While street food isn’t a new concept here or anywhere, food trucks are bringing gourmet eats to the curbside and in the summer of 2013, Edmontonians have more choice and opportunity than ever.
Over the past couple of years, Edmonton’s food truck scene has really gained momentum – the number of trucks has climbed (the Street Food App lists 22 food trucks and trailers) and their popularity has soared.
As with all culinary trends, the hype for food trucks will certainly fade over time, but the movement in Edmonton is still on the up-and-up, with plenty of room for even more growth, according to Mack Male, co-founder of What the Truck food truck festivals.
“In some places it’s already starting to fade,” said Male, adding that in cities like New York the food truck market has become somewhat saturated. But he believes if vendors can continue to keep offerings interesting, the food truck scene isn’t going to die out. “I wouldn’t call it a fad.”
Male and his partner Sharon Yeo are the force behind What the Truck, a series of food truck centric events held at various central Edmonton locations each summer. The pair conceived the idea for What the Truck after a trip to San Francisco in 2010, where they happened upon the inaugural Off the Grid festival, a gathering of food trucks serving up street food and music to an eager crowd.
“The most memorable part of our trip was the food trucks,” said Male. “When we came back to Edmonton we thought, why couldn’t we do that here?”
Male believes What the Truck has aided the success of the local food truck industry by getting consumers excited about street eats.
“One of our goals over this past year was to grow the interest,” said Male, adding that efforts have paid off. “We had thousands of people come out to our last event.”
Social media has also played a role. Vendors use Twitter and Facebook to announce upcoming locations and menu items, and there’s even a Street Food App that puts all local food truck info in one place (streetfoodapp.com/Edmonton).
Some of the city’s food trucks (like Drift and The Local Omnivore) are standalone businesses, while others (like The Act, The Lingnan and La Poutine) are a subsidiary to an already popular Edmonton restaurant.
Lindsay Robbins, owner of La Poutine, said a food truck seemed like the ideal way for her Quebecois style poutinery to reach a different clientele.
The restaurant opened its doors in Garneau two years ago and business has been great, but Robbins said the response to the food truck, which hit the streets for the first time in early May, has been amazing.
“We thought it would be a great way to get our brand out on the street,” said Robbins, who added that the food truck menu features a selection of the restaurant’s most popular poutine creations on rotation.
For Susan Chin, owner of Molly’s Eats, her food truck business was preceded by a concession at the St Albert Farmers Market, with menu items featuring her infamous homemade hot sauce and other preserves. (The Molly’s brand is named for Chin’s mother, creator of the hot sauce recipe!)
“I started my concession with barbeques and a sink strapped to carts, wheeling all of it out of a trailer. It took an enormous amount of effort to set up and by the end of the season I knew I needed a simpler system,” said Chin.
In March 2011, Chin bought an empty Grumman truck and converted it into a food truck to take business on the road.
It hasn’t been an easy task, with countless challenges along the way from having to build a truck from the ground up, to learning market rules and regulations, navigating city bylaws, permits, conflicts with brick-and-mortar restaurants, never-ending maintenance and upkeep issues, and working the long hours associated with all food service. But despite the various roadblocks, Chin enjoys being part of the food truck scene.
“I think we’re all in love with food trucks. Food Network shows have certainly made loyal followers out of us all,” said Chin, who was recently featured on Eat St. “There’s something magical about the food truck scene, isn’t there?”
There’s also a great camaraderie between Edmonton’s food truck vendors, which Chin and Male both said has also contributed to the recent growth.
“We keep an open dialogue with each other,” said Chin. “I’ve had customers rave about the gourmet dishes from Edmonton food trucks, then excitedly talk about how thrilling it is to see that operators are just as excited about each other’s dishes and that we tweet to one another asking to trade food.”
Male said that there’s still competition between the trucks (at the end of the day, they’re all trying to run successful businesses), but unlike other cities there’s no “bad blood” in Edmonton.
“They understand that by working together they can achieve more,” said Male, adding that What the Truck has really helped in this respect. “A lot of the vendors hadn’t met each other until the What the Truck events.”
If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to sample from a food truck (or if you already did and loved it!), check out the next What the Truck on June 14 at McIntrye Park in Old Strathcona, 4-8 p.m. Male said 14 trucks have already confirmed interest in taking part.
He said there are also plans in motion for two other What the Trucks this summer (one in August and a wrap-up event at Churchill Square in September), as well as a couple of Truck Stop events, a smaller gathering of food trucks.
Kate Hamilton lives in Edmonton and writes for The Spectator Tribune.
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