Choose a Location
Visit the Office of Small Business
Make an appointment with a business counselor from the Office of Small Business, City Hall, Room 110 to understand the process and discuss your plans.
Choose one of two location options
Choose between: Selling on Public Property or Private Property. The application process to start your food truck business varies depending on the location you choose.
Option I: Public Right-of-Way
If operating in the public right-of-way (eg. sidewalks, streets, or alleys) apply for a permit to operate your food truck on public property from the Department of Public Works (DPW).
Option II: Private Property
If operating on private property (eg. any space off the street such as a parking lot or private parcel) apply for a permit to operate through the Planning Department. You may apply for permanent use or temporary use on private property.
Operating on public property will require neighborhood notification and can lead to a public hearing if the application is contested by neighboring businesses or residents. Work with your neighbors to gain support and be sure to explain how your food truck can be a good addition to the neighborhood and how you plan to be a part of the community.
Private organizers like Off the Grid and SOMA StrEat Food Park also operate on private property. These companies already have permits but charge a fee and/or a percentage of your sales to participate at their locations.
For public property, there are buffer zones around restaurants, schools, and certain neighborhoods, where you cannot operate. Expect to stay 75 ft. away from any restaurant and at least 500 ft. from any grade school.
Set Up Your Business
Create a plan
Create a plan for the type of food truck you will open.
Obtain a business address
Obtain a business address. Even though you will be selling out of a truck, you will need a physical address (no PO boxes) in order to register your business.
Choose a business structure
Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships register with California Secretary of State. General Partnerships and Sole Proprietorships register with the County Clerk.
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN)
Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the IRS. This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees. If you are a sole proprietor, you may be able to use your Social Security Number instead.
Register your Business
Register your Business with the City through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTX).
Choose and file a business name
File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation.
Apply for a Seller’s Permit
Apply for a Seller’s Permit from the CA State Board of Equalization in order to sell taxable goods in the state of California.
Obtain workers’ comp insurance
Obtain workers' compensation insurance. You will need this in order to obtain the Department of Public Health (DPH) Permit to Operate.
Prepare Your Space
Mobile Food Facility Classification
Find a place to prepare your food.
All mobile food vendors must operate in conjunction with a food facility, also known as a commissary, such as a licensed commercial kitchen. Thus, you will need to rent a commercial space for preparing food, and storing your inventory.
Purchase a truck, cart, or trailer
Purchase a truck, cart, or trailer, but make sure you know and understand the health requirements.
Be sure to obtain or create schematics of your truck. You will need these to obtain a food permit.
If you are operating certain types of mobile food facilities (classification 4 and 5), appliances, plumbing and other structural items may require certification by the CA Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
Parking and maintenance
Secure a location for parking and truck maintenance. All mobile food facilities that prepare food must be parked at a designated food facility when not in use.
Food & Alcohol
Manager’s Food Safety Certification
Obtain a Manager’s Food Safety Certification for yourself and/or a designated employee. This person is responsible for teaching other employees proper food handling.
Food Handler Card
Develop a menu
Create a list of all foods to be served with information on how, when and where each food item is prepared and cooked. You will need this list to obtain a food permit.
Mobile Food Facility Permit to Operate
Apply for your Mobile Food Facility Permit to Operate from the SF Department of Public Health (DPH). Your application will require a list of food to be served, truck schematics, Commissary Verification, Restroom Verification, Proof of Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Proof of Food Safety Certification, Written Operational Procedures, and a Business Registration Certificate.
If you chose to operate on private property, you must also submit a Private Property Owner Verification form to DPH.
No trans fats
Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SFDPH enforces the trans fat compliance program to ensure that no food containing artificial trans fat is stored, distributed, served, or used in the preparation of any food.
Recyclable or compostable containers
Use containers that are compostable or recyclable if you serve takeout or allow customers to take food home. The SF Mandatory Recycling and Composting Ordinance prohibits certain food service ware, like Styrofoam containers.
If you chose to operate on public property, you must provide a copy of your final DPH permit to the Department of Public Works (DPW).
If your truck operates at a location for more than an hour, you and your employees must have use of a restroom within 200 ft. of the truck.
If you will have a Point of Sale (POS) station (also called a cash register), you must register it with the SF Department of Public Health Weights and Measures Program.
If you plan to hire employees, be sure to follow all wage and employment guidelines.
If you make any changes to your food truck’s Written Operational Procedures, menu or equipment you will need DPH approval.
DPH Operating Instructions
Follow all DPH operating instructions to maintain a safe and healthy truck for customers and employees.
Clean up after your truck
Always clear your truck location of trash or debris before you leave. When operating on public property, be sure you don’t obstruct the sidewalk.
Post required posters and permits
Post all required posters and permits including No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, health inspection results, written operational procedures, etc.
Equipment maintenance and permit renewals
Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.
Be prepared for SFDPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage, following best practices for food storage, collecting garbage, ensuring workers have good hygiene.