January 17, 2021
When the pandemic first broke out, San Jose’s food truck operations started.
After all, they offered an outdoor dining experience and enabled guests to distance themselves socially. Now, almost a year after the county first placed stay-at-home orders in March, food trucks are joining the long list of companies struggling to stay afloat.
“It’s been a roller coaster ride,” said Justin Funamura, who owns The Waffle Roost mobile catering business.
Before the pandemic sparked live sporting events, Funamura worked half a dozen San Jose Earthquakes games a year, serving its range of buttermilk fried chickens and waffles to hungry soccer fans.
Funamura had to cut its workforce from seven full-time employees to just three as its profit dropped by two-thirds in 2020.
Now The Waffle Roost is looking for new sources of income and reviewing old ways to keep the business going.
“I was lucky in a few things,” said Funamura. “We went back to Tesla, which we hadn’t done in a while. They actually called us to come back.”
Catering options are now top priority for Silicon Valley Food Trucks, as once booming areas such as corporate offices continue to be operated remotely.
Komanpan Kojohnvisan, who owns the Thai Thai food truck, didn’t have to lay off any of her employees – but the business has fallen by 50%.
“There was a lot of catering from places like Stanford University, then everything was closed and closed,” Kojohnvisan said. “Stanford had events with food trucks all over the place, but now those events are gone.”
Kojohnvisan applied for a grant from the $ 500 million small business fund recently allocated by Governor Gavin Newsom but received an email stating that the applications were still being processed.
The Small Business Advocate’s governor’s office, which processes grant applications, reported Jan. 4 that too much web traffic was making applications difficult to access.
“I asked for $ 15,000. I didn’t ask for the full amount because I only wanted to pay for my food truck parking lot,” said Kojohnvisan.
Funamura requested the full amount – $ 25,000 – that it will use to prepare for a full reopening when COVID-19 vaccines become widespread and crowds can gather again.
Ryan Sebastian, head of the Moveable Feast food truck networking business, said the good thing about food trucks is that they are less expensive to maintain. File photo of Vicente Vera.
Ryan Sebastian, head of food truck networking business Moveable Feast, which works with The Waffle Roost and Thai Thai, said there was a silver lining: Food trucks are much cheaper to operate and maintain, even in expensive Silicon Valley.
“The trucks that are still out there working are the ones most likely to want to make changes, adapt, answer emails and just participate,” he said.
Some food trucks are turning to DoorDash and other delivery platforms to help them survive the pandemic.
“It’s another way to stay visible and people can see us, not just through the food truck,” Kojohnvisan said. “We plan to rent a kitchen so that we can have a permanent location when we carry out DoorDash orders.”
Funamura said The Waffle Roost can be self-sustaining until 2021 but that the food truck’s full recovery depends on how quickly major events and gatherings return.
“The business that is our bread and butter will definitely be one of the last things to come back,” he said.
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @vicentejvera.