My first recollection of any type of food truck is the hot dog stand outside of Wrigley Field in Chicago back in the 1960’s. My dad would take us to the Cubs game and insist the hot dogs were best when topped with “the works.” Not quite that brave, I would settle for ketchup and mustard.
About 20 years later, I took my son to Washington D.C. and we enjoyed a foot-long hot dog at the base of the Washington Monument. It was the best “dog” we ever had – the combination of the company, the food and the location on the street was just right.
Another very familiar treat was the Good Humor truck. A friendly gentleman dressed in a clean white uniform would greet us as we rode up on our bicycles and decide from the wide variety of ice cream and rocket popsicles.
Once I reached working age, I recall the pick-up trucks with the insulated hot and cold food boxes. They would pull up near loading docks at a designated time and the workers would take their breaks so they could decide on a variety of simple foods to snack on.
Then came the trailers and some of the first self-contained box trucks. Many of these initially gave the industry unattractive reviews and were collectively called “roach coaches.” While not all were worthy of that title, many others were.
It was only in the last couple of years that I have experienced the latest in the food truck industry. They have come along way and the food that they serve often reaches gourmet praises. Impressively painted and decorated step-vans are what we see on the outside.
But on the inside, new engineering heights have been achieved safely and effectively installing refrigerators, freezers, grills, griddles, ovens, beverage dispensing devices, cold desert machines and almost every other imaginable piece of kitchen equipment needed to prepare and serve the truck’s specialty.
And each truck, before it is able to hit the road, must pass rigid safety and health inspections.
Now, there aren’t many social gatherings, community events or fairs where food trucks are not present. In fact, there are several events solely devoted to the industry. In the Orlando area, Apopka, Oviedo and Altamonte Springs have enjoyed Food Truck Festivals. Some of the activities are also being effectively used as tools for fund raising for local charitable organizations.
“The impact is great,” Melissa Irby, owner of OrlandoFoodTrucks.com explained. The reason, Irby said, is because it is all about local. “Local chefs, local trucks, local parks, local business,” she added. “Business are utilizing trucks for their grand openings, charities & schools are using trucks for fund-raising and trucks are flocking to every opportunity to showcase their truck, food and be part of the community as a whole.”
Liz Rivera Rivera Otts, President of Florida Expo Services and Food Truck Crazy, Inc., relates the food truck events to some of the get-togethers she had at the base while serving in the military. “We ate, played cards and games, listened to some music and enjoyed the outdoors,” she said. “But most of all, we came for the food. Lots and lots of food.”
Since her first food truck event last year at the Oviedo Mall, Rivera Otts has had “droves of food truck businesses ranging from non-profits looking to use food trucks as fund raisers, to festivals wanting to add food trucks to already existing events, to private events. Rivera Otts also created Food Truck Wars, their own event design, which has been very successful in bringing in hundreds of people to taste and participate in food truck competitions.
Food Network is featuring The Great Food Truck Race III in its current season lineup. The twist this time is that none of the contestants own their own truck. They came with a concept and Food Network created the truck for them. The winners of the race take home $50,000 and will keep their food truck.
The show started running August 19, 2012 and will continue through seven episodes traveling from one lighthouse at Long Beach, California to the another lighthouse on the coast of Maine.
“Food trucks are a fun, fantastic way for aspiring foodie business owners to afford a restaurant without the baggage and commitment that comes with a building space,” Tiffany Seth of Momma’s Grizzly Grub team on the show said. “Food trucks are rolling personality-laden restaurants that can go where the people are, set their own hours and make friends and customers out of people who may never wander into a brick-and-mortar.”
Seth believes that the entire nation, especially the larger cities, are “embracing food trucks in a big way.” She said that “even though they’ve been around for a long time, their numbers are noticeably increasing, and the variety of foods being offered covers the full range of cuisine, from basic tacos and burgers to upscale seafood and, well, gourmet pasta.”
“Food truckers within communities are uniting, and new events have emerged around them, which the residents and tourists alike look forward to,” Seth added. “Food trucks and stand-alone businesses are partnering up as well. I believe it’s bringing communities together, and I hope to see food trucks begin to emerge in small towns everywhere.”
Food Network is also allowing viewers of the race to vote for their favorite team. To cast your vote, visit the The Great Food Truck Race website.
“The food truck industry is booming all over the United States,” The Truck Foodie blogger Jessica Wilson explained. “Its appeal stems multifocally from the ability to bring restaurant-quality food to consumers at a reasonable price, while creating support for small business, promoting the use and propagation of locally farmed products, and encouraging a sense of community.”
Wilson said that the recent trend came to Central Florida, those who visited the food trucks were already aware of the particular trucks and what they had to offer. Others who happened to be in the area would sometimes venture out and try the mobile cuisine.
“But that has changed,” Wilson said. “In the past year with food truck movements such as The Food Truck Bazaar, Crave Promotions, and Food Truck Crazy all making waves and setting up regular gatherings.”
Wilson also offered some advise to those starting in the food truck industry. “There are bound to be radical successes and spectacular failures in individual attempts at making a food truck business work,” she cautioned. “It all comes down to how you run your business.”
For information and schedules about upcoming food truck events in Central Florida, follow:
The food truck industry is here to stay. Where it goes is in the hands of the food truck owners. The consumers will go where they feel comfortable and where they can have some good fun with some good food and good company.
“For the food truck owners who produce consistently good, high-quality food, who get involved with the communities they cater to, and embrace social media for promotion and know how to make their name known,” Wilson said, “success will come in droves.”
“Whatever the event, food trucks make it better,” Rivera Otts added. “I can’t think of a better way to relax and enjoy the family. Put down the cell phone and the iPad and just relax. What a great way to reunite the community!”