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Ideas with sizzle

It sounds like a Hollywood plot. An amateur cook opens a food truck and becomes a celebrated chef. Or a celebrated chef opens a food truck and finds the happiness that eluded him in the four-star kitchen. And it can become a blockbuster.

When food trucks began popping up in American cities over a decade ago, they presented a refreshing alternative to the drive-through window: a hipper, healthier answer to fast food. Yet in some ways, food trucks of the 2000s were what fast-food joints were to the 1950s: an unexpected craze that has turned into a billion-dollar industry.

In the last several years, many food trucks have built on success with sit-down restaurants and other forms of physical dining establishments. With low overhead and staffing costs, food trucks provide a unique conceptual testing ground that would prove too expensive, and too risky, for a brick-and-mortar restaurant to pull off without major capital investment.

"Food trucks can get to market without breaking the bank and to answer the question 'Does anybody care?'" said Ross Resnick, the founder of Roaming Hunger, a Los Angeles-based company that tracks and promotes food trucks.

The following restaurant success stories share at least one element in common: a humble food truck was the critical launchpad.

By Sarah Chandler, special to CNBC.com
Posted 20 November 2015

Nicolas Hamelin | EyeEm | Getty Images