New Food Truck App: Road Stoves GPS + First Wave Of Food Truck Closures

Two screen shots of the Road Stoves GPS app.
Two screen shots of the Road Stoves GPS app.
Road Stoves

Road Stoves, the company that leased Kogi BBQ its first truck and helped kick off the nouveau food truck craze, just debuted Road Stoves GPS, a $0.99 iPhone and iPad app that it hopes will be a game-changer for the food truck industry.

There are already several websites (LATruxmap, Clustertruck, FindLAFoodTrucks, MobileCravings, Roaming Hunger) and apps (Food Truck, LA Street Food) that track the 90 or so food trucks roaming LA and OC. What -- if anything -- makes Road Stoves GPS different?

Most of the current food truck trackers simply aggregate and repurpose trucks' existing Tweets. Road Stoves GPS, as its name suggests, uses GPS locators inside participating trucks to track their whereabouts in real-time. The interface displays a truck's exact location, its menu, its latest Tweets and driving directions. The "Near Me" function allows users to find trucks within a 5, 10 or 15-mile radius.

"Twitter provides some good text information, but it's only as reliable as the person entering it," says Road Stoves co-founder Josh Hiller. "[We have] true GPS data that's updated every two minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."

Currently, the GPS functionality is available only on the 21 Road Stoves trucks (four of which are Kogi), but Hiller and his business partner Morris Appel hope other food trucks will sign up for the service.

"On launch, no non-Road Stoves trucks had signed up for GPS. This was a completely confidential, in-house development process, and we could not [approach] other trucks until it was done," Hiller says.

Trucks that don't sign up for the GPS functionality will still be included in Road Stoves GPS. However, they won't show up on the "Near Me" map. Version 2 of the app, which is already in the works, will move beyond L.A. to track trucks across the nation. To promote the app's launch, Road Stoves plans to start prize giveaways (concert tickets, cash and an iPad), probably in May.

The release of Road Stoves GPS comes on the heels of a tough week for the company; two of their recently launched trucks turned off their engines. Road Stoves, which was in the vanguard of the "gourmet" food truck craze, also seems to be in the vanguard of a wave of attrition that many industry-watchers have been predicting.

Asian Soul Kitchen, which launched in Dec. 2009 with a fusion of Asian and soul food, announced last Thursday on its website that they'll no longer be in service.

That same day, Willoughby Road, which began serving Southern food with a twist in mid-January, served its last meal -- at least for a while. Owner/operators Jeshua Garza and Adrian Ochoa say the shutdown is only temporary. They hope to relaunch in a few months after retooling their business model and their truck.

Prior to that, Marked5 stopped rolling out as a street truck in mid-December, and Little Spoon Desserts stopped operating as a solo truck in January. Both have reverted to catered events.

Nouveau food trucks represent only a tiny fraction of LA's overall food trucks. Now, that the initial hype is dying down these rolling restaurateurs have to get down to the nitty gritty of creating a sustainable business model. Some have turned to food festivals and food truck lots. Road Stoves is gambling that the path to profitability lies in the street trade.

"When the whole thing started with Kogi, the fun thing was eating guerilla-style at the curb. I think that has kind of been lost," says Appel. "[Road Stoves GPS] will allow trucks to be sustainable in locations other than lots."

Regardless, more truck closures are on the horizon. It's not a matter of "if"; it's a matter of "when" and "which ones."

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