The Truck Whisperers

An Alameda broker builds an international business insuring mobile restaurateurs.


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Photo by Gary Stevens/Flickr (CC)

We see them on YouTube, TV, and every day. We appreciate them even more for their typically inexpensive falafels, tacos, fusion dishes, and other tasty treats. Food trucks, trailers, and carts—long common in other parts of the world—are everywhere. They once operated primarily in major cities, but now they have branched out to suburbs, with menus reflecting the diversity of cultures, backgrounds, and interests of their owner-operators.

Conversely, these owner-operators share a common culture as specialty culinary artists. And despite their quasi-celebrity status, they also face common concerns, including insurance needs for their most specialized type of business.

Enter folks like Denny Christner, a principal and vice president of Alameda’s BayRisk Insurance Brokers, Inc. A commercial insurance broker, Christner specializes in coverage for food manufacturers and sellers. He also has earned a reputation for expertise in food truck insurance.

“I’ve insured restaurants for a number of years,” said Christner, whose company began insuring food trucks three years ago. “When food trucks started getting popular, we got referrals from restaurateurs.”

Food trucks have multiple insurance needs, covering everything from refrigerator failure to smashed taillights. Until recently, though, no insurance policies existed specifically for food trucks. Today, the food truck insurance industry grows alongside the food truck business itself.

When Christner first started to insure food trucks, he said he wrote a couple accounts but realized there wasn’t anything out there in terms of complete coverage. “We started talking to carriers about creating a niche market,” he said. “At first, we wanted to support the local boom of food trucks ... but because there was such a need, there were requests from other areas, too.”

Today, BayRisk not only has Bay Area clients, but from Los Angeles, Seattle, Portland, and Australia and Ireland. 

“We created a program for food trucks; we started locally, but now insure about 600 food trucks nationally,” Christner said. “We partnered with a national insurance carrier that addresses the mobile nature of their business and protects them wherever they serve.”

Given the expensive equipment they carry, food trucks represent a huge investment requiring property insurance. As businesses, they must have workers compensation insurance and perhaps unemployment insurance. As with restaurants, truck operators must carry general liability insurance in the event of slips, falls, and food-related claims. Owners also need collision and comprehensive coverage in the event of a wreck, fire, vandalism, or theft. And as motor vehicles, they must have commercial auto liability insurance. Agents recommend that owners cover their vehicles for at least $1 million, as the trucks carry not only fuel, but propane and cooking oils.

“When writing a food truck, it’s like writing a vehicle. ... Then there’s the cost of writing the kitchen in the truck,” said BayRisk president Scott Kerns. “Then there’s the wrap, the outside of the truck—when you see trucks going down the road with special paint and graphics, somebody has to do that [artwork]. And a big deal is loss-of-income coverage if a food truck gets lost or stolen and the owners can’t get to where they need to go.”

Until recently, obtaining all these coverages proved challenging to prospective operators.

“We were having to piecemeal coverage together, until savvy companies realized they had to create coverage through the market,” Christner said. “We’re the only one to offer that coverage through the national carrier.”

So far, the venture has gone well. “We haven’t taken any food-related claims in the three years we’ve insured gourmet food trucks,” Christner said. “We’ve had claims for equipment breakdowns, and we’ve taken a few minor automobile claims ... fortunately, no bodily injury claims.”

For food truck operators, insurance is a major expense. Christner advises against skimping. “These are typically new business owners in their first business venture,” Christner said. “Sometimes, they’ve invested all their savings. Insurance isn’t a top priority, but it’s all the more reason to protect their investment.”

To learn more about food truck insurance, go to www.InsureMyFoodTruck.com.

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