If you’re a Cali culinary entrepreneur longing to take your restaurant dreams up and down The 405, opening a food truck can be an exciting venture. But just like any restaurant, you’ll want to start with a proper plan for establishing a food truck business in California. Here are six important steps to set your food truck up for success.

1. Do market research

Before serving food, make sure you’re filling a gap in the market instead of offering the same menu as everyone else. Your first step should be to evaluate the local food truck scene to research the market demands and opportunities near you.

Some of California’s most popular meals on wheels include:

With more than 750 food trucks in California — more than any other state — the competition in the Golden State is fierce.1 Take note of other trucks’ locations, customer demographics, prices and cuisines. While you want to choose a concept with widespread appeal, you also need to distinguish your truck with unique dishes that will draw customers away from your competitors when their bellies are rumbling.

2. Get a business license

Once you have a competitive concept and detailed plan, you need to register your food truck business in the city or county where you plan to operate. There’s no state-wide business license in California, so if you want to take your truck to several locations, you’ll need a business license in each of those cities.

Most cities offer these applications online, but you must submit the completed forms in person. The application fees vary by municipality, usually running between $50 and $100 — although the fee may be based on a percentage of your sales.

To operate a food truck business in California, you also need a seller’s permit for tangible goods subject to sales tax. If you’re selling food prepared by someone else, this may be called a reseller’s permit, allowing you to purchase wholesale food and equipment without incurring sales tax. The California Department of Tax and Fee Administration offers free online registration for these permits.2

3. Get a food permit

In addition to a general business license and seller’s permit, operating a food truck business in California requires several other food service permits and licenses. In general, you need:

  • Food Safety Certification – Under California law, the owner or manager of a food truck must pass a state-approved Food Safety Certification accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). This certification is valid for five years and costs around $100 to $200 through a program like eFoodHandlers or ServSafe.
  • Food handler’s permit – All food service workers in California must have a food handler’s permit, which is valid for three years. This requires that they pass an exam, which costs between $15-$18 through ServSafe.
  • Mobile food facility permit – In some locations, the local parks department issues this permit rather than the health department. Prices typically range from $300 to $500.
  • Commercial kitchen – California requires mobile food vendors to partner with a licensed commercial kitchen. If you don’t own a brick-and-mortar kitchen, you have to rent or lease a commissary kitchen where you can store ingredients and prepare food. This can cost more than $1,000 per month.
  • Vehicle license – Because your business runs in a vehicle, you’ll also need the proper driver’s license and registration to operate the truck. Depending on the size of your vehicle, you may need a commercial driver’s license. Registration generally costs between $75 to $150.
  • Permanent parking – Under California law, food trucks must be parked at a designated food facility when not in use. Some commissary kitchens include parking within the monthly lease.
  • Fire certificate – If you’re cooking food in the truck, you may need a fire department inspection to ensure that you’re not causing any hazards. A fire safety permit costs around $125-$150 per year.
  • Health permit – Typically, you need all the above permits before applying for your general health permit, which verifies that food is prepared safely in sanitary conditions. Like any food establishment, your truck is subject to regular health inspections. As with your business license, each county requires a separate health permit. The price can vary from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.

These requirements vary from one city or county to the next, so double-check your local laws.3

4. Set a budget

Although running a food truck business can be less expensive than a traditional restaurant, the startup costs can add up quickly. Below are some expenses to build into your budget.

  • Truck – The cost of your vehicle will vary. A custom-built truck could cost up to $300,000 with all the bells and whistles, while used box trucks start around $30,000, not including modifications. Leases typically run between $3,000 to $4,500 a month and may even include access to a commissary kitchen.
  • Equipment – If the truck doesn’t come decked out with all the kitchen equipment you need, you’ll have to install it. California law requires that all the equipment in your food truck must be ANSI-certified, so if you’re buying or renting a truck with equipment already installed, ask your local health department to inspect it first.
  • Inventory – Depending on your cuisine and how you serve it, you’ll spend thousands of dollars stocking up on ingredients, napkins, packaging, menu boards and other supplies. On top of the food costs, consider where you’ll store your inventory (whether in a commissary kitchen or other rented space).
  • Permits and licenses – On average, it costs $28,276 to purchase all the permits required to open a food truck.4 Many of the permits and certificates mentioned above are ongoing costs rather than one-time fees, so be sure to factor those expenses into your long-term business plan.
  • Point-of-sale (POS) software – While running a cash-only food truck business in California is possible, you could undercut your sales if you don’t accept credit, debit and mobile wallet payments. A cloud-based POS system can help track inventory and offer loyalty programs. You can expect to pay between $200 and $1,000.
  • Labor costs – Even if you start your food truck business as a solo mission, you may need to add an employee or two as you grow. The average annual wage in the food truck industry is about $38,000.5

All in all, the average startup costs for a food truck business in California range from $40,000 to $250,000 — before you even start serving food.

5. Market your business

Since your food truck will be on the move, you must keep customers informed of your next location through effective marketing. Social media outlets like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok can be powerful platforms for building an engaged following of hungry fans. Link your social media presence to your website so your fans will always know where to find you.

Your truck serves as a traveling billboard, too, so pay close attention to the presentation of your name, logo and overall design. Wrapping your vehicle in colorful signage is often a wise marketing investment.

Many food trucks rely on word-of-mouth to draw in business, so park where you’ll attract attention. Music festivals, farmer’s markets and even busy business districts can boost your marketing efforts.

6. Get insurance

Owning a food truck business in California can expose you to a range of risks beyond the typical brick-and-mortar restaurant. General liability insurance covers your business (when it’s parked) against the financial consequences of third-party claims related to bodily injury, property damage, or personal and advertising injury. And if you rent a commissary kitchen, consider protecting yourself with Restaurant Insurance. To get started, download the Thimble mobile app or click “get a quote” to get insurance by the job, month or year. You can get your policy faster than it takes someone to stand in line for your tricked-out tacos — freshness guaranteed!


  2. California Department of Tax and Fee Administration. Menu. 
  3. Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development. CalGold. The Goldstandard for Permit Assistance.