‘The business here is no business’: Smoothie truck hangs onto slowing sales

Rising prices due to fruit shortages from California wildfires affect Long Nguyen’s smoothie truck.

The Fruit Truck sits parked on Montgomery Ave. between 13th and Broad streets on Sept. 29. The truck offers smoothies and fruit salads. | MICHAEL SEITZINGER / THE TEMPLE NEWS

This time last year, Long Nguyen had people lining up and down the block for fruit smoothies. 

Now, he only gets one or two customers at a time. 

“it’s not feeling good, not feeling great at all, because we depending on students to come here,” said Nguyen, owner of The Fruit Salad and Smoothie Truck on Montgomery Avenue between Broad and 13th streets. 

Nguyen closed his fruit smoothie truck in March when the pandemic closed Temple University’s Main Campus and reopened it when the fall semester began partially in-person on Aug. 24. But with students moving home as classes moved online and West Coast wildfires affecting the fruit industry, Nguyen’s business is struggling. 

Nguyen has operated The Fruit Salad and Smoothie Truck for 20 years on campus. The majority of Nguyen’s customers are students, professors or staff, he said. 

“I do have regular customers,” Nguyen said. “Not even 30 percent of my regular customers, students, here because they online. They home right now.”

This summer, Nguyen applied for unemployment after closing the truck. It wasn’t much, but it was helpful because he was unable to work, he said.  

In reopening his truck, Nguyen’s shortened his hours from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., to 8 a.m. to 3 or 4 p.m., he said.

In addition to the COVID-19 pandemic slowing customer sales, Nguyen’s business was impacted by wildfires in California wildfires since they caused prices to increase, he said. 

The fires, which started in mid-August, have burned across 4 million acres on the West Coast, NPR reported.

The wildfires have affected the fruit industry because it is unsafe for farmers to harvest due to high smoke levels in the air, the Guardian reported.

At Philadelphia Wholesale Produce Market, on Essington Avenue near 67th Street, where  Nguyen picks up fresh fruit for the day, he found some fruits were completely sold out or priced two to three times higher than normal, he said. 

Due to fruit shortages, Nguyen increased the smoothie prices by 50 cents. He is unable to buy certain fruits, like strawberries, because he is not making enough profit for the increase in price, he said.

“They check up really high right now because the shortage, so there is nothing much we can do,” Nguyen said. “We don’t make any profit right now anyway.”

Donte Stevenson, a 2015 business management alumnus who lives on 11th Street near Oxford, came to The Fruit Salad and Smoothie Truck everyday for breakfast when he was a student. He still comes about three times a week because it’s close to his house, he added.

“I feel like it’s more personal,” Stevenson said. “It’s like mom and pops honestly, I like that.”

Allie Chabrak, a senior criminal justice major, orders a large smoothie with no sugar, spinach, apple, banana and mango two times a week.

“It’s much better to support local businesses, especially ones that rely on Temple students to be here, much rather than a big corporation,” Chabrak said. “Especially now because of COVID, a lot of them have taken a hit.”

Nguyen is unsure his truck will stay open for the remainder of the semester. 

“The business here is no business,” Nguyen added. “We just try to hang on because a lot of people keep asking us just hang on.”

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