WENATCHEE — Working as a cook through college, Joe Gluzinski long dreamt about someday owning an eatery. He initially hoped to open a restaurant before pivoting to a food truck.

Blue Skies Food Shack, Gluzinski’s truck, opened in April. According to the Chelan-Douglas Health District, it’s one of about 28 mobile food units in operation, 10 of which have opened in the past three years.

Janet Perez, a spokesperson for the Chelan-Douglas Health District, said much of that growth has come in the past year.

Starting a mobile food service involves obtaining permits, equipment and certifications. Perez said prospective operators often struggle with finding a unit with the necessary equipment, obtaining Washington State Labor & Industries certification and finding commissaries and other services.

For Gluzinski, it was relatively straightforward.

To get a vehicle he searched online through Washington’s limited supply. His in-state-only search ensured the truck he bought came with the Labor & Industries certification sticker, which can be a challenge. The certification is required for any truck or trailer that sells food at a temporary location where people work inside and customers stand outside.

When shopping, this sticker was the first thing Gluzinski checked.

“That just bypassed having to go through that process because it had already been certified by the state of Washington,” Gluzinski said.

Once he bought the entirely self-contained vehicle, it cost even more money to retrofit.

“I wanted to go into the business by having everything serviced before I went into it,” Gluzinski said, “rather than risk having it break down.”

The fire suppression system was charged. The hood needed to be cleaned. A new propane-powered water heater was installed. The generator and refrigerator have each been serviced three times. Fire marshals in Chelan and Douglas counties conducted inspections to ensure the truck was up to code.

With so much equipment on board, a mobile food unit requires constant upkeep. In total, around 15 people have inspected and serviced Blue Skies Food Shack.

“It takes the total village to raise this child,” Gluzinski said.

Gluzinski needed somewhere to dispose of wastewater, which Perez said can be another challenge. Eventually, Gluzinski found a carwash where he could dispose of it.

The next step was sourcing the food.

The brats come from Pybus. The produce comes from Pybus as well. The bread is from Leavenworth. Though the food has an international flair, he wanted local ingredients.

The process was more difficult for Richard Premro and his business, Mama Tina’s Wood Fired Pizza. The trailer opened at the end of August.

He began the process of ordering the trailer, which cost about $85,000, in February. He picked it up in July. With so few builders, Premro ordered his trailer from a business in Denver.

Since Premro purchased his trailer from outside of Washington, he needed to certify it himself. He was unaware of this step when he started the process.

Right now, the health district can only issue him temporary permits sinceLabor & Industries have yet to certify the trailer.

The health district offers temporary permits that cost $98 for up to three days of operation, $148 for four to seven days and $198 for operations lasting up to 21 days. Additionally, the health district offers permits for 180 days that allow three days of operation a week. These permits are site-specific, so Mama Tina’s must take out a new one for each location. So far, Premro has taken out 20 temporary permits.

The lack of a permanent permit also restricts where Premro can operate for the time being.

Though he’s dealt with some permitting issues, Premro said he opted to open a food truck because there’s more protection. While restaurants have been temporarily closed over the past year and a half with COVID protocols, these restrictions don’t apply to mobile eateries.

“With customers, they never come inside. It’s all outdoors,” Premro said. “I don’t have any seating, so they grab their pizza and take it home.”

Both Premro and Gluzinski said running a food establishment is a lifelong dream.

“I’m retired,” said Premro, a former X-ray technologist. “And I wanted something to do, and I’ve always wanted to do a food truck.”

“It’s not really a romance novel, you know,” Gluzinski said. “But people get passionate and excited when they see a food truck.”

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Joe Gluzinski with the wrong first name.

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