Food trucks are definitely here to stay.
We’ve all passed by one. We’ve all debated their cleanliness. We’ve all eaten at them. Food trucks are the wave of the present and are a force to be reckoned with in the food community.
Every major city has hordes of them wherever there are masses of people. Whether it be outside of sporting events, street fairs, art festivals or even protests, a food truck is sure to appear.
In New York, where every neighborhood has its own attitude and almost its own culture, there are a plethora of choices to appease any palate. From waffle-wiches in Williamsburg, to Korean BBQ tacos in the Lower East Side, there’s no shortage of variety.
Blogs, websites and even TV shows dedicate themselves to exploring the endless options food trucks have to offer.
In particular, the Food Network debuted a new show called “The Great Food Truck Race,” hosted by chef Tyler Florence. Contestants have to race cross-country while selling their treats, sandwiches, tacos or any other specialty dish they’ve become known for, all for the chance to win $100,000.
In Los Angeles popular locations for food trucks are Venice, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, Hollywood and near the USC campus.
The website www.FindLAFoodTrucks.com will tell you where to find popular food trucks and has an interactive map that will let the reader know what neighborhood trucks offer and which trucks are the popular hot-spots. For example, in the Venice section of the map, the “thought” bubble lists Venice as a mostly dinner and late-night spot and has specific intersections to visit.
The website also features almost a dozen Twitter widgets that automatically update popular food trucks’ tweets, so that hungry customers can easily figure out where they’re going to make their next food pit stop.
Christian Masisado used to work in a food truck in Los Angeles, “They’re good for fast cheap food or delicious if [you’re] drunk.” His best experience at a food truck was trying bacon-flavored ice cream.
According to an article on Yahoo.com, “10 of the most remarkable food trucks taking over the U.S.” the food truck named Kogi Korean BBQ(pronounced with a hard “g”) hailing out of Los Angeles is the truck that started it all. They were the first to use social networking while changing their locations.
Even celebrity chefs are joining in on the movement. “Top Chef Masters” alum, Ludo Lefebvre opened his own food truck serving black truffle chicken sandwiches, shrimp Po’ Boys and at the debut of their newest menu items, they surprised lunch-goers with foie gras items.
The National Restaurant Association released a study in September of this year proving that this trend is on the rise. According to the study, 59 percent of American adults said they would be likely to visit a food truck if their favorite restaurant offered on which rose from 47 percent in 2010.
“The study also found that food trucks have a more noticeable presence in communities in the West and Northeast than in other parts of the United States,” said Hudson Riehle, the senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association.
Masisado added, “Food trucks are definitely here to stay, people are starting fine dining food trucks for those that want something special and are in a rush.”
Where did all the trucks come from?
They’ve been around forever – well, just about.
Think about ice cream trucks from childhood, those were food trucks specializing in ice cream and desserts. What about those hot dog stands outside of ball games? Lunch cart.
After the Civil War caused us to move westward, there was a large need to feed all those cowboys moving out west. Enter the chuck-wagon.
The chuck-wagon was named for the Charles Goodnight, a cattle herder that realized how hard it would be to cook proper meals for during the long trips out west. Goodnight stocked an old Army wagon with utensils, spices, medical supplies, pots pans and food.
The food was definitely not gourmet, but it was enough to get the herders through to their next locations. Food included dry beans, coffee, cornmeal and other easy to prepare food items, which means that fresh fruit smoothie that you like to drink with your eggs in the morning, was NOT included. The only time meat became available was in the off chance an animal was injured and had to be slaughtered.
These chuck-wagons gave way to mobile canteens in the late 1950s that were operated by the U.S. Army.
Food trucks serve construction sites and other blue-collar professions, but took on new life after the recession. There was hardly any construction happening, which led to extra food trucks. Many high-end chefs were laid-off and were without work so opening food trucks with their restaurant experience and culinary background seemed like fitting choices for some.
These kinds of gourmet trucks, that are essentially fully extendable arms to some higher-end restaurants, offer some signature dishes for pennies on the dollar. So patrons are able to take advantage of trying new foods for less money.
It seems that finding a niche for your truck is also helping some succeed. Some trucks specialize in one cuisine and a menu that only offers a few choices, while others thrive on full menus that turn them into full-kitchens on wheels.
In an article on INC.com, writer Christine Lagorio takes the full process of opening a successful food truck apart into easy to read and easy to follow instructions. One of Lagorio’s steps is to master a location and build a following.
She states, “Buzz is a huge part of what makes a food-truck launch successful. With social media allowing vendors to distribute exclusive-feeling information about their location or daily specials, the best newly launched trucks strike a fine balance between elusiveness and consistency.”
Lagorio uses Kogi Korean BBQ in Los Angeles as an example. The truck “will tweet a new location, be met by a swarm of 40 hungry fans, serve, and then take off for a new spot.”
She also mentions in the article that each city has it’s own distinct vibe. In New York vendors generally stick to a schedule, Los Angeles has a “swoop-in-and-serve-em-up-quickly” feel, and in Austin, T.X. and Madison, W.I., vendors end up in the same area forming an outdoor food court.
Can there be a dark side to this foodie’s dream come true? Of course there are.
For brick-and-mortar restaurants the competition can become fierce considering it literally drives up next to you taking customers from you who don’t feel like waiting in line. Other problems that New York Times’ Atlanta bureau chief, Kim Severson states in her article, “Should cities drive food trucks off the streets?” are clogged streets, disappearing parking and patrons inhaling the exhaust fumes.
Severson reports in her story that in New York truck owners can face fines or even be towed if they sell from metered parking spaces. In Seattle, the city council voted in July of this year on regulations for food truck parking. The city ultimately voted to allow the trucks to sell outside of private lots.
Aviva Shen of Salon.com wrote in her article, that a portion of food truck owners are disillusioned, white-collar lawyers that quit their jobs in order to create a more enjoyable future for themselves.
“These business-savvy career changers have been trained to understand the importance of branding,” she stated, “And the conditions of today’s food world – more food fans than ever, always hungry for the next new thing – make it easier than ever to succeed on brand alone.”
Whatever the reason for the sudden flux in the amount of food trucks in the neighborhoods, patrons are happy about it and it seems that the food truck is here to stay. And with so many trucks offering gourmet options at reasonable prices, it’s hard to imagine living life without them.