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Before Food Trucks, Americans Ate 'Night Lunch' from Beautiful Wagons (atlasobscura.com)
185 points by extarial on Sept 13, 2018 | hide | past | web | favorite | 62 comments

This is a gold standard for what a platform should be. An individual sells a product at a one-off price to a entrepreneur who then is able to make a living off of it. There is no 30% take in perpetuity with regulations that slowly chip away at margins. It's just one person selling another an honest opportunity to make money. And as they scale, everyone in the consumption chain benefits -- more sales, more businesses and more places to eat easily for the end customer.

This is nonsense. By what criteria, besides "I like it" is "An individual sells a product at a one-off price to a entrepreneur who then is able to make a living off of it." the ideal form of business?

Adobe went from this model to SaaS, and their user growth has taken off, because it turns out paying the full cost of the software in a front-loaded fashion is really expensive.

I remember pirating visual studio when I was a child, because it cost thousands of dollars that I could not afford, but these days it is free because platform providers have realised that increasing developer share is more important, and now finance their platform via the 30% take.

You are very much mistaken in two ways.

Firstly, Visual Studio is not free. There is a free version that can only be used by learners, hobbyists, and those creating free software. This is a cut-down version from the commercial product, which offers more features and is required if creating commercial software.

Secondly, Microsoft do not finance VS from a 30% take. As I said above, if you want to develop commercial software you have to buy the commercial version. Instead, the free version is a "hearts and minds" exercise. Get people used to the free version when they are learning and when they are creating free software. If they then want to create commercial software their first instinct will be to plump for paying for the commercial version.

On the other hand, some of those replying to you are also mistaken as VS is also available on subscription as well as standalone.

You can use the community product to make commercial software: https://www.quora.com/Can-startups-use-Microsoft-Visual-Stud...

The windows app store store does take a cut, though it seems to be reduced to 15%: https://blogs.windows.com/buildingapps/2018/05/07/a-new-micr...

But even if it was just a hearts and minds exercise - why do you want hearts and minds? As a strategic play to support other parts of your business, i.e. Windows, even if it's not the Windows store.

In any case, it doesn't really matter the specifics are at MS now, you could look at Android or iOS instead, where the dev tools are free and they are definitely taking a 30% cut, and contrast that to a few decades ago where you had to shell out a few thousand dollars if you wanted MS' dev tools at all. Or take a look at Unity which has a subscription, which people are pretty happy with.

Microsoft doesn't make their money off a percentage take at all.

That’s the basic model for the XBox with Microsoft selling it for a loss at the beginning and making it up from a cut of software and peripheral sales.

The App Store’s 5% cut is not currently a major revenue stream for them, but it’s still revenue and would be a big deal for most companies. https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-store-taking-5-cut...

XBox is hardware and a completely different thing.

> The App Store’s 5% cut is not currently a major revenue stream for them, but it’s still revenue and would be a big deal for most companies.

Do you have a citation for how much money it is? And it's only a big deal if it's larger than expenses, which I'll believe but not assume.

I'm curious why the downvotes. To be clear, I searched through some microsoft financial info to try to figure out what app store revenue is, but I couldn't find the number. It's very genuine curiosity.

This occurs today. All the software tools I use are a one-off price for a forever license, and then a subscription to updates.

There's also the argument for renting, where those wagons went unused during the day: if I rent, notionally, what I am renting can be made cheaper by the owners renting to others when I don't need it. But, this does not work well in all markets.

Apple/Google maintains AppStore server, it maintains user review, it filter fraud and malicious apps.

Wagon factory don't give a shit if you break your wagon. They don't care if someone bought it to create lure kids to eat rat poison.

The analogy doesn't even make sense.

Go ahead and write your app for other platform on the internet. Or go ahead and sells your Android APK directly on your website.

No regulations, huh? Terrific, I love salmonella

I also love when my public water supply becomes a dumping ground for all the industrial waste created in the production of this super simple wonder-product.

There's a reason Ron Swanson's brand of Libertarian idealism was used as a punchline so often.

rent-seeking is too seductive to the capitalist

Overly aggressive rent-seeking presents an opportunity to other capitalists.

Throughout industrial history fat margins and egregious royalties are frequently sweet targets for disruption.

Every day, Spotify goes to work looking for a way to route around or limit the obnoxious music cartel. They'll never stop pursuing that. Just as Netflix did before them with the movie industry cartel. The old movie industry ended up creating its biggest competitive nightmare.

Worth checking out Haven Bros. in Providence, RI for an example of this still in operation. Open from ~16:30 to ~27:00. It is driven in to down city every evening.


Came here to post this! Was really intrigued the first time I saw it. One of the many oddities of Providence that make it a fun place to visit.

Wow, two posts on Haven Bros. already!

I miss getting out of a concert at Lupo's or the Strand, and getting hotdogs at Haven Bros. They have outlasted many concert venues in Providence.


