If you’ve ever been to a city or festival with a variety of food trucks, then you know they go beyond your typical street food. Once considered of questionable quality, today’s trucks offer all levels of foods from a basic hotdog or taco to those that offer gourmet or locally-sourced items such as gourmet grilled cheese, lobster rolls or crepes. An added benefit is they provide an inexpensive way to try new exotic or ethnic foods, one taste at a time. This definitely isn’t your typical fair food, and they have evolved over time.
Previous iterations of the food truck can be traced back to the east coast in 1872 when vendor Walter Scott first sold sandwiches, pie and coffee to newspaper workers from inside a covered wagon. The chuck wagon was another predecessor that arose from the need to feed men on cattle drives, and the U.S. Army built mobile canteens to feed the men on Army bases.
Today, the increasing popularity of food trucks can be traced back to Los Angeles in 2008 when some of the first food trucks received national attention. The 2008 recession forced many restaurants to close, forcing talented chefs out of a job. A food truck was their way to continue cooking for a fraction of the cost of a brick and mortar location. These mobile kitchens allow new entrepreneurs the opportunity to start a new business and carry on their livelihood.
One of these young entrepreneurs is Youngdae Moon, owner of Club Sandwich in Waco, Texas. When Moon started his food truck, there were only a couple of other trucks in the city. “It was a fairly new business model,” he explains. “It was a more affordable way to break into the food industry. Food trucks are new, portable, and a side benefit is that it was more affordable than investing in a restaurant.”
Moon is self-taught and always enjoyed cooking. The majority of his family is in the restaurant industry, and he recalls waking up on Saturday mornings, even in middle school, and cooking for his family while he watched cartoons.
“Korean people have a natural sense of cooking to nurture others,” he says. “Feeding people has always been a really enjoyable thing for me and eating together is a really strong tool for building relationships and for breaking tension. Culturally, all people love to eat and meet over food, and it’s a great way to connect.”
However, Moon explains that owning a food truck has its challenges. “No one wants to stand or eat outside if the weather is bad, and there can be many local ordinances and codes to follow that don’t apply to brick and mortar restaurants,” he says. “Permits vary from city to city, but in Waco you have to have permits to park at each location.”
Another challenge is the limited dimensions of the truck, which makes it difficult to have a large, diverse menu in a commissary kitchen, and there is only room for limited manpower.
Moon has been fortunate because he was one of the first food trucks invited to park at Magnolia Market at the Silos, which brings many tourists to the area. He serves a fun mix of Asian American dishes like deep-fried tamale balls stuffed with Korean pork, French fries topped with gochujang marinated chicken and his popular rice bowls with meats like bulgogi, thin slices of grilled marinated meat.
He especially loves the interaction he can have with his customers. “For me, personally, it’s always great when people say they love your food, but I get a greater sense of satisfaction when they comment on our service,” he notes. “A lot of people have good food, but not everyone knows how to really execute all the details. Especially since my food is already pretty unique to Waco, it is already a good chance that it is the first time that a lot of people will have tried this kind of menu. Since we’re at a tourist location, it really helps to add to the experience to focus on customer service.”
Moon says he has learned to run an efficient business. Because he is at The Silos, he explains he may have less sales than trucks in other locations, but believes he probably has equivalent profits without cutting quality. He has just enough ingredients on hand to run day-to-day operations with only a little bit of overlap, which prevents loss.
Many food truck owners go into the business model hoping to build a following. Social media has proven to be a great tool for owners to market their products cheaply and, if one location doesn’t generate enough business, the owner can close and drive to a new one. Facebook and Twitter allow them to give real time changes to their location, entice followers with their menu and hopefully get them to share it.
The trucks are also a way for owners to test the waters of building a permanent location. Moon would like to find a brick and mortar location, and while different opportunities have arisen over the years, he is being picky with the opportunities. “I want to find the right fit,” he explains. “For me, I like the challenge of doing a larger scale thing and having the space to push myself to do a larger menu and serve more people at a time. I’d love to try my hand at running a business without those restrictions.”
Not all food truck owners have the opportunity to park at a tourist site. They often can be found parked together in a sort of mobile food court. They can advertise their location, and friends and coworkers can gather for a casual lunch where everyone can find something to their liking.
As the weather warms, several cities host events and invite the trucks to participate. The vendors will gather in one place to offer a gourmet experience – street style. Oftentimes live music is playing along with a variety of other activities. Several festivals in Illinois offer a variety of mobile food vendors, excitement and a family-friendly environment.
So, clear your schedule, enjoy the great outdoors and indulge in the culinary cuisine offered at these Illinois food truck festivals. Oh, and if you are in Waco, be sure to look up Youngdae Moon at his Club Sandwich truck at The Silos, and be sure to tell him how you heard about his truck.
