How to Start a Vending Cart Business

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Starting a vending cart business can be the ideal work solution for those interested in meeting and working with people in a low-start-up-cost, flexible operation. Vending carts also offer the potential for high profit margins and relatively stable market conditions. One benefit vending carts have over many other businesses is the ability to move if the initial locations proves to be unsuitable.

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Research vending cart businesses in your area to determine potential products, pricing, target customers and locations. Some vending cart owners limit their menu to only one main food item such as popcorn, hot dogs, ice cream or coffee. Some sell a variety of items for breakfast or lunch on-the-go. Some target tourists in a downtown area, while others market primarily to construction workers so their carts might be mobile.

Research the vending cart laws in your area. Most vending cart owners must pay for a concessionaire's license annually. Licenses and permits are typically governed by the city for larger municipalities and may be governed by the county for smaller towns. For example, vending cart licenses in Salt Lake City, Utah cost $250, as of the time of publication. As is true in most municipalities, the ordinance that governs street vending in Salt Lake City also defines the coordinates where vendors can set up their businesses, the design requirements for vending carts and lists other regulations for legal operation of carts. In most locations, the vendor must have a permit on display at all times and never leave the cart unattended. A food handler's permit and training may also be required.

Research vending carts to find the one that best fits your needs. The type of cart you buy or build will be determined by the type of foods and beverages you choose to sell and by your budget. New carts can range from $800 to more than $7,000 each. Used carts may cost less than $600. Many vendors are deciding to sell hot dogs because, since wieners are pre-cooked, they only need to be warmed; therefore they are not as closely monitored by state and city health departments as many other foods, according to a Wall Street Journal interview with Joel Goetz, owner of American Dream Hot Dog Carts Inc., of St. Petersburg, Florida.

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Research potential locations. Some cities have a long waiting list for vending cart sites in the downtown area, so other possibilities include locations inside retail stores, at flea markets, on a business’s parking lot or other private property. Another option is to work at festivals, rodeos or other sporting events, convention centers and other public venues.

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Choose a menu and suppliers. Ask other vendors or check with the National Association of Concessionaires for referrals. Check your local business directory and online for sources. Some suppliers offer turnkey systems and even provide the cart and payment systems for those owners who plan to accept debit or credit cards. Convenience store food distributors and buying clubs such as Costco may also have the supplies you need.


  • Have three to six months of operating capital on hand to start.