I ran into it in Japan. Found it an interesting way to be clear that the restaurant was open past midnight.

A weird way of writing 3AM, I presume.

"used occasionally in some special contexts such as broadcast TV" is not what I'd call fairly common!

Never encountered it in half a century here, just military time "0 3 hundred" as used on the shipping forecast, or simply 3am.

It’s extremely common in Japan. Literally everywhere.

Never seen it in the UK.

I know it's common for commercial properties (bars, restaurants) to use it in Japan to show when they stay open past midnight. I remember being intrigued the first time I saw opening times described like that, and never seen it elsewhere in the world (including the UK).

16 years in the UK, never seen it used anywhere.

31 years native. That's the first time I've ever seen someone write 27:00...

Atleast i have never written or seen anything greater than 24:00 or 00:00 in time related information here in Asia; India & Middle East, working with British & Asian teammates. I am an Indian, by birth, age in 30-35 year range.

Theo only time I have come across is when I had to count the hours between two times in an excel sheet & found that by default MS Excel formats 25:00 hours to 01:00 & I need to use [hh]:mm to bring it to 25:00

Not according to the article you quoted: "... not commonly used ... they have been used occasionally in some special contexts in the UK ..."

I've lived in Scotland and England most of my life, and can't recall ever having seen it and am now curious about what these special contexts are.

For anyone with a clock app out there, this would be a nice april-fools prank you could push to your users.

16:30 to 27:00

is the same as

(–8):30 to 03:00

Which is, of course, just a fancy way of writing (-7:30) to 03:00

I'm never sure what the operator precedence is, to be safe I always write -(7:30)

XD I'm in providnece and I'm hungry right now and its 12:42

The use of "Night Lunch" as opposed to "Dinner" reminds me of the Randall Munroe's "Thing Explainer."

"Dinner" might imply that the restaurant is open earlier?

I suspect in those days "dinner" implied a large meal while "lunch" is something smaller and simpler, like the sandwiches mentioned in the article.

My reading of it is also that many of these were used for what a lot of food trucks are still used for (depending on the city of course): late night food cravings (especially for the "afterparty" crowds). "Night Lunch" seems such a decent descriptor for a "Midnight Snack", that I might adopt it for that purpose.

That would also make sense, good point.

Hey zeitgeist, bring this back. There's barely anything open past 9 pm and almost nothing with power-plugs. How is one supposed to work afterhours? At home? (yeash)

There's a 24 hour cafe called Happy Donuts however it's anything but: unheated, decrepit and must've been remodeled last in 1967.

I smell an untapped business opportunity around you.

A version of these will likely come back. Autonomous vehicles tech will enable on-demand, self-driving restaurants that park in front of your door.

There’s one of these in Portsmouth, NH: Gilley’s.

And they also serve the best poutine I've had outside of Canada!

Looks amazing inside, I’m sure many has tried to replicate such decor

Really nice, good find ! Thanks for sharing.

Was this submission inspired by yesterday's comment?


It sure feels like it. :)

What's more American than the entrepreneurial spirit which drives self-owned & operated businesses like this? You have individuals who are self-responsible for their product/service. It's neat to see the historical precedent.

Yet across America police are shutting down lemonaide stands. Even ones run by kids. Food trucks and stalls are ticketed and confiscated in other cases.

Developers might be wise to speak up before you need an expensive license or medallion or charter in order to sell apps or other tech services. It's no less likely to happen, it just hasn't had time to yet.

> What's more American than the entrepreneurial spirit which drives self-owned & operated businesses like this?

I'm struggling to see what's particularly American about this? Have you been to Asia?

> Food trucks and stalls are ticketed and confiscated in other cases.

I -- for one -- enjoy not having e-coli.

Can you give me a source on what the total economic costs are (including opportunity costs) per reduced cases of e coli due to licensure of eateries?

I have spent years in Asia and never heard of it. In the states I know of a few cases of it happening. Not from food trucks or otherwise unlicensed places.

I'm all for prudent regulations. I'm not suggesting we abolish the FDA. However, I think government interfering in me and a lemonaide stand, or food truck being, able to voluntarily exchange value is far across the line into the absurd.

I mean, to be snarky -

> What's more American than the entrepreneurial spirit which drives self-owned & operated businesses like this?

Clearly, lobbying the government to make your competitors illegal.


It's super cool that a guy with a basket turned into night lunch wagons turned into diners.

It's also then pretty interesting that it took nearly a century for a comeback. (Not that roach coaches haven't been a thing, but, food trucks took it to another level).

Any indications for the intervening slump?

I think the broadening palette and recovering from WWII and processed food had a lot to do with it. You can only make so many things in a truck, but if you’re able to draw from worldwide traditions it represents real variety. Everything from ramen to falafel is doable and delicious in a car or truck, but for a long time Americans weren’t interested in it. Americans seemed to be satisfied with dirty water hot dogs, re-warmed pizza, and things like pretzels. They also weren’t about to spend a serious wad of money for more upscale versions.

