The Process of Starting a Mobile Food Unit in Lawrence, Kan.

By Michaela Warren

He moved to America from Mexico at the age of 17 in May 1988.

He got a job picking tomatoes on farms in San Francisco; for him it was normal.

Food trucks would come to the farms to sell food for about a dollar.

Workers would run to the food because they did not have time to waste and they would eat their lunch while working.

Around March 1993 he moved to Lawrence, Kan., where he would later open up a restaurant.

In 2010 he attended a City Commission meeting with other Lawrence and Topeka, Kan., residents to speak with city officials about allowing mobile food vendors.

For Alejandro Lule, chef and co-owner of La Parrilla, he wants start a food truck to bring something different to a traditional Kansas.

“When you go to the fairground you find funnel cakes, corn dogs, hamburgers, nachos and that’s about it,” Lule said. “I think more than anything it has to do with bringing something from a different culture.”

The street vendor industry has revenue of $1.5 billion with an expected growth rate of 3.3 percent to reach $1.7 billion by 2017. Food trucks account for 37 percent of the industry’s operators. In 2011, the city of Lawrence created a new ordinance to allow the operation of mobile food units in the city.

The process for starting a mobile food vending business is not easy or cheap.

The Food Truck

The cost of starting a mobile food vending business is about a fraction of the cost of starting a traditional brick and mortar restaurant.

Opening a physical restaurant location could cost about $100,000 to $300,000 at a more reasonable price.

A new food truck can cost anywhere between $75,000 and $125,000. A reasonable range to get a food truck up and running would be between $70,000 and $80,000.

But, buying a used food truck –a couple of years old – will cost less, between $10,000 and $75,000. Purchasing a used food truck would be the most economical way to get a food truck business going, but does have its risks.

Once a truck is purchased it is up to the new owner to bring the tuck to health department standards.

Lule purchased his food truck used about three months ago and plans to have the truck finished in two to three months.

“Now I’m going to start cleaning everything,” Lule said. “I going to take it to the shop to paint it, to start fixing everything, but I want to do it in Mexico so it looks Mexican.”


After a city meeting in Sept. 2010 the city of Lawrence introduced a new ordinance that would allow mobile food vendors to operate in Lawrence by obtaining a mobile food .

The mobile food vendor license costs $300 and is valid for one year. The license is required in order to operate.

In order to apply for a license a vendor must present a copy of a government-issued photo identification, photos of the mobile unit, a valid State of Kansas license for food service establishments and proof of liability insurance in the amount of $500,000 or more.

The state of Kansas requires a mobile food vendor to obtain a food service establishment license from the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

A food service establishment license has a $200 application fee and a $200 license fee.

“We haven’t had anybody get a license yet,” said Jonathan Douglass, Lawrence City Clerk. “We worked on it for a long time with a lot of people and no one has done it yet.”


Location is key for food trucks. Many municipalities have guidelines for where mobile food vendors can park.

Mobile food units in Lawrence cannot use streets or parking spots to sell food from. Instead food trucks must use, with permission, private property.

Food trucks cannot sell from neighborhoods or vacant lots, but can sell at other locations during city approved events.

“I just want to work on the events that they have here in Lawrence at the park,” Lule said.

Food trucks do not have a requirement to get adjacent business permission to set up at a location like there is for a street vendor.

There are no hours of operation restrictions for a food truck, however a food truck has a three-hour time limit at each location it sells from.

“We wanted them to be truly mobile units and not to set up somewhere and just camp there and be semi-permanent.” Douglass said.

Lule has been around the country and seen many food trucks. Lule said what makes the food trucks different is its culture. In January, Lule plans to travel to Los Angeles to see how food trucks work there.


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