Mark Palm, The Food-Truck Guru
The garage and parking lot outside Chameleon Concessions’ Plymouth headquarters look like a food-truck convention, with new rolling eateries being assembled, updated, and
repaired. Proprietor Mark Palm has created 100-some food trucks, Anchor Fish & Chips, Falafel King, and Rusty Taco’s among them. One of his current projects is a one-time school bus converted into a prison transport, bars over the windows and all. When Palm’s team tore out the seats, they found what appeared to be an escape map. It’ll soon be a rolling frozen- yogurt joint.
“My family has been in the restaurant-supply business since 1910. I started in 1984, straight out of high school, installing kitchen equipment in restaurants all over the United States and outfitting hot food stands at Home Depot and Lowe’s stores. When Minneapolis passed the ordinance to allow food trucks downtown [in 2010], I already had 10 years experience doing mobile food stuff.”
“The hardest part is fitting all the equipment—it’s tight quarters, with a lot of limitations. But that’s also what makes this fun—the client, the menu, the truck, the equipment, the graphics. Everything is unique, and there actually isn’t that much overlapping between each truck.”
“Sometimes I have to bring clients down to reality. They have a rectangular box to work with, and it can only fit so many things. Food code dictates at least 30 percent of what has to happen inside that truck, from sinks to refrigeration, and you work with what’s left over. They might want an ice machine, or fountain drinks, and not understand that cutting a tomato can’t be done in the truck because there can’t be a prep sink. I have to ask them where they expect to get the water—they can carry about 38 gallons for cooking.”
“The health departments can be inconsistent—the inspector in Rochester’s rules are different from the guy in St. Cloud or the guy in Duluth, so I can’t just make 10 sinks all the same. And that’s the way it goes nationwide—in California, it’s mind-boggling. But these guys are also my friends, and I do what they ask me to do.”
“We do about 20 trucks a year—they’re lined up all through the winter. I work with a local sound-system guy, and a local electrician who installs LED lighting to reduce the amount of power the trucks use. The graphics company that does the truck wrappers is just down the road. I went to high school with the gas guy; we learned all the hiccups throughout the process. We’ve sent out trucks to Portland, to Tennessee, Florida, New Mexico, Chicago, Michigan. What’s fun is when I get a call from someone who saw one of my trucks and says, I want a truck just like that one.”
These days, Palm is excited about working on mobile grocery stores for underserved communities, the possibility of propane-powered trucks, and a commissary to serve the food-prep needs of multiple trucks in a central location. But is his market is saturated? “It’s supposed to triple,” he says.