Braden tastes, the foodie culture, the idea that even if you just want a hot dog there are good ones to be had for a bit more money changed things, but it took decades. You can chart a similar peak-trough-peak in bread in America actually. It used to be nice stuff, then post-war it was mass produced, pre-sliced crap for decades, and now... it’s back to some version of fresh. WWII didn’t have quite the impact on the American palette that it did on the Brits, but it did have an impact, as did modern “convenience” food.

IMO the bigger issue was the massive, government-funded suburbanization of America. Food trucks work best in a scenario where people need to walk to get food, and driving to another food establishment; when everyone with money is leaving the big city and spreading out over miles and miles, this business model with small/no seating doesn't really work. This business model never really died in, say, New York, where there has always been enough constant foot traffic.

Postwar, people were also much more about modernity and convenience. The drive thru is new, modern and sanitary, and you can drive right up; the food truck is for the poors, is in the dirty city, and you need to find a parking space. But today suburbs are culturally deadening and cities are the hip place to be. We've had a flight back to the cities for a while; this coincides with more food truck uptake.

> You can only make so many things in a truck

It doesn't detract from your larger point, but just a note: food trucks are (at least in the places I've known) required to do most of their prep in a fixed location. It has to be an inspected and commercially licensed kitchen; generally there are shared places that several small-scale food vendors will lease space in.

I think roach coaches were are a thing in “working clasd districs” where all you could afford is a cheap pop and prepackaged meals (burgers, knishes, burritoes, pizza, etc.).

Food Trucks are glorified roach coached which charge a premium and serve mostly office workers who have more discretionary spending and sometimes more demanding palates. Admittedly, things are going “upscale”,

Roach coaches are also mostly ethnic food (and, at least in my experience, that ethnicity is Mexican), and aren't decorated.

Food trucks tend to be "new" food (fusions, for example) and decorated... and also all the things you said :)

<devil's advocate hat> If developers didn't keep serving up products contaminated with hidden privacy violations - and were actually held accountable for their product/service when it caused harm to their users - perhaps calls for licenses or charters wouldn't be quite so necessary...

Equifax did the developer equivalent of exposing most of the US to salmonella. Reports this week seem to indicate it's had practically no detectable punishment via any form of "self-responsibility".

Yet Wall St is one of the most highly regulated markets, and look how much destruction they still are able to cause.

I'm not so much anti-regulation as much as I am for regulating sensibly.

E coli comes from fecal contamination. Do we really need to ban street food because of fecal contamination? Do people need a license to know not to contaminate food with shit?

That is the top criticism and post here objecting to mine. And if you believe in that sort of thing, then you everything should be regulated. I dont know what is more common sense than not putting shit in food.

There are times where regulation makes sense, but this is not it.

If your service involves public health or safety then you should be regulated.

Didn't Portland (OR) come up with a reasonable compromise to regulate "food trucks" somewhat less rigorously than "restaurants" and then leaving it up to a (hopefully informed) consumer to choose?

I'm perfectly happy to take my personal food safety responsibility myself when visiting, say, Thailand - some of their street food is _amazing_, and I'm sure some of it is not very safe. I've never "rolled the dice" wrong there, using just a small modicum of common sense and trustworthy local advice... (I'd eat pretty much anything deep fried, pretty much nothing raw, and lean on locals for advice on choices in between...)

Yea. I find it incredible that when news hit that Thailand was cracking down on food trucks, same as has been done in America, it was a big enough injustice of personal freedom and free markets that it even hit the front page of HN. However, criticize the same thing in America and my comment was extremely controversial. I think that says something about how much faith people put into precedent and authority.

It’s a tradeoff. I’m kind of bummed that the West doesn’t have the kind of small street food cart culture that is common in Asia. I’ve eaten at dozens of them and never gotten sick.

I have a theory that the largely unregulared street food culture survives due to how rare it is for people in cities (in particular) to cook for themselves.

Firstly, you have a large population who are going to purchase food several times a day. That means a food vendor can potentially establish themselves in single location or a neighborhood and build a base of repeat customers, customers who may purchase from them several times a week, if not every day.

Beyond that direct repeat business, regulars will order from their favorite vendor even when they have no queue of waiting customers. That initial group of regulars around a vendor waiting for their order sends a strong positive signal to other potential customers who may not usually buy food in this area. If you dont know the vendors, buying from a vendor with no customers is a risky move.

Next, because buying meals is such a common part of everyone's life it becomes a common conversation. That provides an additional chance to reward quality vendors while punishing low quality vendors.

That environment strongly punishes food vendors that make their customers sick in particular. Your regulars will abandon you and bad mouth you to all their friends and coworkers.

Meanwhile, in the west mobile food vendors rarely have that kind of repeat clientele. Most customers will purchase food from them precisely once. And even if you complain to your friends, chances are that so much time will have passed before they encounter that vendor that they will have forgotten the conversation.

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