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Food truck operators feel pinch of high fuel prices, record inflation

Posted at 6:07 PM, Jun 14, 2022

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Record gas prices are leading to the highest inflation numbers the U.S. has seen in 40 years. The soaring costs of almost everything are putting pressure on nearly everyone, including those who rely on fuel and food to drive business.

“The profit margins have been smaller because the price of everything these days has been going up, it seems like, by the minute,” said Olivia Pomfrey, a manager for Jackpot Chicken Food Truck.

One of the business’s two food trucks was stationed at Cleveland’s Public Square for Food Truck Tuesday. Several operators at the event noted the jump in diesel prices has compounded other rising expenses.

“Obviously these trucks are big and gas guzzlers and our generator runs on gas. And we have two trucks, so double that. It’s a lot,” Pomfrey said. “All of our products, boxes, boats, oil… have been crazy. It’s been on the rise for months and months now.”

Brian Finks, the owner of Fired Up Taco Truck added, “All the food’s gone up, all the containers, bags, everything’s gone up for our industry for sure.”

According to AAA, the average diesel price in Ohio as of Tuesday was $5.97 per gallon. It’s slightly higher than the national average of $5.77 and up nearly 80% from one year ago when Ohio prices were $3.33.

“It used to be 100 bucks to fill it up, now it’s 2 [hundred dollars], 2-plus,” said Finks. “We’re filling up once a week, so we’re definitely feeling the effects of the gas prices right now.”

Jackpot Chicken and Fired Up Taco Truck have both had to charge for fuel costs during out-of-town events and raise menu prices to accommodate the rising costs of operation.

“We don’t want to put too much burden on the customer, but we will do whatever adjustments we have to do to survive,” Finks said.

Pomfrey added, “You have to do what you have to do. And if prices keep going up, we have to raise our prices, which we don’t like to do for our customers. But they understand and are still supporting our small business.”

Pomfrey also explained supply shortages and supply chain issues have limited products at times.

“Chicken, believe it or not, which is our main ingredient,” she said as an example. “We usually use breasts, but if we can’t get that we have to use tenders. Sometimes we can’t have some of our menu items because we can’t get tenders to fry.”

Despite rising costs and supply chain difficulties, both operators said they’ve seen rising demand for food truck fares in recent years. Events, like Public Square’s Food Truck Tuesday and the popularity of food truck parks around the region, have helped keep business viable.

“Our fans, the people who come to this truck have stayed steady and stayed fired up with us for sure,” Finks said.

Not accounting for food and energy prices, the latest Consumer Price Index (CPI) recorded a 6-point increase to 8.6% for the 12-month period ending in May.

Recession fears loom as well. Former Democratic Treasury Secretary Larry Summers worries the combination of low unemployment and high inflation means a recession is almost certain within the next two years.

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