Food truck phenomena takes over South Florida

By SHARON FRAJLICH
School of Communication
University of Miami

It’s Saturday night and Gabi Pons is hungry.

After a long day at work, she wants a quick bite that will satisfy her hunger without hurting her wallet. Feeling in the mood for both Chinese and Mexican food, she simply clicks on her Blackberry’s Twitter application and follows several of her favorite Miami food trucks.

Without having to choose one kind of cuisine over the other, Gabi finds a food truck roundup offering both foods just 10 minutes from her job in Miami Beach.

Eating out has become a growing financial strain for many individuals and families, with dishes usually ranging from $15 to $20 at a restaurant online food reviews might categorize as moderately priced. At a time when everything is becoming more and more expensive, it’s nice to know a delicious meal can still be affordable and just around the corner.

Almost everyday, gourmet food trucks such as the ones frequented by Pons can be found at several locations around the U.S., from Los Angeles on the West Coast to Miami on the East Coast. These food trucks are far from the sidewalk food carts selling hotdogs.

A family decides what to order at Latin Burger and Taco food truck, parked at Kendall Car Wash on 97th Avenue and Kendall Drive (Photo by Sharon Frajlich).

Other than their size, gourmet food trucks have ignited a whole new generation of street food with a difference in quality and variety, with choices including the likes of grilled cheese sandwiches to fish tacos to pork buns.

It’s no wonder the trucks have multiplied to more than 40 just in Miami since its start in 2009 and hundreds around the U.S. in popular cities such as Philadelphia, Hoboken, Austin, Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, New York, and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., reports Yahoo! Shine.

“We give people options,” said Dave Garcia, owner of the FishBox food truck in Miami. “We are not at the same location everyday.”

Using Twitter as a means of communication, the trucks tell followers where they’ll be for lunch and/or dinner that day in 140 characters or less. By using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook, food trucks update where they are, daily specials and even photos of plates in real-time to thousands of people. This way, any customer with a smartphone or a computer can follow the spontaneity of operating hours and locations.

Made with fresh fried snapper, ketchup, tartar and onions, La Minuta sandwich is one of The Fish Box's most popular items, priced at $6 (Photo by Sharon Frajlich).

One example, goliath food truck, Kogi BBQ in Los Angeles has more than 85,000 followers who are constantly on the hunt for its upscale Korean Mexican fusion tacos served at inexpensive prices.

With five different trucks roaming California’s streets, Kogi BBQ uses Twitter to inform its followers when one of the trucks is stuck in the state’s notorious standstills or at whenever one has to cut their service earlier than planned.

“The Gods of LA Traffic doth not smile upon Rosita!!! 30 minutes behind,” Kogi BBQ tweeted on April 19.

Yet sometimes catching up to all the possibilities can be overwhelming. Websites including roaminghunger.com and foodtrucksmap.com have stepped in as additional online tools to guide customers to the food trucks of their choice. Using easy to follow icons, these websites offer maps of food trucks in your area according to times throughout the day.

Diners at BTTR on 127th Avenue and Biscayne Boulevard Tuesday night enjoy plates from many trucks. With around 30 food trucks, BTTR is the biggest food truck roundup in the state (Photo by Sharon Frajlich).

“You have to follow up on Twitter because you never know if a location you thought was permanent has moved, “ said Pons, a University of Miami sophomore, while eating honey orange ribs from Dim Ssäm à Gogo in Wynwood. “I used to go to the one on Bird Road. It was so close to campus, I don’t know why it just stopped.”

One possible reason street food courts change abruptly or never happen are city regulations inhibiting food trucks from meeting in certain locations.

According to Garcia, there haven’t been any complaints thus far from residents in the areas where trucks are stopped, but there have been issues with the municipalities and the county. Garcia explained that the law was written for an ice cream truck that only stops for quick sales and then keeps moving, not for food trucks that are stopped at a single location for several hours.

“You get hassled for parking in certain areas or code enforcers will come and kick you out for some bogus reason,” said Stephanie Diaz-Perez, owner of Sugar Rush.

Although the idea of a small kitchen and three to five bodies usually crammed inside a truck cooking and taking orders may sound unsanitary, Diaz-Perez assures customers that the food trucks undergo the same inspections and requirements a restaurant does, such as hot water, three compartment sink, hand sink and refrigeration.

“A food truck and restaurants are both licensed by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation,” Garcia said. “We get our yearly inspections, we have to abide by the same rules as a restaurant. We pay a state fee, county fee, city fee.”

So if it’s the same rules, what’s in it for food truck owners that aren’t provided for brick-and-mortar owners? The main reason, according to Garcia, is the huge difference in investment.

“It’s an alternative to investing 500k to a million,” said Garcia. “Some people can’t afford that and a food truck can run you about 75 to 125k.”

On the other hand, in case the idea of starting a own food truck sounds easy enough, Garcia explains that, to make it on the streets, you need to bring a good product and service, create a brand, work hard and have some restaurant experience.

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