How to Start a Chipwagon Business

Chips image by Elzbieta Sekowska from

Entrepreneurs are driven by the satisfaction that comes with owning their own successful business. Starting a mobile food restaurant, such as a chip wagon, is a quintessential small business opportunity, due to its relative affordability and proven business model. While operating a chip wagon requires business acumen, hard work and long hours, getting started is relatively simple.

Investigate what permits are required in your territory to sell chips from a mobile restaurant. In almost every city, you will need to register your company for a business license. Many cities require restaurants to register companies that serve food with the local health department. As part of this registration, the city may send a health inspector to visit your chip wagon to ensure it meets health regulations. Some cities also require every employee to successfully complete a course in safe food-handling techniques.

Purchase or build your chip wagon. Begin by scouring the local paper, Internet sites such as craigslist and eBay, and small business tabloids for chip wagon businesses for sale. Purchasing an existing wagon is fast and easy, but ensure the age and upkeep of the equipment is appropriate for the price being asked. New owners may discover that the existing equipment limits what you can sell. If you choose to build your own wagon, carefully determine how much space the restaurant area permits. Itemize the equipment you require and visit a restaurant-supply store to measure each piece to ensure your food-preparation materials will fit within the space constraints. It may help you to create a scale diagram of the chip wagon to experiment with different equipment layouts.

Develop the menu for your chip wagon. To undertake some market analysis, spend a few lunch hours within sight of your competitor's chip wagons, to see their most popular items. When you develop your menu, consider items for children, vegetarians and dieters. Be wary of menu offerings that require expensive or perishable ingredients that might spoil if the item doesn't sell as planned. The location of your chip wagon will influence your menu choices, as a spot outside a tourist area might have better luck selling fast food and treats to people on vacation than a location with a steady stream of regular business customers.

Find a location for your chip wagon. There are two types of chip wagon locations. The first is a rental spot on private property. This could be the corner of a parking lot or on a boulevard in front of a private building, with the chip wagon owner paying the property owner to rent the space. The second type of location is a spot on public property. Many cities allow chip wagons to park and undertake business on public streets, in parks, recreation areas and public squares. Public locations need to be negotiated with city staff, and usually involve a permit designating a specific location.

Calculate your cost for each menu item and determine your selling price. Practice preparing each item on your menu and carefully track the cost of the ingredients necessary to deliver each serving. Using the cost of the ingredients as a starting point, add a portion of the operating costs of the chip wagon to each item. Operating costs include include the loans associated with the wagon and its equipment, staff costs, permits and rent. To calculate a formula for operating costs, consider your total monthly expenses. Divide this the by the number of days you intend to operate. Use this daily expense amount and divide it by the number of orders you will sell each day. This price per order is then added to the cost of ingredients to provide you with a rough idea of the cost for each item. Add your profit to determine your selling price and monitor your success continually to avoid unpleasant surprises.


  • Consider renting your chip wagon on the days you do not intend to operate the business yourself.


  • Ensure all necessary permits are in order. Arrange bathroom privileges with a local business for you and your staff.



About the Author

Chris MacKechnie is a graduate of Carleton University's Law Program and has been writing professionally for more than a decade. He is a regular contributor for a number of travel and business magazines and marketing websites, including "OutPost Magazine," "Report on Business" and several insurance trade publications. MacKechnie also writes extensively for several Fortune 500 companies located around the globe.

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