30 Profitable Food Truck Ideas for the Bootstrapped Entrepreneur

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30 Profitable Food Truck Ideas for the Bootstrapped Entrepreneur

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Have you ever noticed how food truck owners always seem to be smiling and enjoying their work? They bustle around inside a tricked-out truck for hours on end, serving delicious treats to their customers. And if you've ever chatted with one, you'll find that they absolutely love what they do. It's a pretty peaceful business, after all!

Starting a food truck is an exciting adventure, but there are a few big questions to ask yourself that will determine how you break into this popular and highly fulfilling industry.

Now, before we get to exploring food truck ideas and ways of starting creative food truck businesses, let's cover some basics.

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Should You Buy New or Used?

For budding entrepreneurs starting out on their first food truck adventure, it's natural to want to keep your costs low as it's likely you'll be financing the entire operation with existing funds or savings.

For this reason, buying a used truck is probably your best bet. Don't worry — you can still make it your own and decorate the exterior to match your new brand! A used truck can be obtained for anywhere as low as $3,000 to as high as $50,000+, so there's a lot of range here to find a truck that will suit your needs.

Unless you have a small fortune to invest, try to avoid buying a new truck for your first venture. New trucks come with hefty price tags, with many requiring an investment of $100K or more before any other costs are factored in. Once you've run your used truck for a couple of years (or at least until you're bringing in solid revenue figures), you can plan your dream truck and have everything customized and fitted out to meet your exact specifications for equipment, storage and overall flow.

What About Renting?

Renting a truck is definitely an option, though you may encounter obstacles with outfitting it for your needs. If your food truck ideas are more reserved and you don't require too much equipment, you may find that a rental truck is a viable solution. Keep in mind, though, that if you plan to expand your business into multiple different states, a rental truck may not be the best option.

Requirements for Starting a Creative Food Truck Business

How much does it cost to start a food truck business? Well, it depends a bit on the requirements in your state as well as your local municipality. While loading up some equipment and making food for customers sounds simple enough, there are a few "hidden" costs that you'll want to keep in mind.

common food truck expenses

Permits and Licensing

To operate your food truck legally, you'll need to have the proper permits. Food safety is a serious business, and as such, obtaining permits for food handling and serving can be difficult to obtain and maintain unless you adhere to the strictest standards in terms of quality, cleanliness and professionalism.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation Food Truck Index, full-blown food trucks that offer complete meals need to complete an average of 45 government-mandated procedures and spend an average of $28,276 per year on various permits, licenses and compliance costs. These costs may be reduced depending on where you park, what you serve and your physical geographic location, though busy streets in large cities will always cost the most.

Insurance

Your truck is first and foremost a vehicle, which means you'll need to have an insurance policy to cover any accidents or liabilities. That said, food trucks must have commercial vehicle insurance as they are used exclusively for commercial use to generate profit. Be sure to check with your insurance provider to get an idea of the annual costs to keep your rolling restaurant insured!

Equipment, Ingredients and Supplies

That's right, you'll also need some cash to cover any required equipment that you'll need to make food. Deep fryers, sandwich presses, grills and other kitchen appliances can often be bought used in order to save on your initial investment, but there's one thing you can't get second-hand…food! Whatever you plan to serve, you'll need to buy enough to get started before you start charging for it. You may also require propane to run your equipment, too.

Whatever food truck ideas you have, it's a good idea to write down some preliminary costs before you dive in. You can also put together a business plan for your food truck business to identify how your business will function and achieve profitability quickly.

Ready for the fun part?

30 Low-Cost Food Truck Ideas

Here are 30 low-cost ideas that can be started for around $10K or less (excluding your truck and permit costs, of course). Tip: If you want to save even more, consider making food that doesn't require a lot of fuel or cold storage.

1. Coffee Truck

Sure, some trucks sell coffee, but how many specialize in specialty coffee?

