I’m a shameless enthusiast of the food truck park. If you ever go to one of these with me, be warned in advance that I might leave the car running in the street, make joyous sounds like SQUEEEE!, and run in like a kid who can’t wait to see what Santa brought this year.
At the food truck parks, they rotate the different-themed trucks through each week, so every experience is different. I skip around to the see the assortment of delicious offerings, make several orders at various trucks to try everything, and then fidget and pace around impatiently waiting for my new culinary treats like I’m doing the peepee dance.
The food truck concept has evolved dramatically since I was a kid. When I used to work on construction sites as a teen, food trucks were basically a motorized hot dog cart, buzzing with flies and doling out substandard chili dogs and bags of chips. But now they seem to have taken on a new life. They have unique branding, cool themes, serving up fearless versions of chipotle this and gouda that and bacon-encrusted deliciousness, with your choice of spicy sauces. The food truck park is the new foreground for culinary adventure.
I’ve been doing some thinking about why the concept has become so popular. Compared to restaurants, food trucks are relatively cheap to start up, their portability ensures that they can move around to the most populated areas, and they can change their menu overnight in response to customer demand. From my biology background, I recognize this model of rapid adaptation and prolific growth. This is a similar model responsible for the success of bacteria.
I’m sure that bacteria are the last thing that a food truck owner would want to be associated with. I can picture the truck’s owner out there and reading this waving around their tongs in defiance. Curse you Jeff Young! You are going to hurt the sales of my custom crafted Asian-inspired gyros!
But hear me out. Like bacteria, the food truck business is agile. It’s adaptive. You can change the menu or locale in a single day. If your pecan-encrusted fish tacos with jalapeno -tahini sauce and cucumber relish aren’t selling one weekend, you can erase it off the chalkboard and try a new asiago steak sandwich with caramelized onions. After enough time spent fine-tuning your culinary craftsmanship, what comes to life are a set of menu items that knock the socks off most entrees listed on a restaurant’s dusty old menus. The food truck evolves quickly to the demands of the environment.
By design, a brick-and-mortar restaurant has to park their business in one area. If a construction project suddenly pops up in their front yard and shuts down the next four exits in either direction, they might have to close up shop. And restaurant regulars become a large percentage of sales, so it becomes hard to change an established menu. (When I used to wait tables at the Black-eyed Pea, we would actually have customers that complained that the food was served too hot. Sorry grandma, blow on it.) Even the best cooks are required to make the same stuff night after night, with no opportunity for exploration. On top of all the barriers to make changes, the overhead is high – when you buy that $7.99 chimichanga plate, a portion of that also has to go towards supplying their restroom with toilet paper. Ironic.
I can’t think of a better model for creating amazing concoctions of foodie joy. If the food trucks decide to start driving around neighborhoods like the ice cream man, bringing their tasty creations to my front yard, I’m fairly certain I would weigh 700 lbs. Maybe I’ll buy one.