Suburbia is beginning to embrace the culinary phenomena that the larger cities have been experiencing for some time. McKinney is also getting on the band wagon with recently updated ordinances to accommodate food trucks. Cities are recognizing this hot culinary trend as legitimate food sourcing. McKinney Assistant City Manager Barry Shelton has been involved in the process of updating the ordinances. He says “food trucks have been a part of the McKinney food landscape for several years at special events like the Easter Egg-Stravaganza at the Craig Ranch soccer complex and Bike the Bricks in May and Home for the Holidays in November in Historic Downtown Square and will continue to be.”
A food truck is an operational motor vehicle equipped to cook and sell food and non-alcoholic beverages, anything from prepackaged food to food prepared from scratch. They’ve come a long way from the Texas chuckwagon in the 1800’s and the mobile food trucks, or “roach coaches” as they were teasingly labeled, serving construction sites and sought out for their affordability and convenience. Their resurgence in recent years was fueled by a combination of postrecessionary factors such as customer’s demand for quick and inexpensive meals and desire by aspiring chefs to launch a career without spending a fortune for brick-and-mortar. Another factor in the continued transformation of the business is the change in the taste of its customers. There is a demand for higher quality food and possibly even a few more healthy options.
Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association, says, ”It’s a great social experience for customers and great food at reasonable prices.” Our world of food has also been entwined with the world of technology. With the advances in technology, we have also redefined the way we get our food. With the help of social media like Facebook and Twitter, a person can locate their favorite food truck in a matter of minutes. This just may be the biggest contributing factor in the success of the food truck business.
Jon Favreau’s feel-good comedy, CHEF, glamourizes the business in a fun and heartwarming way. Chef Carl Casper quits his job at a Los Angeles restaurant after refusing to compromise his creative integrity for a very controlling owner. He teams up with ex-wife, friend and son to launch a food truck, reignite his passion and travels cross country to sell his mobile cuisine.
“Not so easy,” says Chef Whitney Matthews, Hyde Park CIA-trained chef and owner of SpiceSea gourmet food truck since 2012. She recently moved her truck from San Antonio to Charlottesville, Va. “Each city and areas within the city and county have very specific permits which can be very restrictive and make it difficult to have a successful business.”
Food trucks are an important source of economic opportunity for entrepreneurs and well as a city. They can enhance the culinary culture of the city, increase employment, draw tourists, enliven the streets and even provide food options in underserved areas. Plano is planning a site for a food truck park called Hub Streat (street + eat) Food Port. It will be anchored by a restaurant and include three spaces for a variety of food trucks, a stage for live music and open-air patio with seating. Frisco had a huge event called Frisco StrEATS, a gourmet food truck and music festival, Frisco’s downtown area. In April. Denton boasts the Austin St. Truck Stop, a food truck park with electrical hookups, seating and a reliable schedule of food truck appearances.
Dallas’ Uptown Truck Stop and Truck Yard on Lower Greenville, as well as Fort Worth Food Park and Clearfork Food Park on the edge of the Trinity River in Fort worth, feature a variety of food ranging from sliders and cheesesteaks to craft beers and interesting wine lists. Check out dallas.eater. com for an ever-expanding list.
The concept is a fantastic option for restaurant owners like Karen Klassen of the successful Spoons Restaurant in Historic Downtown McKinney, who already has brand equity. Spoons Café on Wheels is an extension of the catering business. Catering Manager Denise Locke says “The kitchen on the food truck is bigger than Karen’s very first restaurant and equipped to provide sustained hot meals and customized menus at weddings, and just about any private and public event. The beauty of the operation is that we already have the kitchen at the restaurant which can serve as a commissary for storing ingredients and prepping food.”
Rules & Regs
The codes and regulations can be restrictive in many areas and present unique challenges for owners of food trucks. They are regulated by various city departments. There are provisions for where the food trucks may park, the length of time at a site, the number of trucks at any given location, availability of adjacent parking and distance from other food establishments, to name a few. In McKinney, there is a 300- foot rule, which prevents food trucks from parking and doing business within 300 feet of any existing restaurant or food service establishment. And the food trucks may not engage in sales operations within 1,000 feet of one another. Food trucks can park up to 4-6 hours at a time in one location between the hours of 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. The food trucks must have a commercial kitchen to be able to store and prepare food. At the present time McKinney has not experienced a rash of requests for permits but it’s only a matter of time.
It is the charge of the Environmental Health Department that is most interested in protecting the health and safety of the community. For germ-phobics and those skeptical of the safety of eating food from food trucks, it’s good to know that food trucks must have a valid Certified Food Manager certification for at least one individual operating on the truck and Food Handler cards for all other persons handling food. “A thorough inspection of the vehicle, products, cleanliness, hot and cold storage, and proper equipment and hand washing facilities must be in place before being considered For a permit,” says McKinney Health Compliance Supervisor Richard Milam.
Eat Out Tips
These true meals-on-wheels can take an innovative, sustainable and gourmet approach to standard street fare. But is it really healthy? Depending on the customer demographics, it could be just another hot-dog-and-frito-pie operation. Those looking for craveable, innovative, health-conscious choices should peruse the menus. Dr. Jo Lichten’s Eat Out Healthy guide provides practical tips for guilt-free dining out. Lichten says, “Eat your pleasers and skip your teasers. Pleasers are the food you really love and are well worth the calories. Teasers are the things that don’t really taste good, but you eat them anyway. When you give yourself permission to enjoy your pleasers every now and then, you’ll find it easier to avoid the teasers.” Each large city may have a healthy food truck option but with the ever-changing climate, you may have to rely on luck.
Is the moveable feasting concept here to stay? It has certainly tapped into the consumer craze for all things local, artisanal and authentic. It fits today’s food landscape, which is more fast casual, on-demand eating instead of fast food. Mobilecuisine.com believes that millennials are a very good reason that the industry will continue to grow due to their change in spending habits, and their desire for unique use of quality ingredients.
Do you support the food truck revolution? Most likely you do – until the next big thing in food trends arrives. Excuse me while I grab a bite from my favorite food truck.
About the author: Cindy Kleckner, RDN, LD, FAND, is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Cooper Craig Ranch, a Fellow of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and co-author of the DASH Diet For Dummies, August, 2014. She offers individual nutrition consultations, culinary demonstrations, kitchen boot camps and culinary team building events in the state-of-the-art teaching kitchen. Learn more at cooperaerobics.com/Cooper-Fitness-Center-McKinney/Nutrition.aspx.