by DEVON STILES
Move over, Portland and Austin. Food trucks are on the rise in Jacksonville. With June’s Downtown Food Truck Rally hosted by the Jax Truckies drawing more than 2,000 people to sample offerings from 11 local trucks, the growing patron support of the movement is evident.
The economic struggles of the past few years have opened up the market for the expansion of food trucks operations. With low start-up costs, it’s no wonder many small-business owners have chosen to go the mobile vending route as opposed to opening a traditional brick-and-mortar restaurant. But running a food truck comes with its own set of challenges.
Chris Dickerson of Corner Taco feels that running a food truck requires more hustle than that a brick-and-mortar restaurant. From having to arrange fresh water, gas and power to carrying only a day’s worth of food, the food truck owner is constantly aiming to manage details that permanent restaurants don’t even consider. “With a food truck, when we’re out, we’re out. We lose out on a lot of sales because of this,” he says.
But on the upside, Dickerson believes that “mobility means a lot of hustling, but it also means that if we’re wrong about the location, we can change it. [Brick-and-mortars] are stuck. This is our biggest advantage.”
Another issue for food truck operators is finding a way to reliably and actively let customers know their whereabouts. With the potential for location and schedule changes, food trucks risk missing out on business. Most utilize Facebook, Twitter and other social networks to broadcast their locations on a daily basis. The Jax Truckies has provided assistance to food truck operators by posting locations on a daily basis on their Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Jax Truckies was founded as an advocate for food truck operators. The organization aims to support organic small business growth, encourage pedestrian traffic downtown, and enhance the overall quality of life for Jacksonville residents.
Attempting to gain community support, the Jax Truckies has hosted two events showcasing food truck offerings. They hosted the sold out Food Truck Championships at Bold City Brewery in March.
Jax Truckies founder Mike Field has been a significant voice in the fight to allow food trucks downtown. Field believes “Food trucks can provide temporary uses for the multiple empty lots that currently litter our downtown landscape. Whereas an empty lot is unwelcoming, food trucks stimulate pedestrian activity by activating unused spaces. By improving walkability, you make Downtown more desirable both as a residential neighborhood and a place where more companies will want to do business. Food trucks offer an easy and affordable step towards making Downtown a destination, not a pass through.”
Beyond the logistical challenges, food truck owners are also facing opposition from local government. Downtown Vision, Inc. issued a position statement against food trucks operating during regular restaurant hours, claiming direct competition and detrimental effects to already struggling Downtown businesses.
In March, Downtown Vision suggested a weekday lunchtime food truck rally, but no more than once a month. The proposal also included giving trucks access to Downtown from 11 pm to 3 am to serve the late-night crowd.
Jacksonville isn’t the only city harshly opposing food trucks in downtown epicenters. For years, the City of Chicago and food truck owners have constantly battled. In late June, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new ordinance allowing operators to cook on their trucks, along with a few other compromises. The proposed ordinance is the result of months of negotiations between city officials and food truck owners. The final vote on the ordinance will be in July.
Andrew Ferenc, owner of On the Fly Sandwiches and Stuff, has been directly affected by the conflict with local governments. After being exiled from Jacksonville Beach due to a city ordinance that prohibits any vendor or peddler from selling food or food products within city limits from a wagon, truck, automobile or other vehicle, Ferenc has relied on private catering and events to maintain his business. He started his food truck, like many others, to have a more flexible schedule and because of the lower start-up costs compared to a traditional restaurant.
A study on food trucks in Portland, Oregon, found that food trucks represent beneficial employment opportunities while providing an improved quality of life and promoting social interaction between owners and customers. The same study also concluded that food trucks have a positive impact on street vitality and neighborhood life in both lower-density residential areas and Portland’s high-density downtown. Findings such these, and a desire to provide great food options, are what motivate truck owners like Dickerson to continue business.
“I intend to compete by offering the best possible value that I can. I will try to distinguish myself by making fresh tortillas on the truck. I’ll handcraft my tacos and sauces with ingredients that you can pronounce. I am developing relationships with local farmers and purveyors to try to source the best ingredients. If this doesn’t work, I’ll keep competing until it does,” says Dickerson. “A guest’s patronage is a privilege, not an entitlement. Food trucks are America.”
3Moms Ice Cream 3Mom’s Ice Cream serves up a variety of cold treats (including vegan and gluten-free offerings) reminiscent of neighborhood ice cream trucks. Twitter: @3momsicecream // Facebook.com/3momsicecream
Corner Taco Corner Taco is “semi-swanky street food” focusing on gourmet tacos like the dijon buttermilk fried chicken, the Mayport shrimp with white corn puree and asparagus, and the espresso-blackened mahi-mahi. Twitter: @cornertaco // Facebook.com/pages/Corner-Taco/122056671228473
Driftwood BBQ Driftwood BBQ embraces the slow-cooked BBQ style featuring brisket, pulled pork, ribs, and other BBQ favorites. Twitter: @driftwoodbbq // Facebook.com/DriftwoodBBQ
Gourmet Aviator Gourmet Aviator has a variety of entrees including fish tacos, Puerto Rican pork sliders, burgers, wings, fries, pulled pork quesadillas, and hot dogs. Facebook.com/gourmetaviator
Mike B’s Mike B’s specializes in America’s favorites and specialty sandwiches based on favorites from Indianapolis, Cleveland, Chicago, Maryland, Miami and more. Twitter: @MikeBsJax // Facebook.com/MikeBsJax
Monroe’s On the Go Monroe’s BBQ features their famous smoked wings, pulled pork, two-meat combos, sandwiches, salads and side dishes like macaroni and cheese and sweet potato mash. Twitter: @monroeonthego // Facebook.com/MonroesBBQ
Mother Fletchers Mother Fletcher’s is a St. Augustine-based gourmet truck known for filet mignon steak sandwiches and teriyaki wings. Twitter: @motherfletche // Facebook.com/motherfletche
On the Fly Sandwiches and Stuff On the Fly Sandwiches and Stuff steps to the plate with firecracker ahi tuna tar tar, sweet potato planks, parmesan-crusted grilled cheese and peanut butter chocolate caramel pretzel bars. Twitter: @ontheflyjax // Facebook.com/Ontheflyjax
Sprocket’s Food Truck Sprocket’s Food Truck is a vegetarian-friendly truck offering sandwiches, wraps and specialities like tempeh tacos and sweet potato burritos. Twitter: @sprocketstruck // Facebook.com/sprocketsfoodtruck
Super Food Truck Super Food Truck offers pulled pork quesadillas, a turkey pesto panini, chicken bahn ni, flounder burgers, fried mac and cheese balls with orzo, fresh cut french fries, and sweet potato tots. Twitter: @Jaxfoodtruck // Facebook.com/superfoodtruck