Everyone knows I have been secretly willing Food Trucks to take to the streets of Kansas City for quite some time now. You didn't? Well, where have you been, my friend? My most public cry for them was in my post about my predictions for our KC 2009 Food Trends. I was a little early with my food truck prediction, but 2011 is gonna be my year. I can feel it.
So, I thought it would be interesting to start at the beginning and chronicle our most recent food truck history in Kansas City - past, present and future.
Ahem . . .in the beginning, the God of booze and late night entertainment created Westport, and there the sinners flocked to get their drink and dance on. After a night of fun and frolic, these sinners would tumble into the streets of Westport and purchase burritos as big as your head from the Tijuana Taco Truck or a Falafel Pita Sandwich from Jerusalem Cafe truck to sop up their liquid state. You remember those days, don't you, sinners? I sure do. Nowadays, the kids and conventioneers are partying it up in the Power & Light District downtown, and late night you can see no-name food trucks parked along the side streets between the P&L and the hotels, catching hungry partiers on their way back to their rooms. We'll call these trucks the "first wave".
Aside from these "Sobriety Carts" in Westport and the Power & Light, and the occasional hot dog vendor around Bartle Hall, we actually have had a little home grown food truck scene at some of our major construction sites downtown for sometime. You could see the plain white trucks pulled up along Grand in front of the Sprint Center when it was under construction. Hard hat workers lined up around noon, each day, purchasing either tacos, barbeque or cold sub sandwiches supplied by local catering companies, no-name taco trucks and fly-by-night entreprenuers with a truck and a kitchen.
These trucks were not interested in feeding the masses, tweeting their location or driving all over the city to make their nut. They exist to serve one purpose, feeding hungry workers who had little time or lunch options available to them. These trucks go where the construction goes, which right now happens to be the new Performing Arts Center, and then they are gone . . .onto the next hard hat site. They know where their bread is buttered and they cater to that niche. These trucks, we'll call, the "second wave."
The "third wave" of food trucks we saw in Kansas City are the trucks that park around City Hall and the Courthouse downtown. Similar to the second wave, this group caters everyday to the hundreds of civil workers trapped at work, that could be called into court at any time. They are short on time and even shorter on options. (This part of downtown does seems curiously short of restaurants within walking distance of City Hall.)You can find the usual . . .sandwich vendors, hot dog carts, taco trucks, but you can also find small independently owned restaurants with trucks popping up down there. These are restaurants who are turning their simple catering trucks into mobile food trucks. They are the pioneers of what will become our future food truck scene. And I, for one, applaud them all for making a go of it.
Los Tules Mexican Restaurant and Poco's on the Boulevard are two solid Mexican restaurants who are parking their trucks down by the Courthouse these days. You can also find Mad Jack's Fish Market & Restaurant specializing in fried catfish and other seafood specialties dishing it out by City Hall.
But no one can argue, there is only one food truck that can be credited for starting the "fourth wave" in Kansas City. The marketing-savvy, brand right, cute as a button, with product as fun and fresh as a summer's day - Fresher than Fresh Snowcone Trailer, owned by former Creative Director, now food entrepreneur, Lindsay Laricks. She established the model for what the next wave of food trucks in this town needed to live up to if they want to survive. As the single most important food truck in Kansas City, FTF was a game-changer. From Kickstarter for capital, to converting a canned ham trailer purchased off of eBay, to homemade all-natural syrups; Fresher than Fresh Snowcones has set the bar . . .high. Smart, beautiful and sweet, Lindsay Laricks can be found selling snowcones in front of Hammerpress on First Fridays or during the summers you can always find her trailer in the garden at the top of 17th & Summit every Sunday from 12 noon to 7 pm.
Not one to be hemmed in by the seasons, Lindsay is now making and selling Snowpop's in all of the flavors you have come to love in her snowcones only in portable flavors you can keep in your fridge and enjoy year round. Check her website for more information about where and what this lady is up to. If you are thinking about starting a food cart, she is definately one to watch in Kansas City.
So, what does the future of food trucks look like in this town? Over the course of the last 2 years, I have had several Chefs and restaurant entrepreneurs come to me about the idea of starting food trucks and I have verbally supported their dreams. Not just for my own selfish reasons, (my eating enjoyment for one and for the expansion of food culture in KC, number two) but because I think in this economy, any person wanting to make a living in the restaurant business right now should be thinking small. Small investment, overhead and marketing costs. If you are a Chef and can make your food and sell it out of a truck for a year or so, the money and financial backing will be easier to get for a brick and mortar location, if you have a proven track record of success for your concept. Food trucks count. Just look at some of the most famous food trucks on the east and west coast.The trend right now is start in a truck, then GROW into a restaurant. It makes all the sense in the world.
