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Tyler Florence is back to host the fourth season of The Great Food Truck Race. Like last season, the food truck teams are made up of newbies who dream of one day operating their own mobile restaurant business. There’s a lot at stake: the winning team gets $50,000 and gets to keep their truck. Tyler guides the teams on their coast-to-coast journey, and along the way doles out challenges, with each new one more difficult than the last. And this year the route is the longest yet, so these teams are in for the ride of their lives. FN Dish recently caught up with Tyler to chat about the new season, his take on the food truck scene and his advice for the teams.
Watch the season premiere of The Great Food Truck Race on Sunday, Aug. 18 at 9pm/8c.
What are you looking forward to most on the new season of The Great Food Truck Race?
It’s the first year we have a team from Hawaii, which is really exciting, and we also have several all-female teams. The teams were so good this year, even as rookies. I think the teams are actually watching past seasons and taking notes. Although they’ve never done it before, they’ve seen the other people start from scratch and they’re taking those notes to heart.
What do you think about some of the businesses using food trucks as a stepping stone to getting a brick-and-mortar restaurant?
I think a lot of people are taking that as an opportunity to expand a brand, but not drop the food truck thing. Food trucks can be incredibly profitable and they’re very low-maintenance because it doesn’t take a lot of people to operate the truck. You can also pick up every two to three hours throughout the day and move to the next traffic flow, whereas with a brick-and-mortar restaurant you’re stuck, so you’d better hope that the flow of customers can sustain you for 12 to 15 hours of a workday.
With a food truck, you could be at a farmers’ market in the morning, a baseball game at night — you can really morph and change. With a brick-and-mortar restaurant, it’s permanent; it’s way more expensive to build out and it requires about triple the staff. The thing about a food truck morphing into a brick-and-mortar restaurant — it’s a gradual stepping stone, but I think people are taking that opportunity to create a diversified restaurant group and not saying, “Okay now that I’ve graduated to brick and mortar I’m dumping the food truck,” because it’s smart to have both.
In a 2011 interview with FN Dish, when asked what the best city for food trucks was, you said that Portland, Ore., was “on fire.” Do you still feel that way?
I do think Portland is on fire. I think Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, is really embracing food trucks as a big culture, too. I think San Francisco, New York City, Miami and Boston are also on fire. I think all these cities that were on the up-and-up a couple years ago have a solid food truck culture and everyone’s embracing this.
What helpful advice would you give the food truck rookies who are coming into this new season?
I did get a chance to spend a couple minutes here and there with them and really pick them apart, not in a bad way, but to make sure they knew what they were doing. These teams have never done this before, so it’s healthy just to ask some questions like, have you trademarked your name? Did you buy all the domain names for your name? Do you know what it takes to operate a food truck? Are you prepared to do this?
The advice I give them is really diverse depending on who they are and what their team does. It’s about everything from their brands and their identity to their uniforms and their food. I just give them good, solid feedback. I like acting as sort of a coach to these people for the seven weeks we’re on the road together.