What you'll need:

  • Espresso machine ($1,500 for a decent new machine)
  • Refrigerator for milk and syrups (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Ice maker and/or freezer (small under-counter freezer ~$1,200)

Ways to save: You can likely find used equipment by searching local marketplaces or rent equipment from restaurant suppliers.

2. Churro Truck

Churros are extremely popular and insanely delicious. Top with cinnamon sugar, chocolate spread, jams and whatever else your customers' hearts desire!

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for frying churros ($1,800)
  • Refrigerator for storing batter, sauces, toppings, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Used deep fryers and refrigerators should be aplenty in most cities.

3. Grilled Cheese Truck

A classic meal that you can present in unique ways with various meats and…whatever the word is for toppings that go inside the sandwich.

What you'll need: 

  • Grill for grilling sandwiches ($1,000 for electric)
  • Refrigerator for cheese, butter, meats, toppings, etc. and drinks (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Buying ingredients in bulk can help you save, and you may be able to partner with local bakeries to serve amazing breads at a good price.

4. Classic Chip Truck

For those who just want some salty fresh-cut fries on a hot summer day.

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for frying fries ($1,800)
  • Freezer to keep fries ($1,200)
  • Refrigerator for drinks and condiments (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Well, potatoes aren't exactly expensive to begin with…

5. Ice Cream Truck

If you aren't doing fries, someone will, and your customers will need a cool treat to wash them down with!

What you'll need: 

  • Freezer for ice cream (large 48-inch under-counter freezer ~$2,500)
  • Refrigerator/cooler for drinks (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Many ice cream manufacturers offer white-label tubs that you can buy at competitive prices.

low-cost food truck ideas

6. Raw Cookie Dough Truck

Just…yes. Do this one — your customers will love you!

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for cookie dough and drinks (Between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: You can easily prepare your own cookie dough at home to cut down on time. This will enable you to serve customers (and fill your register) faster.

7. Poutine Truck

Share some Canadian cuisine with your friends and neighbors.

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for fries ($1,800)
  • Freezer to keep fries ($1,200)
  • Refrigerator for storing cheese curds, gravy, toppings, drinks, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Portable electric cooktop for heating up gravy ($300)

Ways to save: Buy your equipment used and prepare things like gravy at home beforehand.

8. Mexican Street Food Truck

Tacos, burritos and more tacos.

What you'll need: 

  • Grill for frying up meat and veggies and tortillas ($1,000 for electric)
  • Portable electric cooktop cooking rice or corn or other toppings ($300)
  • Refrigerator for sauces, drinks, meat, fresh veggies and herbs (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Prepare all of your toppings off-site so that you can serve customers quickly.

9. Crepe Truck

Crepes will sell any time of day — trust us. Fruit crepes, dessert crepes, even cheese and meat crepes, if you'd like!

What you'll need: 

  • Crepe griddle for frying crepes ($400)
  • Refrigerator for keeping premade batter, sauces, drinks, toppings, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Blender for mixing up new batter ($400)

Ways to save: You can mix up the majority of your batter at home before your day starts and keep it refrigerated for faster service.

10. Pierogi Truck

Perogi pierogi, amiright? These delicious doughy crescents are a European staple and are sure to stand out.

What you'll need: 

  • An electric cooktop for boiling and frying in a wok or other large pan ($400)
  • A refrigerator for keeping freshly made pierogis, drinks, sauces, toppings, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: You'll definitely want to make your pierogies in advance and even freeze them for easy and inexpensive storage. If you don't sell out, no worries — more for tomorrow!

11. Lemonade Truck

Who said you have to sell food? If the barista can do it, so can you!

What you'll need: 

  • Citrus presser (electric) for fresh-pressed juice ($300)
  • Freezer for ice ($1,200)
  • Refrigerator for flavored syrups (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Blender for freshly blended fruit purees (strawberry, watermelon, etc.) ($400)

Ways to save: You could opt for a manual citrus press to save on cost, though this will increase your time spent on each glass.

