Chicago Tech Startup: Food Truck Freak

March 19, 2012 | By | Add a Comment

Food Truck Freak is an aggregator site that allows food truck enthusiasts to track truck, organizing food truck appearances by calendar date and location within Chicago. TINC Magazine recently contacted Founder Alex Levine to get the details on his company:

TINC: What is Food Truck Freak?

Alex Levine: Food Truck Freak is a robust gourmet food truck locator and information site. We hand-enter each truck’s weekly schedules and stops as they post them. We also have profile pages for each truck that offer snapshots of each truck that includes a picture of the truck, cuisine type, social links, menus, and more.

TINC: What qualifies a “food truck”, i.e. what about those little Popsicle carts?

AL: For the time being, Food Truck Freak only tracks gourmet food trucks. Gourmet trucks are generally run by chefs and often times use high-end ingredients. In my opinion, what makes a truck gourmet is a combination of the food and the experience. For some trucks, this may mean really exotic ingredients and off-the-wall flavor combinations. For others, it’s creative food wrapped up in a (literal) beautiful package: from the truck’s presentation to the packaging the food is in, some trucks give you the highly-branded restaurant experience on wheels.

TINC: Do trucks send in their information or is it based on them being spotted and logged?

AL: Both, actually. We try our hardest to keep our eyes on the streets and on the news, but many times trucks will contact us well before their launch and stay in touch up through their launch date to ensure they have real estate on our site come the truck’s maiden voyage. There have been a couple of times where food trucks had been operating on the streets and we hadn’t seen or heard from them until a tip from a food truck freak months after their launch (there have been 4 of these).

We have great relationships with many of the food truck owners, and they are often the ones to alert us to a new truck on the road. Often times, they are doing it to help the new trucks. It is wonderful how veteran trucks will take newbie trucks under their wings and allow them to tag along on stops so that they may introduce their loyal followers to the new truck.

TINC: Is there a mobile app for Food Truck Freak?

AL: Nope, not yet.

TINC: How is Chicago different than other cities when it comes to the food truck industry?

AL: Unlike the other major U.S. cities, Chicago food trucks are not allowed to cook on the truck. In other cities, you’ll see trucks cooking meats, assembling dishes and adding condiments while customers wait. None of that is allowed on Chicago streets. Also, Chicago trucks have to be parked 200 feet away from brick-and-mortar food vendors. Also, their hours of operation are highly limited by the government both in terms of the hours of the day that they are allowed to serve as well as how much time they’re allowed to serve in a single location. Chicago food trucks are called “mobile food dispensaries,” and they prepackage individual servings and simply bag those containers per order. This is a big waste of packaging (which affects the environment and eats into the truck owners’ profitability). Other cities often have a few of these hurdles, but no city (to my knowledge) is nearly as restrictive as Chicago.

TINC: How does FTF gather location information from private vendors?  Do some vendors wish to remain under the radar and ask to not be mentioned on the site?

AL: We have never received a single request to remove trucks from the site. On the contrary, they knock on our door. At one point, we were struggling to keep up with keeping the site up to date with several trucks launching every week for several weeks.

Right now, we gather their location information from their websites and tweets. We hand enter them into our site since all of the other methods we’ve thought of and seen implemented are unreliable. For now, having a human being do this by hand is the only accurate way to get location information.

TINC: In some other cities in the US there are food truck associations – is there a food truck association in Chicago? If so, is FTF working with this association to market and promote vendors?

AL: There is currently no food truck association in Chicago. We work with food truck owners on an individual basis. It’s a tight-knit community, so if we need to get a message out to the trucks it is not a problem. However, we could use a FTA to better organize (and perhaps use our collective momentum to fight back against the restaurant chains that are paying big dollars to stifle food trucks through the legal system).

TINC: What is your revenue model?

AL: We are currently developing a new revenue model for Food Truck Freak 2.0 It will be based on a tiered subscription service.

TINC: How do vendors register with FTF?

AL: Currently, vendors submit e-mails through our website and we continue the dialogue online or in person. In Food Truck Freak 2.0, we will provide vendors with their own private accounts where they will have tools to promote their services within the community (without having to be in contact with us for many of these services).

TINC: What are your plans for expansion in the next year?

AL: In the next year we plan to launch Food Truck Freak 2.0. It will be a much more robust, self-service version of the existing site and will have mobile tools both for consumers and food trucks. It will go beyond the current geographic limitations and be open to food truck freaks worldwide.

The following information about Food Truck Freak comes from the Chicago Startup Catalog:

Funding Level: Pre-A Series (no external funding)
Industry Type: Food, Bars & Restaurants
Employment Size: 1-10
Founders: Alex Levine
Founding Date: July 17, 2010

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