Despite the rising costs of fossil fuels, Bryson Webb of Motley Chew still serves his eclectic meals with a smile | Photo by Rūta Smith

Charleston is rich with restaurants, from traditional sit-down table service at places like southern classic Husk to fast casual dining like Babas European-style cafes. But Charleston’s culinary charm isn’t linked to just its sit-down restaurants — the city is peppered with food trucks and trailers serving big bites in small spaces.

Just like Lowcountry consumers and restaurateurs, food trucks are having to deal with overall wholesale prices 8.6% higher than a year ago. But food trucks are also dealing with rising gasoline, diesel and propane prices. As of March 20, AAA recorded the Charleston County regular gas average at $3.98. Compared to just a month ago, the county average was $3.35, an 18% increase in just a few weeks. And though prices have stabilized in the past week, it’s still over $1 higher than last year’s average of $2.70. 

City Paper checked in with some of the mobile food vendors rolling the Lowcountry streets about the effects of the substantial increases. 

“Oh, it’s affecting me,” said Anthony Leonard of Bits-N-Bytes. On March 10, Leonard worked a double, where he said he feels the most impact from the price increases. During his route that day, he left his kitchend on Rivers Avenue, drove to Bushy Park in Goose Creek, back to the kitchen to “clean up and stock up,” then drove to the dinner location near Ashley Ridge High School on Dorchester Road and finally back to his kitchen at the end of the day.

“I can fill the tank up and just between those two routes, with dragging a 7,000 pound food trailer, my tank can go from full to almost half — and that’s doing the speed limit,” he said. 

To offset some of the increased costs, some food trucks have chosen to simply not drive so far to vending destinations over increasing menu prices. 

Seol Ah’s Josh Hill and Lynn Hobart | Ashley Rose Stanol file photo

“We do like to take jobs that are all over the place, but at this point, we’re being a little bit more selective,” said Lynn Hobart of Korean Asian fusion Seol-Ah’s. Hobart added that she had also reduced some usual trips to a John’s Island neighborhood. “And I hate putting minimums on stuff like that, but unfortunately, that’s just the nature of the beast,” she said. 

Though the Latin American and Asian Fusion Dashi has a brick-and-mortar at 1262 Remount Rd., the food truck still roams the streets. “We’re based in North Charleston, so we’re thinking a lot more critically about stuff out on John’s Island, northern Mount Pleasant or the farthest reaches of Summerville,” owner Oscar Hines said.

Drunk Tony’s | Ashley Rose Stanol file photo

“We’re facing the same challenges as restaurants with the rise in food costs,” said Anthony Gaudio of Italian truck Drunk Tony’s. “But we’re starting to just be a little bit smarter about where we book as far as distance goes, so then we’re not driving too far.” 

Unfortunately, that’s not the case for all food trucks, especially those that are just starting to get the wheel’s turning. 

Smash City Burgers has been popping up around the city at breweries like Snafu, Freehouse and Two Blokes since November. And earlier this month, the pop-up purchased a trailer from Flight, a former fried chicken food truck.

“The thing is, because I’m still new, that’s a little different,” said Smash City owner Jeremy Reynolds. ”If I was an established food truck, I could dictate the terms of where I wanted to go, and it’s great for folks that can do that. 

“But at the same time, I want to get my name out there and I want a chance for everyone, no matter what part of the city you’re in, to have a chance to try us out.” 

Destination trips aren’t the only gas-eating activity. Runs to the grocery store or to U.S. Foods and Restaurant Depot for supplies must be considered now, too.

“We don’t have food delivered to our kitchen, so I’m driving back and forth to the store sometimes two, three times a day,” said Bryson Webb of the eclectic Motley Chew. “So even doing that adds up to 50, 60 miles a day.” 

Webb said he’s really getting hit with the price increases, as his truck uses diesel fuel, a county average of $4.97 per gallon according to AAA reports. 

“Diesel’s always been expensive, and that’s definitely a very high price point now,” Webb said. “Gas prices have definitely affected every aspect of our cost of operating, between the truck, the generators and my personal car.”

“It does make you think, ‘Do I need to pick up more ingredients at one time?’” Reynolds said. “Now you have to consolidate those trips just to save money. What used to be a $5 trip is now a $10-$15 trip.”

And it isn’t just gasoline prices. The cost of a gallon of propane has also increased. 

Oscar Hines said Dashi is especially being hit by the propane prices. “We probably spend about three times more on propane than our gas any given week,” he said. “In terms of propane, it’s jumped from $3 to $5 in some places … and the increase is probably close to $70 a week, as opposed to gas, which is more like $30 a week.”

“The biggest thing for me is going to be the propane,” Smash City’s Reynolds added. “When I first started, I was using just a standard 25-gallon tank, and at the end of the year, I had to buy two more. In November, it was costing me $16 to fill up a tank, but now it’s costing me up to $25.”

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