Lessons of Chow Truck’s pioneering work in SLC’s mobile food truck movement

In the last three and a half years, SuAn Chow has proven a small cosmopolitan menu of tacos, sliders, and salads can drive success for a mobile food truck in a nascent community culture eager for unique dining experiences. More importantly, though, the Chow Truck also has embodied a solid business model for mobile food preparation and a well-developed sense of how food serves as a social bridge, which, when taken together, exemplify how incremental urbanism can rejuvenate a culture of satisfying city life.

In the 40 months since Chow, a veteran restaurateur who also worked in the fashion industry, took to the Salt Lake City streets in a brightly colored truck measuring 23 feet by 9 feet, she has overcome logistical, bureaucratic, and market challenges and concerns that have become essential ‘teaching moments’ for the city planners and economic development officials, brick-and-mortar restaurants, small business community, dining patrons, tourists, and, of course, the entrepreneurs who now run at any one time between 12 and 16 food trucks in the Salt Lake metropolitan area.

‘I developed the framework as I would do with any restaurant, never intending it to be a hobby or part-time business,’ Chow, who in the 1980s opened Charlie Chow’s restaurant. She moved to New York City in the 1990s to work as creative services director for the Joseph Abboud fashion brand lines. “I made sure of every detail before the truck hit the streets for the first time, including researching locations.”

The logistics were complicated because the city code did not account for Chow’s particular business operation – mobile in the purest sense of the word. She had to move every two hours and she could not…

 

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