Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Follow that food truck!

Follow that food truck. Whether it’s up the street, over at the farmer’s market or on Twitter and Facebook there’s a bumper crop of cooks serving meals from mobile kitchens this summer. Greg Smith, president of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, “It’s like we had pressure on the dam and it burst. It started with King of Pops carts and the Yumbii truck and now we’ve got at least ten trucks fully permitted by the health department.” A far cry from the neighborhood ‘ice cream man’ and hot dog stands; the food truck scene represents a wide range of ethnic and gourmet offerings. From Yumbii’s Asian rib-eye tacos and Tilapia tacos with Korean BBQ sauce to W.O.W truck’s arepas -Venezuelan corn cakes filled with beef, chicken or pork- food trucks serve an impressive variety of quality vittles at affordable prices. Even popsicles get a culinary upgrade. Steven Carse’s King of Pops with carts working the streets of Athens, Atlanta, Asheville and Charleston offers frozen flavors such as chocolate sea salt, strawberry rhubarb and banana pudding.
Karen Bremer executive director of The Georgia Restaurant Association applauds the creativity and diversity food trucks bring to the Atlanta food scene, “It has really blossomed and it’s a great way for consumers to try something new and food trucks allow the opportunity to try on new concepts before making the significant investment required for a "bricks and motor" restaurant.”
A survey out this week by the market research firm Technomic, Inc found that 91 percent of folks familiar with food trucks say the trend is here to stay. The biggest reason non-users of food trucks cited for not frequenting a mobile cart was hesitation over buying food from a vehicle. Certainly food safety and proper permitting is a big concern, “Everyone’s required to operate out of a commercial kitchen,” explains Smith who adds that area municipalities haven’t exactly made it easy for food truck owners to roll into their new businesses easily, “It’s extra complicated in the metro Atlanta area because we have so many municipalities with different methods of interpreting the health code. The City of Atlanta and the Fulton County Health Department are the ones we have worked with since we started. Marietta is taking initial steps to permit food trucks now.”

Smith who is an attorney specializing in the restaurant industry and other small businesses says the Atlanta Street Food Coalition aims to be the ‘Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval’ for food trucks, “My goal is to get everyone permitted for membership so consumers can recognize a brand they trust.”
Bremer focuses on food safety too, “As long as food trucks work collaboratively with our public health officials to insure safe food handling practices, we support this dynamic and emerging segment of our industry.”

Where do you find food trucks?
While many food trucks advertise daily locations – from office complexes to city parks- on their websites there’s an emerging trend in Atlanta to create food truck “pods” or gatherings of multiple mobile kitchens. You can find food trucks in Midtown on Mondays and Thursdays at the Woodruff Arts Center, Atlantic Station on Fridays and Thursday evenings at the Buckhead Theatre. Jenny Levison of Souper Jenny restaurant in Buckhead loads up her brightly colored "Incredible Flying Soupmobile" with soups, salads and sandwiches and takes her show on the road to food truck events, "It's entertaining and you can get all kinds of people to sample lots of food in one place."
Not surprisingly, the Technomic survey found that location is vital to the success of food trucks, as more than half of consumers “just happen upon them.” Facebook and Twitter are key ingredients for marketing these mobile restaurants because 84 percent of heavy social media users visit food trucks once a week. “I think it’s really cool,” says Smith “It brings people out and really taps into the power of community in Atlanta.” And the vibrant food truck scene is apparently not only focused on sharing good food at fair prices it’s a community that cares about customers in many ways. On King of Pops’ Facebook page this week a message, “If you or someone you know drives a burgundy xterra and lost your sunglasses this morning I have them at the corner til 730 or so.”


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