Think of food truck cultures, and cities like Portland and Austin and Los Angeles come to mind. Not Atlanta. Blame antiquated vending laws and slow-moving government officials. But six years since people like Greg Smith (an attorney and president of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition) and Carson Young (owner of Yumbii, Atlanta’s first permitted food truck) started pushing legislators, we’re finally seeing some major changes for the better. They can’t come soon enough.
‣ Our Five Faves
‣ Atlanta’s Food Truck History
‣ Seven Steps for Creating a Food Truck
‣ Food Truck FAQs
‣ Prime Food Truck Stops
Our Five Faves
By Christiane Lauterbach
1. The Good Food Truck
Jessamine Starr’s global creations have been mobile since 2010. The star attraction served from her lipstick-red carriage is the Poodle, a plump hot dog nestled in a toasted bun with apple-maple slaw and spicy mustard. Don’t miss the waffle cone filled with massaman potato salad, either. Starr also rolls up two soup and salad carts to the Goat Farm and Grant Park farmers markets to serve lunch.
Eastern European spots are scarce in Atlanta, which makes this Croatian truck an especially welcome dining addition. Fill up on generous portions of stuffed cabbage, pork and beef stews bright with paprika, slow-cooked chicken and onions over mashed potatoes, and the signature cevapi—grilled beef and veal sausages served burger-style on pita-like Bosnian flatbread. Liška frequently parks at the Atlanta Food Truck Park on Howell Mill.
3. Mighty Meatballs
Sean and Jason Truelove make their great-grandma’s classic Italian recipe, but they also take meatballs in other international directions, including Greek beef and lamb meatballs topped with tzatziki, and—our favorite—banh mi meatballs spiked with herbs and Sriracha mayo. A sandwich scores you three meatballs of the same flavor; go for the single-meatball sliders to sample every option. Find the Truelove brothers regularly at Georgia Tech on Fridays.
4. The Filipino
John Lane mastered the dishes from his mother’s kitchen before hitting the road with his sunny orange truck. Filipino cuisine recalls Chinese cooking but is more pleasingly pungent. Stop by the Atlanta Food Truck Park to try Lane’s lumpias (like spring rolls, only flatter and spicier), stir-fried pancit (thin, soy sauce–glossed wheat noodles with chopped vegetables), and pork adobo sandwiches redolent of vinegar, garlic, and soy.
5. Gotta Have It
the offshoot of a catering company, Gotta Have It serves up world-beat dishes like beer-braised pork shank with an herbal Thai spring salad, a popular salmon and crabmeat wrap with cucumber-jicama relish, and a Sloppy Joe made with turkey meat. Wash it down with sparkling cherry-pomegranate lemonade. Gotta Have It often serves from Twelfth and Peachtree on Thursdays.
Photographs by Caroline C. Kilgore; Illustrations by Marco Goran Romano
The abbreviated evolution of Atlanta’s food truck history
Create your own food truck in 7 steps
|Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore|
Find a permitted commissary kitchen to be your home base. Average rent for a shared kitchen typically runs around $1,200 a month.
Draft blueprints for your food truck and submit them to the health department for approval.
The health department inspects your truck and gives you a permit.
Acquire auto, general liability, and workers’ compensation insurance.
Acquire other permits, which cost upwards of $1,500. The City of Atlanta requires a health permit from the Fulton County health department, a business license from the city, and a vendor permit from the Atlanta Police
Start your engines. Sell some food.
The average capital required to purchase, build, and equip your truck, according to 21 mobile operators
|Photograph by Caroline C. Kilgore|
Food truck FAQs
Q: How mobile are our food trucks?
A: They have wheels, but trucks can’t vend everywhere. For years, Atlanta laws have restricted them to private property. Change, though, is coming: In March, Atlanta City Council passed legislation freeing up select public streets downtown. The pilot program will work on a first-come, first-served basis, although trucks will still have to apply for permits. Given the strong political backing from the Atlanta City Council, supporters expect the scope of the ordinance to expand to other parts of the city.
Q: Do trucks prepare all of their food on the road?
A: Although trucks can cook on board, Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb county health departments also require operators to use licensed commercial kitchens—called commissary kitchens—that must pass health inspections. Many owners turn to companies like the Food Movement and Prep, which have built kitchens for rent. Mia Anglin and her husband Troy, who owns One Love Jerk Grill, see the requirement as an unnecessary burden. “If I were to do it over again, I would have just started a restaurant,” she says. Others who have multiple trucks say the extra space for cooking and storage is a necessity. Health departments, meanwhile, see the commissary kitchen as an efficient way to check for code violations without having to track down trucks on the move.
Q: Is running a food truck easier than running a restaurant?
A: Hardly. Crowds and sales are most concentrated at festivals and parks, but space is limited. Many food truck operators bemoan a “gatekeeper mentality,” accusing event organizers of inviting only their friends. With event participation fees as high as $4,000, the trip, like any restaurant endeavor, is a gamble. Ugly weather, too many vendors, and isolated parking spots at events can sour sales.
Q: What’s the hardest part of starting a food truck?
A: Paperwork. When truck owners first started applying for permits, city officials were clueless. “They didn’t know what we were,” says Wendy Cross, owner of WOW! Food Truck. “They thought we were hot dog carts.” As officials scrambled to update policies, truck owners were left in the dark about what documents to provide and which offices to visit. Today the paperwork seems excessive: The Atlanta Police Department alone requires nineteen forms, including reference letters of good character. The ordinance passed in March aims to reduce the paper load and streamline office visits.
Q: Why won’t my favorite truck serve in my county?
A: Navigating health codes can be a headache for trucks hoping to vend in Fulton, DeKalb, and Cobb counties (Gwinnett has yet to allow them). The Georgia Food Code, as set by the Georgia Department of Community Health, is the statewide benchmark, leaving the counties to enforce and interpret. Some are stricter than others, so a truck might pass an inspection in Fulton while failing one in DeKalb.
Source: Cobb & Douglas Public Health, Dekalb County Board of Health, Fulton County Health Department., Gwinnett County Health Department
Illustrations by Marco Goran Romano
Prime Food Truck Stops
This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue under the headline “Truck Stops.”