It was fun and quirky and, of course, made me want to have a business in a truck. Just not food. I don’t like to cook.
Because of the movie, my husband and boys and I went to The Chicago Food Social last month. It was held in a parking lot at Kendall College. Several bands performed and there was a bunch of food trucks serving everything from Greek and Mexican Food to cupcakes, my personal favorite of the evening. The main attraction, in the write-ups, was Tito’s Vodka Bar, housed in a refurbished Airstream. I was a little underwhelmed with the decor and the premixed drinks but I loved the fake grass outside, with lawn chairs under an awning. We passed the evening people watching after we stuffed ourselves at the various food trucks.
During the evening, I did chat with one of the vendors who informed me that owning a food truck is way more work than he ever imagined and if you get a ticket the fines can be steep. One of the attendees at the event was fighting a $2,000 citation.
This information did not put me off from my fantasy. I love the idea of owning a business in some sort of space. The cool thing about a truck or trailer is that it is an affordable way to try out a business concept. I went so far as to price step vans; these are the vehicles most food truck vendors use and they look like a FedEx truck. In fact, I’m sure some of them are retired FedEx trucks.
Just so you know, food businesses are not the only ones setting up shops on wheels. In addition to roller skate rentals, mammogram facilities, pet groomers (I just started using one), cigar lounges and boutiques, art galleries have gone mobile. In Just Like Taco Trucks, Art Takes to the Road, Seeking a New Market, in the New York Times last May, Alyson Krueger talks to a variety of mobile gallery owners who are breaking out of the physical, financial and political limitations of the gallery system. These people are paying way less in overhead, reaching new people and are able to travel. Like in Chef, social media is helping these portable entrepreneurs to succeed. If you want to see some of these cool business in their cool vehicles check this out this article by Kathleen Davis in Entreprenuer, Beyond the Food Truck: 10 Unique Mobile Businesses.
How much does it cost to renovate one of these trucks into the business of your dreams? In another fascinating article, Fashioning Artistry on Wheels, the Shanghai Stainless Product & Design Company in Brooklyn New York, who is the go-to fabricator of these trucks in the New York area, says it can be a lot. By a lot I mean five to six figures depending on how fancy you want to get. I certainly don’t have that kind of dough to spend on a very loose business idea.
But in the end, I did get further with the School on Wheels opportunity than I did get with the ice cream truck job. I called the Congregation of St. Joseph to enquire about the 2005 Bluebird bus. I found out that the program is thriving and they are moving to a brick and mortar location, which is why they are selling the bus. We had a nice chat, but at forty feet long, the School On Wheels is a little too big and expensive for my sketchy ideas but I can’t wait to see it in its next life…