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Food Truck Boom in Tallahassee

May 14, 2012 by Julie Montanaro

The fastest growing business in Florida may be setting up shop on a street corner near you and it may be hitched up and hauled away by the time the sun goes down.

Food trucks are now dotting downtowns across the state and giving some traditional restaurants a case of indigestion.

Rodel Calub and Donald Pernitez serve up Filipino favorites like siomai, bami and chicken adobo.

They start preparing it all between 6 and 8 a.m. so they are ready for the lunch crowd when the line starts forming around 11:30.

"I come here because it's right across from the College of Music, because it has very good prices, very good food. There's a good range of options," said Robert Durie, an FSU student and frequent customer.

La Sang Pinoy attracts approximately 70 customers a day here on the edge of the Florida State campus. They rent this spot from the guy who owns the parking lot.

"Hi. How are you?"

"Good, how are you?"

"I'm going to have a number 8 with adobo ... "

It's not exactly what they originally had in mind. The longtime friends had hoped to open a brick and mortar restaurant until they found out how much it was going to cost.

"We tried to open a restaurant because there is no Filipino restaurant in Tallahassee and overhead is too much for a restaurant. So we decided to go with a food truck," said Lasang Pinoy co-owner Rodel Calub.

"You can start a business with like 30,000 dollars. You can start and you can run a business like this," co-owner Donald Pernitez said.

They are riding the wave of the fastest growing business in Florida. According to Florida's Department of Business and Professional Regulation, there are 60 food trucks registered in Leon County alone. That has more than doubled since 2008.

"It's growing tremendously. Statewide in 2008 about 2500, now about 3,000 and we are seeing people embracing this new business model and they are reaching out, creating their dreams," DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson said.

All food trucks must be licensed and inspected by the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Lawson says food trucks must follow all the same refrigeration, sanitation and food handling rules as any other restaurant.

You can check their inspection reports for yourself on DBPR's web site.

The city of Tallahassee requires food trucks to get a permit and follow a list of rules. It limits the number of spots on city property downtown to just seven.

Leon County doesn't allow food trucks on its property. It only allows food trucks to park on private property, with the owner's permission, in areas that are already zoned to allow restaurants.

"It's the American way. It's entrepenuerism," said Andy Reiss, who owns Andrew's Capital Grill and Bar downtown.

Tallahassee restaurant owner Andy Reiss has been in business at the corner of Adams and Jefferson for 40 years.

He recognizes food trucks offer folks without lots of cash a chance to follow their culinary dreams, but he says cities and counties should regulate them.

"With me paying $120,000 roughly in utility bills, another $30,000 in taxes, it's hard when you're ona corner like I am to be okay with a food truck pulling up right there ... right in front of your store," Reiss said. "I have no problem with food trucks. I think the city is doing it right in choosing where they can go and where they shouldn't go because I think that's only fair."

Rebecca Kelly owns a food truck called Street Chefs. She also heads up the Tallahassee Food Truck Association. She sees the surge in food trucks as a little healthy - but not necessarily low calorie - competition.

"It's there. It's not going anywhere either. I really think this is here to stay," Kelly said. "Food trucks have been around in major cities for the past decade plus. It's just starting to catch on in Tallahassee."

Tallahassee has seen the number more than double in the last four years.

If you want a taste without driving all over town, you can get it any given Thursday in a lot sandwiched between a burger joint and a laundromat. It's called "Food Truck Thursday."

Julio Soto can cook just about anything in his airstream.

"It's a little hobby and I make a few bucks at it," Soto said as he worked the grill at Julio's Food on the Move.

Empanadas, mojo pork, even fricasse.

"Thank you, enjoy."

He runs one of the food trucks that set up shop in a vacant lot on Thursday nights.

"Well the first time I set up, I sold one hot dog and now look at the line," Soto said.

One year later, there are eight trucks here and seven more on a waiting list. People toting blankets and lawn chairs now jockey for a spot on the lawn.

"I really just love the community of it. It's just so much fun, just coming and watching the people and listening to the music and, of course, enjoying the good food," Linda Bridges said as she sat at a table in the shade.

"You know, Tallahassee never had like, an outgoing, go out and like eat good food and you know, listen to good music and you know ... it's a good place to hang out," Jehan Kim said as he sat on a blanket with friends.

"I need the Chelsea ..."

"Yes, you do need the Chelsea."

"... and a lemonade."

"And what brings you down here as opposed to trying a new restaurant?"

"My son," Bobbie Allen said as she tagged along for the first time. "They come to Food Truck Thursdays. I said, oh, I want to go. I want to try it."

"There's a line over here, so, I'm curious about what's going on over there. I might have to get in the line." said Food Truck Thursday regular Barbara Alford. "We spread the word all the time."

Most people find out about Food Truck Thursday through word of mouth. As you can see, word gets around.

Some folks track these trucks' every move on Facebook and Twitter.

"What can I get for you?"

Mobi - which serves up modern Vietnamese street food - has hundreds of friends and followers.

"It used to be kind of an underground thing where everyone called and texted. Kinda like those underground bands where
so and so's going to show up here. Everybody would call around," said Mobi Chef and Owner Viet Vu. "Now it's morphed into texting. Now it's got the social media and everything. So that really helped it blow up really quickly."

Some of these food trucks are the chef's first foray into the business. Others like Lucy and Leo's and Big Easy Snowballs have brick and mortar restaurants too.

"One blueberry, one bubble gum and one strawberry. $2.50 is your change, beautiful, enoy."

Big Easy Snowballs owner Brenda Retif says Food Truck Thursday is a great way to boost business.

"I hear it all the time. 'I saw your trailer. I just came because I saw your trailer.' So it works out really, really well. It feeds my businesses," Retif said.

The head of Tallahassee's Food Truck Association is looking to expand Food Truck Thursday as more and more adventurous eaters line up for a taste of, well, just about anything.

You can check it out for yourself Thursdays from 6pm until 10pm. The food trucks gather in the vacant lot at 300 West Tharpe right next to the Burger King.

If you get a hankering before then, food trucks from all over will be gathering Tuesday night, May 15th, in front of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. That's from 5 to 7pm
at Northwood Centre, 1940 North Monroe Street, Tallahassee,


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