Combine a warm, sunny Sunday with swarming masses of people who love good food, and that’s what one found at the third annual Mobile Food Rodeo held in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood on May 5.
The 2013 location along North Canal Street featured 34 mobile kitchens with an estimated crowd of 32,000 attending the one-day event.
The event was so popular Ryan Reiter, founder and festival director of the Mobile Food Rodeo and Seattle Street Food Festival, says it will be expanded onto two streets, run until 10 p.m., and become a two-day event on May 3-4, 2014.
By comparison, the first Mobile Food Rodeo, held in Seattle’s Interbay in 2011, had an estimated 9,000 people attend, according to Reiter.
“I lived in LA in 2007 when this [food truck trend] all started to emerge, and most trucks took on the vibrant night life hunger that most bars and restaurants couldn’t handle.
“It’s a great thing to see Seattle’s truck culture evolve and bring some serious eats for curbside dining that are truly unique to the Northwest, so hats off to the truck owners and ‘chef-preneurs,’” Reiter said.
The explosion of food trucks occurred after the city of Seattle drafted new regulations for food trucks in 2011, much to the dismay of established restaurants at the time.
But now, even brick-and-mortar restaurants like Woodinville’s Gobble and the Barking Frog, are jumping on the growing trend of bringing food to the masses.
The Barking Frog had planned to roll out their mobile kitchen at the Mobile Food Rodeo, but pulled out just before the event because the newly outfitted truck was delayed in getting delivered to the restaurant, leaving no time to prep and train their staff.
Instead, they will debut the mobile kitchen to the public at Chateau Ste. Michelle’s Staycation event on May 26, from noon to 4 p.m.
Chef Bobby Moore plans for the full-service truck include Grand Marnier prawns, grilled asparagus tart and a Krispie chocolate Panini, plus several other mouth-watering choices for gourmands.
The Barking Frog’s mobile kitchen plans to be at community events, concerts, local businesses, and festivals and will also be available to private homes and companies for catering events.
Of the eight new mobile kitchens on Seattle Met magazine’s radar for 2013, the Barking Frog’s entry is notable because it is the first upscale restaurant to enter the mobile food truck industry in the greater Seattle area.
Gobble has two food trucks on the brink of becoming fully operational. The first one, a smaller lunch truck, has been used at venues such as Foggy Noggin Brewery in Bothell.
Owner Adam Gold also has a larger mobile kitchen in the final stages of conversion he hopes to have operational by Memorial Day weekend. Gold plans on varying the menu offered on each truck for each location.
“For example, we will be at the Aquasox games in Everett probably at least once per home stand but that menu will differ from when we go to the corporate office parks around Woodinville, Bothell, Boeing and Microsoft. And those menus will be different from the winery and brewery menu because the clients will want different things,” he said.
One mobile kitchen making a regular presence on the Eastside is The Box on Wheels. Chef/owner Reis Llaneza, is focusing on operating his Asian-Fusion mobile kitchen mainly on the Eastside, with hopes to expand up into the Northshore area.
The truck did a test run May 9 near the Seattle Times facility in North Creek. “It was crazy!” Llaneza said, encouraged by the one-day success of that location.
The nearest regular spot The Box on Wheels operates is in a small industrial park just across the street from Willows Golf Course on Willows Road every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
In King County, the number of full-service mobile kitchen licenses has exploded in less than five years. In 2008, there were 112 such trucks licensed by Public Health – Seattle & King County. Only four months into 2013, that number is now at 223 trucks, one truck shy of double what was on Seattle and King County area streets in 2008.
For Snohomish County Health Department, the number of licensed trucks is smaller and has remained at an almost consistent 29 full-service mobile kitchens since 2010.
Locally, the city of Woodinville has 12 food trucks, including ice cream trucks, registered to operate within city limits, with several more applications in process.
How much room for growth exists in this industry remains to be seen. Logistically, there’s only so much open space and curbside space for trucks to operate where enough foot traffic will support their business.
According to an Associated Press story that ran in the Seattle Times in August 2012, some cities such as Los Angeles are starting to limit the number of food permits being issued to food vendors, which indicates a leveling off of the growing trend may be seen in the future in the Seattle area.
The 2008 recession helped increase of the number of gourmet mobile food kitchens. They gave budding chefs the opportunity to start their own business with a lower investment cost and be their own boss in a shaky economy. They also gave budget-conscious consumers a gourmet dining experience for less money.
While the food truck industry may be hitting a plateau in L.A., food trucks continue to be a growing trend across the country.
In 2008-09, Google logged 83,000 hits on the search term “food trucks” according to Mobile-Cuisine.com. By 2011-12, the number of hits had skyrocketed to 28.2 million.
Mobile-Cuisine.com cites five reasons for the explosion in popularity of food trucks: new localism — customers wanting to support local businesses; locally grown and produced food as the source; easier access to new artisan chefs; social media which allows vendors to keep their fans informed; and the Great Recession, which made starting a traditional restaurant too risky.
Mobile food kitchens are promoting their services to business parks, college campuses, fairs, festivals, and private catering events, in addition to lunchtime curbside service in the metropolitan areas around Puget Sound.
As the mobile kitchen trend expands, fittingly it seems Woodinville’s many wineries provide the perfect compliment to a food truck’s gourmet menu.
Woodinville Wine Country’s managing director Jamie Peha agrees.
“The mobile food truck scene has been the perfect fit for Woodinville wineries. The mobility of the food trucks makes them perfect partners for wineries or clusters of wineries,” she said.
The group added food trucks to the Passport to Woodinville event held in April, which guests really liked, Peha added.
How does one find out where the food trucks are going to be on a daily basis? Most food trucks are on Facebook and/or Twitter or have their own website where they regularly post their schedule on a daily or weekly basis.
There are even websites such as www.SeattleFoodTruck.com devoted to providing readers with lists of trucks’ schedules by region around the greater Seattle area.
Next up on Mobile Food Rodeo founder Ryan Reiter’s plate will be the first annual Seattle Street Food Festival, slated for August 10 along Cal Anderson Park on Capitol Hill.
It’s safe to say, expect a large crowd.
Northshore food truck locales
Northshore residents have several opportunities to sample mobile food kitchen cuisine without a drive into Seattle. Here are some spots where you can experience the food truck trend locally:
• Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery’s Staycation event on May 26, noon-4 p.m., will feature ten of the region’s popular mobile food kitchens.
• Bothell’s Foggy Noggin Brewery has a guest food truck every Saturday during Tasting Room hours 1-4 p.m. Gobble will be the featured truck on May 25.
• Celebrate Woodinville Concerts in Wilmot Park.
• Woodinville’s Winery Warehouse District often feature a food truck during their Wine Walk events.
• Columbia Winery’s monthly summer music concerts will have a mobile kitchen at each concert. The Barking Frog’s mobile kitchen will open the concert series that begins on Sunday, June 16, from 1-4 p.m.
• Box on Wheels serves lunch every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in a small industrial park across from Willows Golf Course on Willows Rd.