The school bus parked outside some Henderson breweries four days a week is no ordinary bus. Walk a little closer and onlookers will find an open window, arms outstretched to hand out slices of Detroit-style pizza to eager customers.
Izzy’s Pizza Bus, named after owner Brett Geiger’s daughter, first hit the streets full-time in 2020, shortly after Geiger was fired from his job at Cirque du Soleil as an audio technician. . Like so many companies in the pandemic era, this one was born out of Geiger’s decision to give his “passion for pizza” a shot. He bought an old school bus in Seattle and spent the summer transforming the interior into a functional kitchen.
“We thought if it didn’t work out, we would go back to Nebraska and reunite with our family,” he said. “So it was like, either do it or leave. We had no idea, we thought we were probably going to leave. But the community and customer support was really cool.
A booming industry
His career change is part of a growing trend. Twenty percent more licenses for mobile food vendors were issued in 2021 than licenses issued in 2020, according to data from the Southern Nevada Health District.
It’s a pattern that some say has taken root in the shift in mindset of many American workers during the pandemic. For food entrepreneurs in Las Vegas, the food truck industry was an opportunity to test an idea at relatively low upfront costs.
“The food truck (company) is very recession-proof. I’ve seen it all my life,” said Jonathan Ibarra, who runs Ibarra’s Rent-A-Food Truck with his family. “Whenever things go wrong, food trucks and trailers do their best.”
This is something that Geiger also noticed. In 2020, Geiger and his team worked at or near neighborhood events and businesses with outdoor patios. He started selling about 10 pizzas a day and can now reach 100.
“I think being out there and staying out during those times and really pushing through us built a good reputation and got us a lot of word of mouth and recognition,” he said. “Over the past few months, I’ve honestly tripled my sales and production. It’s actually been hard to keep up with the growth lately.
Ibarra’s has been in business since 1993, primarily focused on building custom food trucks and trailers. Around 2008, the team focused on food truck rentals to significantly reduce costs for the operator and expand their potential customer base. They also help new business owners navigate required permits and licenses through multiple city and county departments.
Now the company is custom building 20 units bought or leased per quarter, he said. A lease costs the landlord a deposit of $5,000 and monthly “rent” of approximately $1,500 to $1,700, depending on the length of the lease. Operators can also purchase a truck or trailer, but Ibarra estimates that 95% of its business comes from leasing.
“I saw a niche that was very important to a lot more people – people who want to get into the business, but not everyone can afford a $65,000 or $70,000 trailer to start their business, but they could afford $1,500 a month to try the business, get it started,” Ibarra said. “Some of the most successful people in trailer rentals now have four or five trailers.”
Future in Las Vegas
Industry players say the pandemic was the perfect time to experiment with new foods, businesses and ideas. What was once perceived as fast food with little regulation can now be seen as a gourmet menu on wheels.
“It’s moving away from ‘cockroach coach’ (perception) to where there are more dining options,” said Samantha Silcox, administrator at Ibarra. “Even in the difference between the (construction) tours, we’ve seen the food change from standard tacos to soul food, specialty milkshakes and vegan trailers. People are still making tacos and burritos, but they’ll add a southern twist to it.
This is the model followed by Global Gourmet, a collaborative group of approximately 15 food truck operators.
The group takes a “high street food” perspective, Will Staten, the chef and operator of Cravin’ Creole, said. Operators coordinate to create fusion menus, share leads and do community outreach.
Staten and his partners often park outside businesses, country clubs and parks when alone. But their goal is to create events out of groups of food trucks that attract people.
First, “Food Truck Wars,” where four food trucks “fought” each other serving their own versions of spring rolls, a rice-based dish and an Asian-inspired dessert in honor of Heritage Month. Asian American Pacific Islanders in May. On Independence Day, a similar food truck war will encourage customers to enter a hot dog or slider contest.
“(We want) to allow people to come and have fun without the super high costs that they are used to paying to attend these events,” said chef Brittany Ishiwata-Hisey, whose street food truck Japanese Miso Hungry is part of the group. “We want kids to be kid-friendly, we want families to get out and have a good time.”
Many new business owners say they don’t think the market has peaked yet. They point to the high prevalence of trucks in Southern California and the variety of site options as evidence of further growth potential. Manny and Riley Franco, who run the Somethin’ to Taco Bout truck, said they turn down a dozen events a week and have only been in business since December.
“It’s not saturated yet,” Manny Franco said. “We’ve entered a time where even though there’s been this explosion and all this growth, there are still more opportunities and there are more trucks to accommodate.”