Food trucks made big bucks during major events and festivals. Then COVID-19 caused cancellations.

WAKE COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- The cancellation of large-scale events has had a major impact on food trucks.

"We were going to close (the food truck) because it was really bad when the pandemic first hit. We're down about 80 percent with the trucks, restaurants we're down about 35 to 40 percent," said Charlie Hamaty, who owns a Charlie's Kabob on Wheels food truck and two Charlie's Kabob Grill brick-and-mortar restaurants in Wake Forest.

Hamaty said the food truck is typically the more profitable portion of his business.

"We don't have the lease that we have to pay every month and a lot of the overhead that goes with it," Hamaty said.

Big festivals like Brewgaloo and Wide Open Bluegrass account for 60 percent of the food truck business. Outside of same-day sales, Hamaty uses the large crowds to promote his brick-and-mortar locations.

"The truck when it's (in) downtown Raleigh, we're handing out menus for the restaurant. We're out there marketing the restaurants to help the restaurants too. And this year, we weren't able to do any of this," Hamaty said.

Unlike traditional restaurants, many food trucks only operate part of the year due to weather concerns.

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"We're going out about once a week, but then when we come back in some ways, I'm not going to say all the time, we're disappointed because we're actually in the hole to pay the employees that are on the truck and our food," said Hamaty.

He's also facing extra costs as his business has shifted to more individual meals and less large-scale platters.

"This is basically what we're doing with the restaurants and the truck right now that we've stopped doing all the big orders. Everything we're doing is individually bagged so people won't have to touch any of the utensils. Each one will have its own individual box," said Hamaty.

Despite the struggles, he's been able to avoid having to lay off any employees thanks in part to PPP loans and dipping into his pocket.

"They have families, they have kids, they have to support them," said Hamaty.

Hamaty has recently seen a slight uptick in sales, as North Carolina continues to reopen and people are more used to navigating restrictions.

"We're doing what we normally do on a daily basis (like we did) before the pandemic, but we have to add a lot of extra steps just to have the general public feel more comfortable around the truck and the restaurant," said Hamaty.

He credits customer support, especially early in the pandemic, for helping his businesses stay afloat.

"I want to thank them a lot. The community helped us by having the truck in some of the neighborhoods," said Hamaty.

He's hoping a return to normalcy by next spring will help his food truck business as it kicks off its 2021 season.
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