Rochelle Community Action Network (CAN) Food Truck Festival
Created with the intent to support Rochelle CAN’s mission, this festival highlights good eats that support a cause. Proceeds support the organization’s annual shopping trip in early December, the elementary school backpack program and their Operation Warm coat drive – all which provide for local children.
Attendees are invited to take a seat at a picnic table, grab lunch to go or browse local shops while they listen to lively tunes. The annual fundraiser will be held in the Municipal parking lot, at the corner of 4th Avenue and Main Street, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, April 28.
“Come out and support Rochelle CAN while enjoying great food truck fare,” states Eva Chu, vice president of Rochelle CAN. To learn more about this year’s event, visit EnjoyRochelle.com.
Aurora’s 3rd Annual Food Truck Festival
Charming Benton Street in downtown Aurora will be transformed on May 4 from 5 to 10 p.m. giving you the opportunity to munch on a variety of dishes.
“Aurora’s Food Truck Festival is a great showcase for the City of Aurora. We get visitors from all over that come out to enjoy the best of Chicagoland’s gourmet food trucks,” explains James Cardis, director of marketing. “The Food Truck Festival lines up with our First Fridays art walk, so visitors can also enjoy dozens of pop-up art galleries and live entertainment throughout downtown Aurora.”
Visitors can also take a ride on the free trolley to a nearby venue such as the Grand Army of the Republic Museum, Aurora Regional Fire Museum or the SciTech Hands-On Museum. For more information visit EnjoyAurora.com.
Food Truck Rally
“Champaign-Urbana is fortunate to have over a dozen food trucks that circulate in the area offering everything from egg sandwiches to Italian food. The city of Urbana hosts a Food Truck Rally series for lunchtime on the last Tuesday of the month from May–November,” states Teri Reifsteck, vice president of marketing.
The lunchtime rally runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Urbana Civic Center located at 108 E. Water Street. Month after month, the lineup of food trucks will rotate. Admission and entertainment are free. Attendees can eat and mingle inside or enjoy the outdoor seating at the Civic Center. Visit Facebook.com/CityOfUrbana for more information.
Food Truck Fridays
Attend Food Truck Fridays with the Forest Preserve District in northern Illinois from June 1 to Aug. 24. “Last year’s food truck lineup proved to be so popular, the Forest Preserve District is beefing up the options this year, and the goal is to feature three food trucks and one dessert truck per outing,” according to Cindy Cain, public information officer.
Four different preserves will rotate hosting Food Truck Fridays from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at the following four locations:
- Hammel Woods – Crumby Recreation Area, Shorewood: June 1, July 6 and Aug. 3
- Hickory Creek Barrens Nature Preserve, New Lenox: June 8, July 13 and Aug. 10
- Whalon Lake, Naperville: June 15, July 20 and Aug. 17
- Prairie Bluff Preserve, Crest Hill: June 22, July 27 and Aug. 24
Visit ReconnectWithNature.org to learn more.
Sauce Alton Food Truck Festival
Bring your appetite to the annual Sauce Alton Food Festival as food trucks roll into the Liberty Alton Amphitheater on Saturday, Aug. 25. According to Stephanie Tate, marketing communications director, “Having great food trucks from throughout the region every summer is a great addition to our foodie scene. The Sauce Alton Food Truck Festival has become a staple of our summer events.”
This year’s event will take place from 4 to 8 p.m. at 1 Riverfront Drive in Alton. The festival will feature the tastiest global street food on wheels. Dishes can range from Korean tacos, barbecue, gyros, gourmet donuts, Indian food, sliders and more. Admission is free, plus the cost of food. For more information, visit RiverFrontAmpitheater.com.
Food Truck Frenzy
Get ready for the return of Food Truck Frenzy, sponsored by Enjoy Peoria, the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. “Food Truck Frenzy is an amazing way to introduce our area food trucks to those who may not have eaten from them before,” said Enjoy Peoria’s Kaci Geier. “We have seen more and more people each year and cannot wait to see an even bigger crowd for year three.”
The event will be hosted at Heritage Square in Peoria Heights on Sept. 15. Approximately 2,000 people are anticipated to attend. Foodies will be ecstatic with the wide variety of menu options. You can check out this year’s line-up and times at EnjoyPeoria.com.
COD Food Truck Rally & 5K Run/Walk
The College of Dupage (COD) will host the COD Sunset 5K Run/Walk on Oct. 13. The race kicks off at 5 p.m. After runners cross the finish line, over 3,000-plus people will flock to the Food Truck Rally. Runners and nonrunners can enjoy an assortment of culinary creations from 20 food trucks.
The main campus grounds will also feature a kid zone with free games and activities, Touch-A-Truck and 100-Yard Youth Dash. Admission is free for entry to the food truck rally, costs vary for the 5K and Youth Dash. Proceeds from the event will benefit COD scholarships. The event will kick off at 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn. To learn more, check out their Facebook page or visit cod.edu/5k.