Q&A With Tania Ramirez, Owner of Food Cart USA

It seems like new food trucks are rolling out every week in Miami, from churro trucks to ice cream to trucks that make exceptional grilled cheese. It's enough to make you wonder: Where are they all coming from?

Well, one of the women behind the influx of trucks is Tania Ramirez. Tania operates Food Cart USA, a full-service food truck builder that's created some of the most popular trucks in South Florida. Her handiwork is evident in trucks like Dim Ssam A GoGo and the Rolling Stove -- which we detailed in our feature story on food trucks last week -- and in popular mobile creations like Latin Burger and La Camaronera. These days, Ramirez isn't just building trucks: She's hosting them as part of her weekly truck gathering, the Miami Food Court, which brings three or more trucks together every Tuesday through Thursday at 65th Avenue and Bird Road in Miami.

We spoke with Ramirez to find out just what goes into making a food truck work: 

New Times: So how did you get into the business?
Tania Ramirez: I started out building trucks in California, where they're really popular. About three years ago, I sold the company due to a divorce, and basically I couldn't start a competing company there because of it. So I moved to South Florida just hoping the whole thing would catch on here.

Obviously it caught on!
Yes, it's exciting to see this whole food truck explosion. We really brought this to Miami; they didn't have something like this before. Basically, it started with Latin Burger & Taco, but we have trucks coming from everywhere. It is a great business, and it's something new to South Florida... a new generation. It's really come out of nowhere.

What makes a opening a food truck a more attractive option than opening a restaurant?
To open a restaurant may cost you over $150,000. You can get into a truck for much less than that. Plus, restaurants have to wait for clients to come to them. This way, you can go to the customers.

What are some of the trucks you've done recently? 
Next week, we have a new truck called Churro Mania debuting; that one's being delivered tomorrow. Other companies are getting in on the mobile thing too. We've done trucks for Sir Pizza and Whole Foods.

How many trucks does your company make each month?
It varies. Sometimes we do five or six or more. We don't just build in Florida; we build them for New York, Chicago, Connecticut, Missouri, and all over.

How long does it take to build one?
Four to six weeks. The maximum is six weeks.

Walk us through the process of building one.
Well, first we try to get a good truck, mechanically speaking. We make sure the engine is good, the transmission is good. Then we strip the whole back, we insulate the walls, put in the SRP panels. From there, the equipment is really customized to how the owner wants it. Some people want a fryer or two fryers. We put in everything from 36-inch flat tops to microwaves to espresso machines. It's just like a mini restaurant on the road.

How much does it cost?
It could start anywhere from $55,000 to $100,000, depending on the year of the vehicle. Obviously, the newer the vehicle, the more it's going to cost. And we build a complete kitchen in the back, so the more we put in, the more that costs too.

Do you do the wraps (artwork) too?
We do the wraps, custom cabinets, video and audio equipment, everything. When a truck leaves here, it's ready to go to work. We even help owners with the permits they need to get up and running.

You also operate the Miami Street Food Court, right?
Yes, it's sponsored by us (Food Cart USA).

Tell us how that works.
Well, it's basically a night to come out and sample the trucks in one spot. A friend of mine owns the property, and right now, what we're trying to do is see how the customers respond. Tonight we'll have Fish Box (La Camaronera), Latin Burger, Dim Dsam a GoGo, and Dolci Peccati Gelato.

Right now, it's Tuesday through Thursday. Do you have any future plans for it?
Well, people are responding. And as more trucks come out, we'll add more days. So we're looking at doing Friday next week. We'd also like to make this a real food court -- add bathrooms, a playground, things like that.

Anything else you'd like to tell us?
This is a woman-operated company! I tell people all the time it's ladies making trucks! My daughter and I do it, and her name is Crystal. I do it for her.

Want more food trucks? Check out Charlie's complete list of food trucks on Twitter.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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John Linn