Food Trucks Are Fare Game at More KOAs Across North America

This food truck at the Westfield/Lake Erie, NY KOA paid for itself in its very first season of operation, according to owner Dennis Hanes. “Our campers love it,” he said.

An unlikely, yet profitable, business partnership is popping up on KOA campgrounds. Campgrounds and food trucks are joining forces to offer more food options to guests, reduce overhead costs and make a profit with little effort. 

Some campgrounds choose to own and run the food trucks themselves, but others, like Danielle Akey, general manager of the Leavenworth KOA in Washington, have found that bringing in outside owners with their own food trucks makes for an easy addition to their bottom line.

Akey said she had to drive around looking for a food truck when she saw one parked and asked them to bring it to the campground on certain weekends. She said she hopes to bring food trucks in as many weekends as she can during 2018.

The food truck pays 10 percent of its sales to the campground and guests get more options for food without having to leave the campground.

“If somebody doesn’t want the overhead of doing their own food service and wants to give it a try, this would be the best way to do it. They can test the waters and see if it’s something they want to do on their own. If not, offer the food truck anyways,” Akey said. “The more we can offer guests, even if they have to pay for it, the better.”

Akey said bringing in a food truck is a way to make a little bit of money at no cost to them. Although she did say they spent money to add a 50-amp receptacle off of one of their existing sites so they could park the food truck and not compromise income off of a site. The food truck now has its own permanent place for when it comes. They are constructing a gravel pad and concrete pad for sitting between the food truck and the KOA’s other attraction, the Coffee Cabin.

The food truck and the campground have worked it out where the campground simply requests the food truck to show up on certain days and most often they are able to.

Special weekends, such as Oktoberfest, create an even bigger and better opportunity to enhance guests experience and make some money. “Oktoberfest is a different animal,” Akey said. “The beer tents are open until 2 a.m. We run a free shuttle back and forth to Leavenworth consistently, so the food truck is dropped right at the shuttle drop off. Customers can pop over to the food truck and fill up on Greek food. It works out really well for us. People love it. We’d like to do it every weekend. We offer pancakes and ice cream and the Coffee Cabin, but we didn’t want to have to worry about going full service for food.”

On-site Entrepreneurship 

Other campgrounds have done it differently. Sabrina Henderson, manager of the Brighton/401 KOA Holiday, finished business school and decided to take on ownership of a food truck as her first foray into business ownership. The food truck stays on site at the campground and is in its second year of operation. Henderson purchased the food truck and runs it separately from the KOA with her own employees.

“The first year was filled with learning and trial and error and it ended up being a phenomenal year,” Henderson said. She completely renovated the travel trailer turned food truck to look like a cabin on wheels.

Henderson said she paid just under $10,000 for the trailer, $6,000 to redo the siding and add a deck and other costs for renovations throughout. She said all in, it will cost about $20,000. She said she also has the cost of a propane inspection, a suppression system, which has to be inspected by the fire department, $900 for insurance for the season, and $275 for a permit, which she has to pay each spring.

As the manager, Henderson has worked out a deal with the campground to pay 25 percent of her profit, once she makes one. “I didn’t end up paying anything last year,” Henderson said with a laugh. “I ended up taking a loss after the first year because of all the extra initial expenses with renovations, but we are on track to make a profit this season.” She said their opening weekend did $300 better than the previous year’s opening weekend.

Henderson said she also learned her prices were to low, so she increased them slightly and added some new menu items she said have been selling like crazy, such as the Deep-Fried Pickle Poutine. Henderson said she made almost $25,000 last year from her food truck. She pays two part timers who work split shifts to save on employee costs.

Focusing on Fare

Some owners are focusing on the quality of the food and customer input. Paul Friesen, at the Watkins Glen/Corning KOA Resort in New York, rolled out his food trailer, called the Wild Side Café, last year. Its first-year goal was to create a starter menu that would take camping food to a new level.

“We always say that if we can’t do something right, we won’t do it,” he says. “Last year we did over-the-top sandwiches and exceptional pizza. We had culinary students running the trailer last year, and they were excited about doing cool things. Our burger offering was called the ‘Squealing Pig,’ and it had cheese, bacon and deep-fried pickles, all on a pretzel bun.”

After the park closed for the season, Friesen and his team looked at what went well. Campers loved the pizza crust and homemade tomato sauce, but felt that the cheese was a little lackluster. This year, they’ll be shredding their own and bringing in Wisconsin cheese by the “brick” for topping. Provolone and asiago will also make an appearance.

“This year we’ll be offering a ‘to die for’ pepperoni pizza,” he says. “It will be one of our signature dishes—something worth remembering.”  Having spent years in Chicago, they’re also likely to introduce a deep-dish pizza eventually.

Welcoming Food Trucks

Mark Roeder, at the Bismarck KOA Journey in North Dakota, says that they’ve had food trucks associated with—but not on—their campground for the last two years.

“The first year a gal was here that sold Thai food,” says Mark. “I said if she wanted to set it up, she was welcome to do so. We helped get her going, and last year she started a carry-out in town.”

The following year, another entrepreneur approached the campground and asked if she could set up outside the campground. She was so successful that in 2017 she’ll be running a restaurant and doing other events in town.

“I don’t think we’ll have one this year,” says Mark. “It was nice to have an amenity for our guests and we did get some local people coming by who didn’t know we were out here. But we really want to pay more attention to customers and not have to hire extras to do food. If someone else approached us again, we’d certainly consider it.”

Proving once again that every campground is different, Mike Konapelsky, at the Allentown KOA in Pennsylvania, has opted to open up his campground to a local ice cream truck for the last several years.

“We don’t know when they’re coming—they just show up,” he shares. “But it doesn’t cost us anything, so we don’t say no. In fact, everyone asks about the ice cream truck!”

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