How to Run a Food Truck 101, now at Mohawk College

Hamilton's burgeoning food scene is part of the impetus behind Mohawk College's introduction of a certificate program in mobile food service management.
Hamiltonians lined the sidewalks of Ottawa St. Friday for the Sew Hungry Food Truck Rally. (Andrea Crosby/CBC)

If you've been considering getting a foot into the burgeoning food truck frenzy, you're in luck.

In response to the growing food truck trend in Hamilton and across the country, Hamilton's Mohawk College has created  a six-course certificate program that will teach the basics of getting into the "mobile food service" business.

Starting Winter 2017, the program will both educate enterprising minds on how to run their own food truck or catering businesses, and offer support to businesses that are already up and running. 

They see the lineups and the money coming in, but they don't see the background work involved in order to execute certain things.- Kristopher Rattray

"When I'm doing service, a lot of millennials come to the truck, and they're kind of blown away and very interested in what we do.

"I think it would be good for them to learn," says Kristopher Rattray who operates a food truck and who will be one of the instructors.

 "They see the lineups and the money coming in, but they don't see the background work involved in order to execute certain things."

The program emerged to address the needs of a growing sub-industry of mobile food services and its consumers and to help people with a culinary background see a more accessible business potential for their abilities, said Evan DiValentino, program manager in Continuing Education at Mohawk.

Employing graduates

 "We look at alignment with our own strategic plans but also industry trends, because we want to graduate students that are getting employed,"  he said 

"There are those initial barriers, just like any business, but understanding what the consumer wants is a little bit different in this space. They are looking for something that's of a particular quality, but at a particular price that's more digestible."

The Continuing Education program is the first of its kind in Ontario and much of Canada, and was developed in conversation with industry partners who are already on the ground running successful businesses on wheels.

Rattray, runs the mobile offshoot of his family's restaurant 50 Pesos. Winner of last year's Food Truck Face Off on Food Network, the Hamilton-native is helping develop the program and will also teach a few classes.

"I think it's very challenging, especially when you're starting out. We were lucky: we already had some recipes established for the past many years," he said, explaining how the family business branched out into mobile food services. 

Claudia Rodriguiz shows Hamiltonians how to make churros at Choco Churros at the 2015 Sew Hungry festival. (Andrea Crosby/CBC)

"You've got to find your niche and you have to be able to do things people aren't normally willing to do. Go out in the rain, or pay high fees to enter a festival or concert and hope that people will receive your food with open arms."

Mohawk hopes to bridge the gap between the needs and demands of a growing industry and the technical know-how required to keep it growing. 

High quality food

"[The program] lays the foundation for this subset of the food service industry, so students get a background on the legislative and bylaw requirements, food safety, food sourcing and procurement, as well as pricing, inventory strategies, and going beyond that to marketing and entrepreneurship," he said.

DiValentino acknowledged that there wasn't enough of a presence to draw expertise from until recently.

"Looking at consumer demands and constructing menus around those demands, that's driving a lot of the high quality food we're seeing in the mobile food space."

Hamilton's ever-evolving food scene has been one of the driving forces behind a remarkable growth in the food truck industry. Festivals such as Supercrawl and Sew Hungry have seen vendor numbers grow exponentially over the last few years. In 2011, Sew Hungry played host to nine food trucks. This year, there were almost 30. 

With the wide array of courses being offered in the program, budding entrepreneurs may well be able to cash in while the offerings are hot.

Registration for the part-time program begins on November 23, and there are no prerequisites to signing up.