So, who is brand new and up and coming on the KC food truck scene? Chefs, that's who. So, think of the best gourmet portable food you can get your hands on, because Kansas City's food truck scene is about to hit the tipping point in 2011 with these players entering the arena:
1) The Good You - The first Chef-driven food truck to open in Kansas City, did so on December 19. Chef Kelli Daniels, formerly the Executive Chef of The Drop Bar & Bistro, along with her partner, a former bartender from The Drop, Kate Szalay, have come together to bring the good people of Kansas City their first taste of organic street food. With a menu that changes everyday, and regular updates on their Twitter feed and Facebook page, Good You is keeping the food tasty, but real. Oh, and really good. I am a fan of Chef Kelli Daniels food, she can make magic happen with very few ingredients. She has a clever mind for how to get the most out of the food she is preparing without over complicating the process or the flavor of a dish. She has been parking mostly around the Westport area, but check her twitter feed for the latest moves. With a truck she purchased off eBay and then had to drive to Indiana to get, Kelli is serious about serving good food without the stigma of "healthy" being attached to it just because it is organic. I am excited to welcome Chef Kelli to the KC food truck scene. Parking along with The Good You truck in Westport or anywhere a birthday party, baby shower or wedding party requests their mobile truck is the first "all cupcakes, all the time" truck 3 Girls Cupcakes. They bring the party to you.
2) Port Fonda - Chef Patrick Ryan has an incredible culinary pedigree one that starts with his love and knowledge of Mexican cuisine. Patrick worked for many years in Chicago for none other than Chef Rick Bayless at the Frontera Grill. Upon returning to KC, he took his skills downtown to become the Chef de Cuisine at Kansas City's luxurious River Club under Executive Chef Howard Hanna who most recently opened The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange with Ryan Maybee. Chef Howard and Chef Patrick are friends, so when Patrick decided to start looking for a mobile trailer to start doing his version of a gourmet taco truck, called Port Fonda, Chef Howard offered to let him use his kitchen at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange as his catering kitchen for his moveable feast. Afterall, what are friends for?
I am honored to call Chef Patrick a friend. I first met him when Chef Howard Hanna brought him help cook for my members in the early days of Test Kitchen. Given the limited kitchen Chef Howard & Chef Patrick had to work with, they managed to pull off a dinner (attended by none other than Chef Michael & Nancy Smith, mind you) that was delicious start to finish. From his ink, to his sock hat to his Buddy Holly glasses, I remember being impressed at Chef Patrick's serious nature when it came to cooking at Test Kitchen. He was sassy and funny and even managed to lip off a few zingers my direction when he saw that I was going to run my Test Kitchen event in red spikey heels all night. I am hard core about my vision for Test Kitchen, and I appreciated his hard core attitude toward food, ingredients and cooking. I'd like to think we are kindred spirits that way.
We kept in touch after Test Kitchen, connecting with each other on Facebook. Meeting for a drink every now and again, to catch up and talk about his desire to have his own place. Chef Patrick had been looking like crazy over the past few years at different potential restaurant spaces. When I would hear of one opening, I would contact him. So, when he finally sat me down and told me he was opening a Mexican food truck called Port Fonda, I was thrilled for him.
He began forwarding pictures of the 27-foot Airstream trailer when he located it. It was rough on the inside, but he planned to gut is anyways to make room for his mobile kitchen. As of right now, Chef Patrick tells me he is one month away from being ready to take his mobile Mexican food truck to the streets. He hired Lindsay Laricks, of Fresher than Fresh, to design his logo for him, which I understand is really cool. The last time I spoke to him, he was very grounded in that he knew it was going to take some time for KC to "get the food truck culture." He also laid out his vision for doing mostly private parties to make the bulk of his cash. Can you imagine hiring Chef Patrick to pull up with his trailer at your next pool party? So smart, so focused. It's not that you won't find him on the streets, you will, and you'll find him serving hungry tailgaters at Chiefs games etc. The possiblities are endless.
But the thing, I am most excited about is that Chef Patrick plans to have a "chef's table" INSIDE of his mobile food truck . . .a table that you and about 5 of your closest friends can rent for the evening and let Chef Patrick personally serve you, while he is making tacos and tortas for those lining up outside the cart. He plans to have a mini chandelier above this "chef's table", and I hope I am lucky enough to get first crack at sitting at it.
3) The Magical Meatball Tour - How can you not smile at the thought of a Chef-driven food truck that only sells meatballs? I am finding it impossible.
This truck has not yet taken to the streets of Kansas City, (it is scheduled to in the Spring) but the buzz has already begun for these two star-crossed Chefs behind it.
Chef Venus Van Horn (OMG, love her . . .love her name!) had been keeping her day job, while managing to start her personal Chef business, called Venus in the Kitchen.
She tells the tale of meeting Chef Ceasar Reyes, her partner in The Magical Meatball Tour, while working for a restaurant in Kansas City. The two hit it off, and a match made in meatball heaven was born.
The innuendos that are possible with a meatball producing food truck are endless . . .even the Chef's have embraced the fun in this from their website:
"Chef Ceasar Reyes and myself, Venus Van Horn, are teaming together to bring our amazing meatballs to the masses with our mobile kitchen dubbed “Magical Meatball Tour” We are focusing our culinary talents to give Kansas Citians the best balls they have ever put in their mouths. From traditional Sicilian to Spanish Vegan, we have a ball for everyone."
