We’ve Come a Long Way: A Brief History of Street and Mobile Food Vending

Food vending has been around for a REALLY long time. It is known that vendors sold food, such as fruit and vegetables, on the streets of many ancient cities (and even modern cities have street markets that bring dozens, or sometimes hundreds, of people).

According to Food: The History of Taste, excavations in the ancient city of Pompeii - which was destroyed by a volcano in 79 A.D., killing an unknown number of its residents (though more than 1,000 skeletons have been found and it is estimated that roughly 11,000 people lived there at the time of the eruption) - show that street food establishments were quite popular back then.

An article on Mobile-cuisine.com says that New Amsterdam (now New York City) first started regulating street food vendors in 1691. Midtownlunch.org notes that the earliest street food vendors in New York City did not sell pretzels and hot dogs, but oysters and clams (at that time oysters were affordable enough for even the poorest citizens to eat). As immigrants continued to come, bringing their own food traditions, the food that street vendors sold changed to hot corn, pickles, and sausages.

The first really mobile food vendors were those on dining carts on trains in the 1850s. People could purchase food on the train or buy food from the many vendors waiting at train stops. Mobile Cuisine’s timeline notes that Charles Goodnight invented the Chuck Wagon to feed cattlemen and wagon trains going west in 1866.

In 1936, a man named Oscar Mayer began driving his weinermobile around the highways of America selling his meats, according to oscarmayer.com. Ice cream trucks started soon after and less than 30 years after the weinermobile debuted, the first “roach coaches” began showing up around construction sites across the U.S.

Now, let’s jump ahead to 2010. According to Mobile Cuisine, seven important things happened with the mobile food vending industry in 2010 that really put it on the map:

  • In January, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association was created. It was the first organization created exclusively for mobile food vendors.
  • In May, the National Restaurant Association dedicated 1,500 square feet to food truck exhibits at its annual convention.
  • In August, the first television program dedicated to food trucks, The Great Food Truck Race, debuted.
  • In September, Mobile Cuisine became the first website that provided coverage of the industry nationally.
  • Also in September, business.gov added “Tips for Starting Your Own Street Food Business” to its website.
  • In October, Zagat announced it would start providing reviews of food trucks.
  • In November, the city of Los Angeles announced it would begin providing letter grades to food trucks just like other restaurants.

Street and mobile food vending has come a long way since the ancient days, and it will likely continue its growth and popularity for years to come.

Know about other important historical milestones for street and mobile food vending businesses? Please comment below.

By Jordan Wilcox

Jordan Wilcox is a licensed agent for Insurance Canopy who enjoys helping small businesses find the right insurance through some of the best carriers.

Jordan Wilcox has had experience in the insurance industry since graduating from college. He started his insurance career selling personal lines insurance and has transitioned to the commercial side for the last few years. In his spare time, he enjoys golfing, baseball, seeing new movies, and four-wheeling.

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