Chameleon Concessions has built hundreds of food trucks for customers in Minnesota and across the country. One of his latest installations was his trickiest: riding a refurbished 11-story London double-decker bus to a rooftop park at a performing arts center in northern Virginia.
The rooftop installation stands out from any other CEO Mark Palm knows in the country.
Chameleon Concessions has built food trucks for big-name clients such as Andrew Zimmern and the Minnesota Twins, and first-time food vendors. On a recent day at the company’s store on E. Hennepin Avenue in Minneapolis, nearly two dozen projects were in the works.
During the pandemic, Chameleon’s food truck business has remained stable, with food trucks replacing indoor dining. Palm said it expected this growth.
But the company did not expect the demand to outfit vehicles for other services, as businesses from bike and cellphone repair to pet washing went mobile to meet customers. during the pandemic. Chameleon has also found itself outfitting trucks for outdoor bars and even an outreach program for homeless youth.
“We’ve been approached with just about everything now because of the pandemic,” Palm said. “He’s definitely extended to new opportunities.”
Palm gained industry experience and connections as the third generation owner and employee of Palm Brothers Restaurant Equipment, a family business started in 1910. He learned mobile food sales and operations by designing, building and setting up food stands in Home Depot stores and other retail businesses. locations in Minnesota and nationwide.
When Minneapolis passed food truck-friendly ordinances in 2010, he was ready. Chameleon offers food truck management courses and design consultation; helps find equipment for customers, then builds the trucks.
Much like the equipment company where Palm worked with his father and brothers, Chameleon is a family business. Pam’s wife takes care of the books. His daughter Tori steps in when needed in addition to working her own full-time job. And Luke Palm is now full-time after graduating in May from Iowa State University, where he studied advertising and event management.
The initial guidance provided is important because it can cost $100,000 to get started in the food truck business. A used 18-foot Freightliner van, less available as online retailers buy them for delivery services, can cost $30,000, Palm said. Building it to code and outfit it can cost between $50,000 and $70,000.
The partnership can also fund a project.
Bill Evanoff and his business partner John Connolly rent a Chameleon truck for their business Wingman Matt, which serves grilled chicken wings. The business, named after Connolly’s son, who died of cancer aged 20, also has a storefront in Eden Prairie.
Evanoff said Palm’s mind started racing as soon as he tried the wings.
“He went from truck builder to relationship builder to business builder and inspirational partner,” he said.
Lisa Mears, who previously worked with Chameleon to build a mobile pantry, contacted Palm to convert a shuttle into a outreach vehicle for Bridge for Youth. It is equipped with a commercial refrigerator and a counter and window for serving soup, hot chocolate and other foods and an area where medical and mental health professionals and health assessors housing can meet clients, said Mears, executive director of the nonprofit organization.
“Mark and his team are truly passionate about helping people in need,” Mears said. “They are the experts at what they do.”
Work on Chameleon’s highest effort — for Capital One Hall’s rooftop park in Tysons, Va. — began more than two years ago, before the pandemic hit, Palm said. A center employee had seen the Chameleon food truck room created for Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Capital One Hall is a mixed-use complex that also includes the corporate headquarters of the credit card company. Known as The Perch, the rooftop park features a beer garden, space for shows, events, fitness classes and a planned 18-hole mini-golf course. It is connected to a hotel and is open to customers and the public.
Palm’s brother found the 1954 London double-decker bus in Portland, Oregon. Palm bought a 1947 Flex bus he knew in St. Paul. These two are now food trucks. A refurbished 1977 Airstream Chameleon bus serves as a check-in desk for mini golf players.
Palm worked with Colfax Custom in New London, Minnesota, a fabrication shop and frequent collaborator, who helped convert the vehicles and then braced them for the crane-to-roof ride in November.
The trucks will be fully equipped for a spring launch of expanded Perch offers.
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Lake Elmo. His email is [email protected]