4) CoffeeCakeKC - Twitter can be an amazing tool for gathering information and meeting interesting people who are moving the ball forward in food. I heard about Renee Kloeblen, or Ms. Nene, as she refers to herself, from a friend who was following her on Twitter. He said: "you've got to follow her, she is asking for donations on Twitter to start a food truck and she is relentless." I love that word . . .relentless. I relate to it. To me relentless = passion = success. I started following her just as her Kickstarter donations campaign was ending and her work getting her truck up and going was beginning.
At first, I wasn't sure about how a simple cupcake truck was going to make it, no matter how good the cakes really were. Then I heard that Renee, who owns her own cupcake company called Takes the Cake, was partnering with Brian Jurgens, a guy who roasts his own coffee and sells it under the name, EF Hobbs . . . AND that they were planning to call the truck "CoffeeCakesKC". I knew that would be a winning combination. Quality cupcakes and quality coffee is a match made in foodie heaven.
CoffeeCakesKC took to the streets about a month ago at this point, and the day I popped in to shoot these pictures, they were parked downtown in the shadow of the Sprint Center trying to figure out a profitable route for success. My advice to them was to tweet up all of the ad agencies in the downtown and midtown area offering to bring their cart to their office for their employees to come down get coffee and cupcakes on their break. Nothing will spread buzz faster than a bunch of well-connected advertising pro's. We promote the things we love, even in our sleep. I say that lovingly, as I am one too.
I had lunch with Renee, a couple of months back to talk about her truck and to give her ideas for possible catering kitchens that she could make her cupcakes out of to make this all work. (I am privvy to and often recommend many, many spaces in Kansas City that have commerical kitchens because of my work with Test Kitchen.)
As we talked about her plans for the truck, and the mobile marketing techniques she planned to employ, I, as a marketer, became more and more impressed with Ms. Nene. I thought, this girl is smart, she is looking for sponsors for her truck to help defray the cost and she is using mobile media and bar-code technology to allow people to use their Smart phones to tag where they saw her truck. She is utilizing all of the social media tools at her disposal. She in a word . . . is driven.
We talked about the sales tax challenges facing food trucks in each of the surrounding suburban areas of Kansas City. For if your truck travels to a different township or crosses from Missouri to Kansas, the sales tax rate that you must charge changes, along with your location. Holy Moly! Imgaine the bookkeeping that will create for any of these trucks. This is not a problem for brick and mortar shops or restaurants. It is also something that might prevent some of these trucks from ever crossing the state line.
Having said all of that, I can tell you, the cupcakes and coffee that these two are serving is simply excellent. You can taste the quality and care they both separately and together are putting into their product. Follow CoffeeCakeKC on Facebook and Twitter and simply hit them up to come visit your office. If you ask them, they are happy to bring coffee and cupcakes to your door.
As much as I am a supporter of food trucks in Kansas City, I am not blind. I know there are many who think the concept will simply not work here. Kansas City isn't truly an urban city, like New York or L.A. We are not used to the idea of leaving our desks and walking down to the curb to get a gourmet taco from a truck for lunch. Nor are Kansas Citians, willing to chase trucks all over town trying to make a meal out of whatever they are dishing out. We don't want to have to work that hard to eat.
What I do think is a killer idea that would cement food truck culture and support the profitability of all food trucks in this town, is the idea of having a single location where all of the food carts in town could park. A place where they can gather together and sell their food stuffs. It would be a predictible, reliable one-stop food truck stop. It would create conveinence and variety for the customers. It would be food truck heaven.
We would name the area something catchy like "The Trailer Park" or "The Food Court." The trucks or trailers would have to pay a fee to park there and part of that fee would help pay for the lights we would string above this area and the picnic tables we would provide for people to sit and enjoy their meal.It could also go towards a trash service to help keep the area clean and free of debris.
You could have different trucks parking there on different days of the week, or some trucks would just permanetly sit in their usual spot.
Cities like Austin, seen in the smaller photo, have gravel parking lots that they have dedicated to these food trucks. I am sure the land is privately-owned, but the owner provides it to the trucks until they decide to do something different with the land.
In Portland, OR, (see above) there are whole parking lots downtown that have been taken over by multiple food trucks vendors. Each truck is offering a different kind of food, keeping the threat of cannibalization low between the trucks. There is power in numbers.
The person that I think would be perfect to manage this lot of food trucks, is none other than our beloved STRETCH. In fact, I would like to publically call for his nominatation as the food truck embassador of Kansas City. I'd be thrilled to see this lovely and talented man, seriously consider this as a profitible side business, that would move our food culture in KC forward. As an artist, a food lover, a restaurant and music venue owner and soon to be TV Star, STRETCH, I think, is the right man for this job. Instead, of him building his rumored "Shipping Crate Tower of Food Power" on the corner of his block, I would suggest he raze the buildings that are there now, and instead open this area up for food trucks to park and serve the greater food loving community of KC. I am not suggesting STRETCH do this for free. It is his land and he should make money off of it. With his talent, he could really make one really awesome looking food truck lot. I'm just sayin'.
It's just a thought . . .one that I thought I would lob out there for you, and hopefully him, to digest. That's my round up, friends, food truck culture is finally getting serious in KC. I am glad to welcome it with open arms. See you in line.