Food trucks' popularity leads to new opportunities

A Wednesday afternoon walk through Arizona State University's Tempe campus promises abundant sunshine, mobs of students and the sweet-and-savory smells of food trucks waiting to feed the lunch-hour crowd.

The burst of popularity among food trucks arrived quickly, offering locals a chance to taste various cuisines in the most unlikely locations.

T.J. Coffey, owner of Press, said he began operation of a food truck for the mobility, with the potential of opening a brick and mortar location in the future.

“Being mobile gives me the ability to reach multiple markets,” Coffey says. “If one area doesn't work, I can move to another location.”

With a mobile business, profit can be found almost anywhere. Coupled with the benefits of mobility, Coffey has witnessed that more food trucks pop up at private events, such as weddings.

The private catering side of the food truck business has bloomed as well.

“I have started catering weddings, rehearsal dinners and many other private events,” Coffey says. He adds that he has seen the wedding market grow in popularity due to the unique idea behind a food truck providing the services.

The fleet of new food truck operators has indeed made its mark on Phoenix.

“We operate the annual Street Eats Festival at Salt River Fields,” David Dunne, general manager of Salt River Fields, says. “Last year, we had 25,000 visitors over a two-day span and 60 trucks."

The Street Eats Festival showcases Phoenix-area food trucks with cuisines ranging from mac and cheese to Maine lobster. There are also opportunities to see celebrity chefs flaunt their talents for eager spectators.

In addition to the Street Eats Festival, the popularity of food trucks can be seen at events such as the Food Truck Block Party in Tempe. This weekly lunchtime collective is located on the ASU campus boasting a wide array of foodstuffs that beat the average fast food drive-in any day.

“The culture has caught up with the mainstream,” Dunne says.

Last year’s Street Eats festival demonstrated the rise in demand.

“Maine Lobster Lady sold 1,000 lobster rolls each day and just couldn’t make any more,” Dunne says. “The line lasted all day long, sometimes 100 people deep.”

Home cooks with a bit of business savvy are also looking to jump on the food truck trend. Pam Webb says she hopes to take her love of cooking Mexican cuisine and parlay it into a profit.

“Cooking is a passion of mine,” Webb says. “And when I think of the most logical business route to take, I think of a food truck.” 

Dunne adds that chefs who love food want to have their own restaurant, and a food truck gives them a viable option.

“It’s easier to raise $30,000 to open a truck than $300,000 to open a storefront,” he says.      

Coffey says he hopes the following continues to grow.

“Many people don't know that the customer holds most of the power and can help saturate their city,” he says. Members of various communities can email specific trucks with requests or reach out to organizations such as The Phoenix Street Food Coalition and schedule them for office-hour lunches. The Phoenix Street Food Coalition is a group of specialty street food vendors dedicated to raising awareness of the budding industry.

But most importantly, Coffey says, Valley residents can keep the momentum going and patronize trucks all over the city.

“Every dollar spent is a vote for the food and service that we provide,” he says. “The owners are the true sense of local, small business.”

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