An inescapable trend in 2009, especially for city-dwellers, is that of the food truck. Here in New York we’re quite accustomed to chuck wagon chow, consumed while sitting on street corners using expertly developed balancing skills. A few mobile kitchen innovators stepped up the quality and added the word “gourmet” to their offerings and voila, a nationwide obsession was born. And being in a recession didn’t hurt the usually cheap eats either.
Then came the problem of how to find your favorite mobile eatery. Enter Twitter and aggregator sites like the recently-launched RoamingHunger.com, the first nationwide food truck tracker. The site currently lists more than 200 trucks in eight cities, including the usual suspects (L.A., New York, San Francisco) and a few less common locales (Portland, Seattle, Pittsburgh), with more to come as users suggest favorites to the site.
“Over the last six to eight months there’s been an exposion of street food options,” says Roaming Hunger founder Ross Resnick. “There’s such low overhead on starting up a street food business that there’s no way we can find all the new trucks. I really envision the site as a user-generated platform. We’re really going to rely on the people.”
Resnick developed the site by going to the vendors themselves and asking what they wanted in a truck-finder. “Twitter was sort of 2-D for some of the vendors and they wanted a more 3-D experience, with pictures, a geo-location service, user feedback, along with the Twitter feed,” he says. The site is built on a liking system where users vote up their favorite vendors. “We want to help them help us help them get the word out.”
As the trend grows, big brands are trying out the space. In L.A., Ketel One vodka is sponsoring an alcohol-free truck featuring food by Top Chef winner Ilan Hall to encourage responsible drinking over the holidays. Taco Bell rolled out its mobile taco truck over the summer, and Food Network chef Ingrid Hoffmann is opening her own truck in Miami, a rising hotspot for the trucks.
Not all the news has been positive, though. In Santa Monica, the downtown business district is asking the city council to consider regulations limiting the number of trucks allowed in the area because of concern of negative impact on local restaurants. After all, the trucks are rent-free and can use real estate near beaches and other populous locations that restaurants perhaps can’t afford or access. And D.C.-area food truck Local SixFortySeven has run into regulation roadblocks in almost every community it has tried to serve.
As with any new innovation, it will take time to figure out the right way to safely and legally go about running a food truck. Perhaps we can look for 2010 to be the year of other services popping up, such as designer Cynthia Rowley’s Shop on Wheels, a food truck-style retail shop that debuted semi-legally in the Hamptons last summer and started rolling around the country.