Article by Bill Beggs Jr.
Imagine yourself in a room with a group of meeting attendees who’ve been pushing paper and perusing Power- Points all day. They’ve put in their time and now they’re ready for something offbeat and stimulating. What better way to cap off a day of meetings than to lead your charges outdoors where the fourwheeled
pizza purveyor, smoothie artist and cupcake vendor await with a dizzying array of sensory delights?
These days, Missouri cities have an abundance of food trucks serving creative, hand-held cuisine that captivates the imagination as surely as it does the palate. For your next event, try coaxing your meeting guests to put down their smartphones and pick up a fistful of delicious food-truck fare. Vendors can show up nearly anywhere they’re summoned, and the culinary possibilities are almost limitless. How about a crème brulée truck in Kansas City called Torched Goodness? Why not My Big Fat Greek Truck in St. Louis? (The names are almost as inventive as the cuisine!)
Easy Does It
It’s remarkably simple for planners and groups to work with food trucks, says Michael Bradbury, who owns The Funnel
Cake Truck which takes to the K.C. streets selling golden-brown concoctions of many kinds—not just funnel cakes,but deep-fried Twinkies, Oreo cookies,candy bars, corn dogs and more. He also accommodates special requests for treats such as ice cream, cotton candy, kettle
corn and snow cones.
Food pricing for groups is generally simple, and with notice, some truck operators are open to procuring special items not listed on their regular menus. “Most of the time we charge our regular menu pricing, unless a group needs a package price for something like an ‘all you can eat’ concept,” says Kandace Davis, who operates the Cha Cha Chow Latin Food Truck offering several kinds of tacos as well as sandwiches in St. Louis. “We always make arrangements for this in advance and work with each client to pick a menu that works for the event.” Seoul Taco has a restaurant in the University City Loop that is busy enough at lunchtime to send both its blue and red food trucks to corporate campuses on a fixed schedule. Have you ever tried a spicy stir-fry type of concoction with meat, tofu, veggies and a fried egg on top? That’s a gogi bowl, one of the most popular menu items both at the eatery and whenever the trucks are on a roll.
Smaller Markets Served, Too
Of course, food trucks are not just wildly popular on the opposite ends of Interstate 70. There’s a quite daft presence in Springfield, a concept from across the pond called London Calling. At the truck, guests can enjoy traditional British fare like “bangers” and “mash”. Or why not try a “pasty”? It was invented in the 1300s, although Neil’s mum (and co-owner) quips she invented it on his 13th birthday. Did we say British, blokes? Their party vehicle is a bona fide red double-decker bus, and there’s a phone booth back at base such as you’d see only in the Isles. Brexit or no, you can go for the full experience of London (save the Underground). Not only is the food authentic, prepared under the supervision of U.K. expatriate Neil Gomme, but photo ops can be quite bonkers. And the bus will never be trapped as it travels endlessly around a traffic circle in Springfield.
Columbia food trucks feed hungry Mizzou students who’ll do anything to avoid the dining hall. Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co.’s truck isn’t just a breakfast conveyance. Why not try a Cajun catfish biscuit for lunch? Referring to what they call the “family bible of flavor”, the mobile chefs sizzle cornbread in iron skillets, stir up bacon infused black-eyed peas, serve steak smothered until fork-tender, and make pie crust broken under fresh berries. That’s the kind of food they grew up with in Arkansas, and they love it and want to share.
Brandon Simpson, owner of the Jazzy B’s gourmet barbecue truck in Kansas City, says different truck owners have different food prep lead-time needs, so planners should be sensitive to that. “In the past, people would call and say, ‘Come on out, we have 150 people at an event today,’ hoping the truck could just show up for an hour,” Simpson says. “But my food is all fresh and made to order. There’s only so much food that can go out the window per hour and still meet my standards. If you have 150 people, but they only have an hour to eat, there will be a need for multiple trucks.”
Some truck owners, like Bradbury and Simpson, are set up to cook and assemble their offerings on board. Others sell pre-prepared products, such as cupcakes and ice cream, and may not require as much advance notice for an event.
Freshness and Safety
Bradbury and Simpson say meeting planners can rest assured about the food safety and cleanliness of culinary trucks in general. “No restaurant ever gets inspected as often as food trucks do,” Bradbury says. “If I’m going to three large festivals in one week, for example, I can expect to see the inspectors three times as well—before each event.”
Simpson agrees that food trucks and local health department inspectors get to know each other very well. “We have to get our permits renewed once a year, and you have certain counties that inspect four times a year,” he says. “At other times, the inspectors may show up unannounced to check out your truck. If they happen to see you on the street at any time, they can just step in for a look.”
Truck owners are held to very high standards of cleanliness and food safety, he says. Depending on the city or county, an operator generally must obtain several different licenses and permits before opening a food truck business. According to Bradbury, every Kansas City truck also must be affiliated with a restaurant or other inspected and approved commercial kitchen or “commissary.”
Food on the Fly
Steven Smallwood operates a Springfield fusion-cuisine truck known as The Wheelhouse, with fare focusing on Thai and Mexican flavors. The menu features items such as specialty burritos, tacos and curries. Smallwood says the truck’s offerings are an ideal match for casual business meetings, and his and other local trucks have created a regular “culinary destination” in Springfield, complete with tables for hungry locals and nearby meeting guests.
“Networking is what The Wheelhouse is based on,” Smallwood says of the group food-truck experience. “We try to connect in some way with every customer who hits our window. This new reality of the restaurant world is excellent for local business owners and the local economy. Food consumers really dig this possibility—that a great chef with a business mind can have a chance to open a local business.”
Food trucks are also a great choice for planners with an eye on social responsibility. Because the trucks are tailor-made for outdoor events, they’re an excellent addition to fundraisers such as runs, walks, art shows and more.
When working with food trucks, a planner must be ready to supply information on the number of people to serve, where they will be meeting, and what time they will be eating. It’s also important to keep in mind some key logistical considerations about a desired location when making food-truck arrangements.
“We ask that planners have the guests come out in smaller groups versus all at once,” says Davis of Cha Cha Chow. “It can be a problem if people don’t follow along and the truck isn’t prepared for a mass amount of people. It’s also important to make sure ahead of time that food trucks are allowed on the desired property by the site owner, and that if rescheduling is impossible, there is an inclement weather plan.”
Planners will find most food-truck owners to be flexible when it comes to designing menus and making events special. They’re as interested as you are in crafting a memorable culinary atmosphere for your guests.
“I think food trucks create a totally unique experience,” Davis says. “Guests can watch the staff actually preparing the food. It also allows for fresher food to be shared than does traditional catering. Most trucks are cooking to order, and that definitely beats food that is prepared hours earlier and transported in.”
For more information on Missouri food trucks, connect with them on the Web at: showmefoodtrucks.com (for St. Louis metro trucks) and (and this is a long one, so copy and paste) roaminghunger.com/food-trucks/ mo/kansas-city (for K.C. area trucks). Then, contact trucks directly via the available links. Voila! It’s that simple. You may contact London Calling at londoncallingpastycompany. com, Ozark Mountain Biscuit Co. at ozarkmountainbiscuits.com, and The Wheelhouse at wheelhousefood.com.
(A version of this story ran in a previous issue of MM&E written by Julia M. Johnson.)