12. Pita Truck

Simple, but delicious. Pitas are a fan favorite all over the United States.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for fresh toppings, meat, drinks, sauces, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Grill for frying up hot meat, veggies and toppings ($1,000 for electric)

Ways to save: Prepare your toppings in advance and see about sourcing your pitas from a local supplier.

13. Shawarma Truck

Some people are picky about their pitas, wraps and other bread-based handhelds. Shawarma for the people, that's what we always say.

What you'll need: 

  • Vertical Spit Broiler for slow cooking meat ($1,000 new)
  • Grill for frying up veggies ($1,000 for electric)
  • Refrigerator for fresh toppings, meat, drinks, sauces, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: As with other handhelds, complete as much prep as possible off-site so you can be ready to serve quality quickly.

14. Charcuterie Truck

If you do this, be prepared for regular customers. All of your favorite snacks in one place is a tough temptation to avoid.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for keeping meats, cheeses, grapes, figs, raspberries, apples, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Prepare at home — no cooking equipment required!

15. Empanada Truck

Empanadas are a great way to bring Mexican food to your customers without always doing tacos and burritos.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for premade, ready-to-cook empanadas, sauces, drinks, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Oven or deep fryer for baking or frying the empanadas
    • Deep fryer option - ($1,800)
    • Oven option - ($2,100)
Ways to save: Empanadas are simple to make and can definitely be done off-site. You can also purchase used equipment as there's nothing overly special about a deep fryer.

16. Mini Donut Truck

Mini donuts provide your customers a sweet treat without getting too full, and there are numerous varieties you can offer.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for the batter, drinks, sauces, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)
  • Commercial mini donut maker machine for making the donuts ($1,800)

Ways to save: You'll want to serve donuts warm, but you may be able to cook off-site and reheat on-site.

17. Candy Truck

Kids will love you. Dentists…not so much! Unique candy selections (or even your own creations) will add a flair to any outdoor event.

What you'll need: 

  • Truck with bulk candy selections or prepackaged selections
  • You could add a cotton candy machine to make it interesting ($250)
  • Small refrigerator if you’re offering drinks — make it fun with crazy/fizzy soda flavors ($400 for drinks fridge)

Ways to save: Skip the drinks and cotton candy and just sell bags of delicious treats.

18. Steak Bites Truck

If you love steak, this might be one of the top food truck ideas for you to try. Imagine just grilling up steak after steak while your customers' mouths water with anticipation.

What you'll need: 

  • Grill for frying up steak ($1,000 for electric)
  • Refrigerator for sauces and drinks and keeping the meat safe (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Find a local butcher who can supply you with high-quality meat for a reasonable price and keep things simple — just steaks and sauces.

19. Kebab Truck

Another relatively simple way to serve meat on a stick. Add veggies if you're so inclined, or give the people what they really want (more meat).

What you'll need: 

  • Grill for frying up kebabs ($1,000 for electric)
  • Refrigerator for sauces, condiments, sides, drinks, etc. (between $1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Keep things simple with a few signature offerings and don't try to offer too many choices when you're just starting out.

20. Pretzel Truck

Salty (or sweet) pretzels served with dipping sauces. Yum!

What you'll need: 

  • Mixer for mixing dough ($1,000)
  • Electric boiler for boiling pretzels ($400)
  • Oven for baking pretzels ($2,100)

Ways to save: Buy used equipment or make your pretzels at home and reheat.

21. Chicken & Waffle Truck

Some things just go together, like chicken and waffles.

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for chicken ($1,800)
  • Waffle griddle maker for waffles ($250)
  • Refrigerator for keeping stuff safe ($1,300 - $1,800)
  • Freezer for ready-to-cook chicken ($1,200)

Ways to save: You'll need to serve fresh chicken, but you could prepare waffles in advance and heat them up to order.

