San Antonio food truck builder Cruising Kitchens expands on East Side with ghost kitchens

Photo of Madison Iszler

The coronavirus pandemic is propelling the rise of ghost kitchens — kitchens designed to handle food-delivery orders — and one San Antonio company is a big beneficiary.

At facilities near the airport, Cruising Kitchens designs and builds custom food trucks for clients that range from mom-and-pop enterprises, to companies such as Walmart and Whataburger, to nonprofits like Steph and Ayesha Curry’s charitable foundation, which is called Eat. Learn. Play.

The company also builds trailers for ghost kitchens — and it’s ramping up production with an estimated $12 million investment on the near East Side, said President and CEO Cameron Davies.

Cruising Kitchens last month bought an entire city block at 314 Nolan St. with a roughly 100,000-square-foot warehouse and parking lot, which are being used to assemble and test trailers.

The company has a deal with Miami-based Reef Technology, which is working with fast-food chains such as Wendy’s to open hundreds of ghost kitchens.

Ghost kitchens are appealing to both established chains and new restaurateurs because of their costs and flexibility. No need to find a brick-and-mortar location, sign a long-term lease or hire as many workers, but the kitchens still can reach customers quickly and expand their footprint.

Reef raised $700 million last year from investors that included Mubadala Capital and SoftBank’s Vision Fund. The company’s signage on fencing at the Nolan warehouse features the logos of some of the customers it has worked with, including MrBeast Burger and Wow Bao.

A new mobile resource center designed by Cruising Kitchens for Eat. Learn. Play, Steph and Ayesha Curry’s foundation.

A new mobile resource center designed by Cruising Kitchens for Eat. Learn. Play, Steph and Ayesha Curry’s foundation.

Courtesy of Cruising Kitchens

Cruising Kitchens’ new facility will enable it to build 1,000 to 1,500 ghost kitchen trailers annually, increasing its volume by 500 percent, Davies said.

The company has about 90 employees devoted to developing the trailers. Davies wants to hire at least 60 more workers, including fabricators, plumbers and electricians, before the end of the first quarter of 2022.

The site is in a federal “opportunity zone,” which provides tax breaks on capital gains to investors who park their funds in long-term investments within the designated zones. Davies said he plans to seek Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone funds for infrastructure improvements and is in discussions with the city about a grant.

But he said the facility is not dependent on that. Retrofitting the warehouse, getting electrical permits for the power needed and producing the trailers are already underway.

“It’s literally as fast as we can build these trailers,” Davies said.

He started Cruising Kitchens in San Antonio about a decade ago during a difficult time. He said he was broke and struggling to pay rent, and he and his wife, Kaycee, found out they were pregnant with their first child.

They opened the Boardwalk on Bulverde, San Antonio’s first mobile food truck park. Then they started building trucks. Their first big break was creating a disaster relief trailer for H-E-B.

Since then, they’ve created trucks and trailers for universities, food banks, police departments, small businesses, television shows and food chains. They make about 40 of the custom vehicles annually.

Cruising Kitchens is an end-to-end builder: The company gathers components, handles electrical and plumbing work, creates designs and manages transportation.

“It allows us to control the process,” Davies said. “It allows us not to have bottlenecks, but it also controls quality.”

Its company-built trucks are featured on the company’s reality TV show, “Built for Business,” which is about creating mobile businesses. The second season premiered last year, and Davies said he is in talks with major networks about a third season.

Cruising Kitchens’ parent company, Davies Enterprises, employs about 150 people. It has developed other lines of business aside from building trucks. These include an entertainment division that manages professional boxers and musicians, and making trucks and trailers for medical testing.

The company was considered essential during the coronavirus pandemic, so it wasn’t forced to temporarily shut down, but there have been stresses.

Near the beginning of the outbreak, they had finished 10 trucks and were waiting on final payment, which is “how we eat,” Davies said.

Getting materials for trucks and trailers also has been difficult.

“I’m watching the world, like it’s coming to an end. … I didn’t know what I was going to do,” he said. “All of a sudden, people realized that mobile assets are more profitable than brick-and-mortar.”

People have been interested in buying the company, Davies said, but he’s not selling, at least for now.

“The growth is just so crazy that people don’t understand it and so I’m (going to) ride it out,” he said. “This is what I love to do. I love coming to work every day, and I love providing opportunities for people.

“San Antonio’s my home. It’s my city, and it’s supported us from the food truck days when I was broke and couldn’t pay my rent to now.”