Your Culinary Career on Wheels

The "Top Chef" competitors took it to the streets in April, inventing their own fusion cuisines and offering their culinary arts to residents of San Francisco's Mission district. With only handcarts as their bistros, these savvy chefs tried to anticipate the people's taste. Taking it to the streets and the people is the concept behind both the food cart and the coffee cart--and now, like top cooking shows, culinary schools are taking note of this time-honored tradition in food service.

Culinary Schools Go the Cart Route

Some culinary arts programs are now offering coffee cart catering experiences for their culinary arts students. In Eugene, Oregon, for example, high school cooking students learn about food service by running their own retail Professor Java & Co. coffee cart. With their hands-on experience, students graduate career-ready.

Catering or Coffee Careers on Wheels

Location, location, location. If you want to run a successful catering cart, your location determines your career success. The best places to locate are small office parks, near malls, or outside places of amusement. Once you've chosen the location, you'll negotiate a fee for the power and water you'll need. Rod Fulton, who owns Coffee Carts of Melbourne, says you'll need to serve about 300 customers daily to do well.

Streetwise Catering

"Keep it simple" and you'll succeed in your coffee-cart or on-street catering career. Give customers a few great choices that define your culinary style, and you can shoot for the average coffee cart income of $250 a day. However, according to EspressoBusiness.com, a coffee cart with a hospital location can pull down as much as $1500 a day.

The cart will cost you between $10,000-$25,000 to set up, but Melbourne's Fulton estimates that cart owners with a great location can pay off their carts in eight to ten weeks. If this sounds fun but risky, think about leasing a cart for your catering career instead of buying one.

Whether you schlep coffee or serve fusion culinary treats, a cart makes a free-wheeling catering statement all your own.


  • "Coffee cart jobs prep students for foodservice careers," by Dina Berta. Nation's Restaurant News 39.51 (Dec 19, 2005).
  • Espresso-Coffee Business Consulting
  • "The espresso road to riches," by Nicola Field. Money (Australia) (Oct 2002).