22. Corn Dog Truck

Breaded meat, meet wooden dowel. Wooden dowel, prepare to be licked clean.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerator for keeping meat, batter, drinks, etc. ($1,300 - $1,800)
  • Commercial corn dog maker ($300)

Ways to save: Used equipment is the way to go on this one.

23. Candy Apple Truck

A healthy snack turned not as healthy with the introduction of caramel. But hey, once in a while is acceptable.

What you'll need: 

  • Twin caramel apple dip warmer for dipping apples ($700)
  • Mini fridge for selling drinks ($400)

Ways to save: Stick with just caramel at first, or add chocolate for a bit of variety.

24. Hot Dog Truck

Can you believe it took us this long to get to the hot dog option?

What you'll need: 

  • Commercial hot dog roller machine ($220)
  • Commercial toaster for toasting hot dog buns ($300)
  • Refrigerator for drinks, condiments and toppings ($1,300 - $1,800)
  • Electric grill for frying warm toppings ($1,000)

Ways to save: You could skip the warm toppings at first and just do regular condiments to save on equipment costs.

25. Pizza Truck

Pizza by the slice is always a popular option for all ages.

What you'll need: 

  • Commercial pizza oven — dual chamber ($400)
  • Refrigerator for keeping toppings, sauces, cheeses, meats, etc. ($1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Don't get too fancy with toppings. Just some classic 'za can get you started.

26. Chili Truck

Fall festival season, anyone?

What you'll need: 

  • Commercial grade food warmers ($400)
  • Refrigerator for storing extra chili, drinks, sides, etc. ($1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Chili can definitely be prepared off-site so that your only costs are keeping everything warm.

27. Burger Truck

You won't miss with a burger truck, even if it's just simple fare.

What you'll need: 

  • Grill for grilling burgers and toasting buns ($1,000)
  • Refrigerator for storing food and drinks ($1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: You don't have to offer fries or other handheld options. Specialize in serving the juiciest, most delicious burgers around.

28. Fried Shrimp Truck

Definitely different, definitely delicious!

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for frying shrimp ($1,800)
  • Refrigerator for storing shrimp, sides and drinks ($1,300 - $1,800)

Ways to save: Buy in bulk and keep your shrimp frozen until it's time to fry up some oceany goodness.

29. Poke Bowl & Sushi Truck

Alternative cuisine that packs a punch of flavor.

What you'll need: 

  • Refrigerators for keeping all premade food temperature safe ($1,800)

Ways to save: Everything can be prepared off-site and kept refrigerated until point-of-sale. This is a super simple way to serve delicious food without high operational costs.

30. Funnel Cake Truck

Some might say we saved the best for last…and they might just be right. Funnel cakes are an outdoor tradition and they're pretty hard to beat.

What you'll need: 

  • Deep fryer for frying funnel cakes ($1,800)
  • Refrigerator for storing batter, toppings and sauces ($1,300 - $1,800)
  • Small freezer for ice cream as a topping ($1,200)

Ways to save: Mix up your batter in advance using second-hand equipment and always remember to keep things as simple as possible to increase your speed.

What Is the Most Profitable Type of Food Truck?

What do you think? Why, it's BURGERS, of course! Burgers may not be revolutionary, but there are few eats in this world that can compare to the satisfying bite of a freshly grilled burger. That said, specializing in veggie or vegan "burgers" can be extremely profitable, especially in urban centers where food selection, dietary requirements and preferences are more diverse.

Still though…crepes…with a high profit margin might be a surefire way to earn a comfortable living. Regardless of what you choose, be sure to do some research to determine what local residents are most likely to gravitate towards.

Get Your Food Truck Ideas Rolling with Incfile

Once you're finished tossing around various food truck ideas and planning creative food truck businesses to start, you'll need to incorporate in order to begin serving customers and turning a profit.

Incfile makes launching your food truck simple, and you can get your plans rolling today for as little as $0 + state fee. Ready to get cooking? Check out our Start a Business Checklist today!

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