Charleston is brimming with restaurants, from traditional table service at places like the classic southern Husk to fast-casual dining like European-style cafe Babas. But Charleston’s culinary charm isn’t just tied to its sit-down restaurants — the city is dotted with food trucks and trailers serving up big bites in small spaces.
Like consumers and restaurateurs in the Lowcountry, food trucks are facing overall wholesale prices that are 8.6% higher than a year ago. But food trucks are also facing rising gasoline, diesel and propane prices. As of March 20, AAA recorded the Charleston County regular gas average at $3.98. Compared to just a month ago, the county average was $3.35, an increase of 18% in just a few weeks. And while prices have stabilized over the past week, they are still more than $1 higher than last year’s average of $2.70.
city paper inquired from some of the mobile food vendors who roamed the streets of the Lowcountry about the effects of the substantial increases.
“Oh, it affects me,” said Bits-N-Bytes’ Anthony Leonard. On March 10, Leonard worked a double, where he said he felt the most impact from the price increases. During his route that day, he left his kitchen on Rivers Avenue, drove to Bushy Park in Goose Creek, returned to the kitchen to “clean up and stock up,” then drove to the dinner place near Ashley Ridge Secondary School on Dorchester Road and finally back to his kitchen at the end of the day.
“I can fill the tank and just between those two routes, dragging a 7,000 pound food trailer, my tank can go from full to almost half full – and that’s the speed limit,” he said.
To offset some of the increased costs, some food trucks have simply chosen not to drive as far to sales destinations due to rising menu prices.
“We like to take jobs everywhere, but at this point we’re a little more selective,” said Lynn Hobart of Asian-Korean fusion Seol-Ah’s. Hobart added that she had also reduced some usual trips to a neighborhood on John’s Island. “And I hate putting minimums on things like that, but unfortunately that’s just the nature of the beast,” she said.
Although Latin America and Asia’s Fusion Dashi has a brick-and-mortar store at 1262 Remount Rd., the food truck still roams the streets. “We’re based in North Charleston, so we think a lot more critically about things on John’s Island, north of Mount Pleasant or the far reaches of Summerville,” owner Oscar Hines said.
“We are facing the same challenges as restaurants with rising food prices,” said Anthony Gaudio of Italy’s Drunk Tony’s truck. “But we’re starting to get a little smarter about where we book in terms of distance, so we don’t drive too far.”
Unfortunately, this is not the case with all food trucks, especially those that are just beginning to turn the wheel.
Smash City Burgers have been popping up across the city at brewpubs like Snafu, Freehouse and Two Blokes since November. And earlier this month, the pop-up bought a trailer of Flight, a former fried chicken food truck.
“The thing is, because I’m still new, it’s a bit different,” Smash City owner Jeremy Reynolds said. “If I was an established food truck, I could dictate the terms of where I wanted to go, and that’s great for people who can do that.
“But at the same time, I want to get my name out there and I want everyone, no matter what part of town you’re in, to have a chance to try us out.”
Destination travel isn’t the only gas-consuming activity. Grocery shopping or US Foods and Restaurant Depot for supplies should also be considered now.
“We don’t have food delivered to our kitchen, so I go back and forth to the store sometimes two, three times a day,” said Bryson Webb of the eclectic Motley Chew. “So even doing that is 50, 60 miles a day.”
Webb said he was really hurt by the price increases because his truck uses diesel fuel, a county average of $4.97 per gallon according to AAA reports.
“Diesel has always been expensive, and it’s definitely a very high price now,” Webb said. “Gasoline prices have definitely affected every aspect of our operating costs, from the truck, to the generators, to my personal car.”
“It makes you think, ‘Should I take more ingredients at once? ‘” Reynolds said. “Now you have to bundle these trips together just to save money. What used to be a $5 trip is now a $10-$15 trip.
And it’s not just the price of gasoline. The cost of a gallon of propane has also increased.
Oscar Hines said Dashi was particularly affected by propane prices. “We probably spend about three times as much on propane as on gas every week,” he said. “When it comes to propane, it’s gone from $3 to $5 in some places…and the increase is probably closer to $70 a week, as opposed to gas, which is more like $30 a week.
“The biggest thing for me will be the propane,” added Reynolds of Smash City. “When I started I was just using a standard 25 gallon tank, and by the end of the year I had to buy two more. In November it was $16 to fill up, but now it costs me up to $25.
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