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A Quick Discussion of Houston Commissaries

Food truck commissary Houston
A pair of Houston food truck entrepreneurs servicing their food truck at a local commissary.

Having to visit a commissary will be one of the many "I did not know I needed to do that" that catch new mobile food entrepreneurs off-guard. Seasoned Houston area food truck owners understand that the commissary is one of those love/hate aspects to your mobile culinary business venture. On one hand as a stand-alone support service for your food truck they can be handy and convenient but on the other hand, as permit requirement it can be annoying.

In this article we will discuss the relationship between commissaries and food trucks.

First, what actually is a commissary

The definition of a commissary is a location that prepares food that is meant for public consumption but is not consumed on premises. Basically a restaurant with no guests. Many large restaurants and fast food joints use this method. Everything is made and prepared at one local offsite location and shipped to its satellite locations for sale and consumption.

But wait, that makes no sense, what does that have to do with my food truck?

To answer that question we need to put on our regulatory hat and look at the county and city health codes. Although each county and municipality has their own health codes,there are three goals that they all want to achieve (I've actually heard these officials tell me this, so that's my backup for these points):

1.) Potable water is coming from an approved source: They don't want you filling up your food truck from your dirty backyard hoses....and don't lie, you know they are rank LOL!

2.) Waste from your food operations is disposed of in a regulated manner (grey water, garbage, oil etc): They don't want you dumping garbage at the side of the road, or illegally anywhere, as well as oil and grease down some sewer drain either

3.) Make sure your unit is mobile: I have had some disagreements from other food truck owners on this one but I've heard it clearly from health officials that having to visit a commissary is proof that you moved your food truck. Believe it or not guys, some food truck stay parked in one location until they are shoe-horned out by some public official.

So what is the connection between a commissary and the regulatory goals?

The permitting authorities use the commissaries to achieve their goals by requiring that you bring your food trucks to approved commissaries "frequently" to be "serviced".

What do you mean by frequently?

Well to the majority of the county and city authority groups it means EVERY DAY YOU ARE WORKING THE FOOD TRUCK but there are some surrounding authorities that are fine with you taking your food truck once a week for servicing. Double check with your authority for more details.

What does "serviced" mean?

You show up, you dump your water, you fill up your fresh water, you dump your garbage (and oil if needed), you go inside, pay the fee (usually $7-$14 per visit), they give you an official receipt and you are off on your way.

What else can I do at these commissaries?

The above are the official items you need to do to stay within permit compliance but these commissaries also can provide a lot of other value-add items such as monthly parking, refuel your propane, a retail area with food stuffs and service items, ice machines, cleaning bay for your vehicle and even some commissaries will have a mechanic on site and LP gas inspections. All very valuable items.

Wait, how do they know if I took my food truck there or not?

On a daily basis they don't know.....but the trick is the receipt. The city/county approved commissaries are given an official receipt book which they issue to you as proof that you visited. Keep that receipt (and all commissary receipts) on your food truck because when a city inspector shows up unannounced they are going to want to see that proof and failing to have one could land you with a fine.

How do I find these approved commissaries?

Some authorities have a list of approved commissaries and some just say "go to a commissary to drop off water", which I find hilarious, but for sake of this article posted below is the 2018 City of Houston approved commissaries for food trucks:

Anything else?

You should now be good with the concept of commissaries and how they will affect your future food truck business.

In future blog posts we will be going deeper into individual commissaries and exploring what Houston has and what it wants from these businesses.

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