ONE GIANT LEAP…

By now, the food truck evolution is a well-worn path: Talented upstart chef cooks up his or her unique recipes inside mobile kitchen, customers eat, customers return, chef breaks off the chains that bind (i.e., the mobile kitchen) and opens restaurant. Everyone lives happily ever after.

Though the portable restaurant offers owners the versatility of moveable hours, new locations, and a smaller menu that’s easier to maintain, it’s not often looked at as the finishing line for chefs. For many owners, the trucks are only ever meant to be the crux of an eventual brick-and-mortar.

Chris Dickerson of Corner Taco always intended for his food truck to be a byproduct of a larger scheme. He says he initially saw Jacksonville as a blank canvas, and believed that it was somewhere a restaurant could boom. When he was unable to get the funds to open a restaurant, he started with a makeshift taco bar at the Lemon Bar in Neptune Beach, and moved to food truck status in 2012. For Dickerson, the Corner Taco food truck was primarily a means to market the restaurant that existed in his mind.

In Dickerson’s experience, the food-truck-to-restaurant leap came with a lot of pros. “It would have been hard to stay in a food truck for the rest of my life,” he says. “Working in a food truck is a physically demanding existence.” In the food truck life, the kitchen is cramped, the hours are long, and workers are few. Now, however, Dickerson is enjoying the fact that Corner Taco has the means to serve more taco-cravers. “There are more moving parts to running a brick-and-mortar,” he says, “but my crew makes it easier.” Though his plans didn’t unfold as intended, Dickerson says he wouldn’t trade his experience for anything. “I’m proud of my food truck heritage,” he says.

The shift from truck to building was equally desirable for Dale Stoudt of Super Food & Brew. Stoudt says it was always a back-burner idea to take Super Food Truck and transition it to a stable restaurant. Through being around other food-truck owners, Stoudt came to realize that very few chefs hope to open food trucks as sole venues. Most truck-owners are chefs whose eyes are on the greater opportunities, numbers, and profit that a brick-and-mortar provides.

Like Dickerson, Stoudt appreciates the perks of a stationary restaurant. With a higher capacity kitchen, there’s a slimmer chance of running out of food. Brick and mortar also opens the doors to more frequent catering gigs. While a few things did surprise him, such as the number of staff he had to hire, Stoudt is pleased with the truck’s expansion, and knows it was the right decision.

For some, eventually opening a venue in an actual building is a close and achievable dream. For others, a brick-and-mortar isn’t an immediate concern. Though Heloisa Ferreira of Delish Kebabs never initially thought about starting a food truck, she hasn’t regretted her decision yet. After success at the farmer’s market at Bartram Park, she and her husband, Sandro, decided to upgrade. She loves what food trucks can offer customers that stable restaurants can’t. “Our mission is to serve people where they are,” she said. She loves the option that, as a food-truck owner, she is more free to do what she wishes with their earnings, like donate to charities. While running a food truck involves a lot of hard labor, she says the flexibility and freedom that the truck affords more than make up for it.

Anthony Hashem of The Happy Grilled Cheese, conversely, is looking forward to opening his brick-and-mortar location on Park Street in Riverside come this fall. He recognizes that not everyone shares this dream, and believes the opinions are divided half-and-half. Many leave restaurants to start food trucks, he explained, while others can’t wait to open a stationary venue. Similar to Stoudt and Dickerson, Hashem was always striving for a larger goal, one dictated by his success. His five-year plan, fortunately for him, was accomplished in two.

Not every truck-owner is able to realize the dream as quickly, however. Amanda Asker of Funkadelic Food Truck was quick to say that, yes, brick-and-mortar is definitely on the table. The plan was for Funkadelic to open at the beaches, but the money wasn’t there. While Asker likes the traveling aspects of the food-truck world, she would love for Funkadelic to be a reliable restaurant diners could always find in one spot.

The food-truck culture is one that excels at rejuvenating cities and highlighting fresh, eclectic fare. However, for many in Northeast Florida, a truck isn’t the end game.

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