Order up: Food trucks have multiplied in Seattle — and with that come growing pains

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Amato estimates startup costs can range between $20,000 to as high as $200,000, he said.

And the market is increasingly saturated.

Cheese Wizards, a gourmet grilled cheese sandwich shop on wheels, has been in business since 2012, which is “pretty long in food truck years,” said co-owner Bo Saxbe. He opened his business right around the time food trucks were pushing for a more robust community of food trucks in Seattle and right before they became widely accepted.

Saxbe operates Cheese Wizards with his brother, Tom. He said Seattle’s food truck scene is “a difficult scene to navigate. Finding places to park can be difficult, especially with more and more food trucks.”

A recent study by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation listed Seattle as one of the top five most difficult places for food truck operators because it has a large number of strict standard.  In Seattle, according to the study,  business owners have to navigate 29 procedures to obtain the licenses and permits required to legally operate a food truck. Those include getting a county and city business license, a business plan review with the county, a commissary agreement, a bathroom agreement, a mobile food unit permit that requires an additional seven additional steps and a fire permit. 

In Portland, the study notes, the number of procedures is seven.

In Seattle, the process gets even trickier when it comes to vending locations. Depending on where a truck parks in the city, different entities are in charge of permitting. If the vending area is a public right of way, then the food truck needs a permit from the Seattle Department of Transportation. If it’s on Parks Department or private property, that requires a different permit. 

And all these licenses and permits cost money. The study put Seattle’s total average cost of permitting and licensing fees at $6,211. Vendors also need the right permit for the right amount of time for the right location. So having multiple permits for just one day isn’t uncommon. 

 “There’s oftentimes a waiting list to get into spots,” Saxbe said about nabbing a desired location. “It’s a bit of a waiting game — eight to nine even 10 months after you’ve submitted the permit [application].”

“I’m generally pro-food truck because it’s fun,” he said of newcomers hoping to make it in the business, “[But] be ready to be exhausted.” 

In Seattle, food trucks are a quick and cheap and delicious antidote for those craving unique culinary creations: poke nachos, Native American tacos, Mexican-Asian fusion food.