Get started

This page will help you understand the steps to opening a food truck or mobile food facility in San Francisco. It is a resource from the Office of Small Business, San Francisco's central point of information for small businesses.

Choose a location

Choose a location
  • Make an appointment with a business counselor from the Office of Small Business to understand the process and discuss your plans.
  • Choose one of three location options: Selling on Public Property, Private Property, or Public Park Property. The application process varies depending on the option you choose.
  • If operating in the public right-of-way (e.g., sidewalks, streets, or alleys) apply for a permit to operate your food truck on public property from the Department of Public Works (DPW).
  • If operating on private property (e.g., any space off the street such as a parking lot or private parcel) apply for a permit to operate through the Planning Department. You may apply for permanent use or temporary.
    • Resources:
    • Notes:
      • Operating on public property will require neighborhood notification and can lead to a public hearing if the application is contested by neighboring businesses or residents. Work with your neighbors to gain support and be sure to explain how your food truck can be a good addition to the neighborhood and how you plan to be a part of the community.
      • Private organizers like Off the Grid and SOMA StrEat Food Park also operate on private property. These companies already have permits but charge a fee and/or a percentage of your sales to participate at their locations. 
      • For public property, there are buffer zones around restaurants, schools, and certain neighborhoods, where you cannot operate. Expect to stay 75 ft. away from any restaurant and at least 500 ft. from any grade school. 
  • If you are interested in locating in public park property, find out about opportunities through the SF Recreation and Parks Department.

Set up your business

Set up your business
  • Create a plan for the type of food truck you will open. 
  • Obtain a Business address. Even though you will be selling out of a truck, you will need a physical address in order to register your business. 
  • Choose a business structure. LLCs, Corporations, and Limited Partnerships must register their structure with CA Secretary of State before registering locally.
  • Apply for an Employer Identification Number (EIN), also known as a Federal Tax ID Number from the IRS. This is used to identify your business and allows you to hire employees. If you are a sole proprietor without employees, you may choose to use your Social Security Number instead.
  • Register your business with the City through the Office of the Treasurer and Tax Collector (TTX).
  • Choose and file a business name. File a Fictitious Business Name (FBN) Statement at the SF Office of the County Clerk if you will be using a name other than your given name, the names of your partners, or the officially registered name of your LLC or corporation. Research the name’s availability in your county before filing.
  • Apply for a Seller’s Permit from the CA Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) in order to sell taxable goods in the state of California.
  • Obtain workers’ compensation insurance if you will have employees. You will need this in order to obtain the Department of Public Health (DPH) Permit to Operate.

Prepare your space

Prepare your space
  • Determine the level of Mobile Food Facility Classification you fall under and review the requirements for your classification level. There are 5 levels.
  • Find a place to prepare your food. All mobile food vendors must operate in conjunction with a food facility, also known as a commissary, such as a licensed commercial kitchen. Thus, you will need to rent a commercial space for preparing food, and storing your inventory. 
  • Purchase a truck, cart, or trailer but make sure you know and understand the health requirements.
    • Resource:
    • Notes:
      • Be sure to obtain or create schematics of your truck. You will need these to obtain a food permit.
      • If you are operating certain types of mobile food facilities (classification 4 and 5), appliances, plumbing and other structural items may require certification by the CA Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD).
  • Secure a location for parking and truck maintenance. All mobile food facilities that prepare food must be parked at a designated food facility when not in use.

Food and alcohol

Food and alcohol
  • Obtain a Manager’s Food Safety Certification for yourself and/or a designated employee. This person is responsible for teaching other employees proper food handling.
  • Ensure all employees have a Food Handler Card. The SF Department of Public Health (DPH) offers a few options for obtaining this card. 
  • Create a list of all foods to be served with information on how, when and where each food item is prepared and cooked. You will need this list to obtain a food permit
    • Note: If you make any changes to your food truck's written operational procedures, menu or equipment, you will need DPH approval.
  • Apply for your Mobile Food Facility Permit to Operate from SF DPH. Your application will require a list of food to be served, truck schematics, Commissary Verification, Restroom Verification, Proof of Worker’s Compensation Insurance, Proof of Food Safety Certification, Written Operational Procedures, and a Business Registration Certificate.
  • Don’t serve any foods containing trans fats, per California State law. SF DPH enforces the trans fat compliance program to ensure that no food containing artificial trans fat is stored, distributed, served, or used in the preparation of any food.
  • If you chose to operate on public property, you must provide a copy of your final DPH permit to the Department of Public Works (DPW).

After opening

After opening
  • Follow all DPH operating instructions to maintain a safe and healthy truck for customers and employees.
  • Always clear your truck location of trash or debris before you leave. When operating on public property, be sure you don’t obstruct the sidewalk. 
  • Post all required posters and permits including, but not limited to, No Smoking signs, minimum wage information, and health inspection results
  • Mark your calendar. Schedule equipment maintenance and set reminders to renew your permits and licenses as needed.  
  • Be prepared for SF DPH Health Inspections by checking walls, floors, and ceilings for damage; following best practices for food storage; collecting garbage; and ensuring workers have good hygiene.
  • If your truck operates at a location for more than an hour, you and your employees must have access to a restroom within 200 ft. of the truck
  • Reminder: If you make any changes to your food truck's written operational procedures, menu or equipment, you will need DPH approval
  • Prepare and pay your local, state, and federal taxes. Learn more from these departments: