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Local Food Trucks Offer Eclectic Mix Of Dining Options

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Aired 4/14/11

What's fueling the growth of the local food truck scene? And, why are some large fast food chains now jumping into the mobile food service business? We'll discuss how the perception of food trucks is changing nationwide, and what makes the local scene unique.

Customers wait to make their orders at a food truck in Los Angeles.  What's fueling the rise in the local food truck scene?
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Above: Customers wait to make their orders at a food truck in Los Angeles. What's fueling the rise in the local food truck scene?

What's fueling the growth of the local food truck scene? And, why are some large fast food chains now jumping into the mobile food service business? We'll discuss how the perception of food trucks is changing nationwide, and what makes the local scene unique.

Guests

Marissa Cabrera, KPBS Reporter

Kelly O'Laughlin, creator of the San Diego Food Trucks Facebook page, and the new sdfoodtrucks.com blog

David Wasserman, owner of the Joes On The Nose drink truck

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. It used to be that food instruction were thought of as sort of low end fast food. Oh, sure you could maybe find a good one around a construction site. But generally you had to watch it. After all one of the old nicknames for a food truck was a roach coach. Well, tack about an image make over, food trucks have become just about the trendiest way to get your food, from wreck past to lunch to cup cakes. Food trucks in San Diego are serving ingenious and delicious menu items that patrons say taste as if they've come out of a fancy restaurant instead of a fancy truck. Joining me to talk about San Diego's food truck phenomenon are my guests Marissa Cabrera, KPBS reporter. And good morning, Marissa.

CABRERA: Good morning, Maureen. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Kelly O'Laughlin, creator of the San Diego food truck facebook page, and a blog at Sdfoodtruck.com. Hi Kelly.

O'LAUGHLIN: Good morning, Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, we're inviting our listeners to join this conversation. Have you had something great from a food truck? Tell us about your experience, our number here is 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Marissa, many of us heard your feature this morning on morning edition about food trucks so what inspired you to do this feature? And on the food truck movement?

CABRERA: Well, first I should probably warn listeners her that your gonna get hungry when you hear this segment. But I really love food. I love to cook. I'm always looking for new recipes on line. I don't consider myself a foodie by any means. But you know, I do follow some of the food scene. And then one day I happened to stumble upon Kelly's Facebook page. And you could go on there, and you will learn everything you need to know about food trucks here in San Diego County. Where they park, what they serve, and little by little, just by talking from neighbors and friend, everybody just thought this was so out there. They never heard of them before, it always -- they would watch the food America, and they were familiar with the concept. But they just didn't believe that they existed here in San Diego. So I kind of felt that that was an opportunity to get the word out.

CAVANAUGH: So what kind of food do food trucks offer?

CABRERA: All kinds of food. Where do I start? For this story, I visited with the girls who own Deviliscious, it's a food truck that's been around for about three months. Diana Huffman and also Christina Reeve. And they sort of [check] think about food that we used to eat when we were kids, take a grilled cheese sandwich, for example, and then they throw some lobster in it. And it's just mouth watering. Actually, that's a staple of the truck, that's what the truck is known for. People follow Deviliscious because of their lobster grilled [check] and this bacon wrapped hot dog that's just delicious. And there's another food truck that just hit the scene, it's called the green truck. And they really specialize on making a hundred percent organic meals. So they go to the local farmer's market. They get their produce from local farmers of they also -- the truck, it's solar powered and it runs on vegetable oil. So this is very -- it's very, very unique. Mijo is also a very popular one. They also specialize in farm to table dining, use a lot of local produce, they have been around for about a year. And then another 81 that just opened up that hit the streets is mangia mangia, it's a new Italian truck.

CAVANAUGH: Kelly, let me -- let's take us back from time to time and go to food truck 101. Why a food truck? Why not just open a restaurant?

O'LAUGHLIN: That's a good question. I think food trucks are a great way for people who have this passion and they really want to serve food, and they want to serve what they want to serve but maybe it's not possible for them to afford to open up a brick and mortar establishment. So they go the route with the food truck.

CAVANAUGH: It would seem to me that it would be difficult to equip a truck with the kinds of equipment that you would need in order to come out with really great food. Does this seem to be any kind of impediment to people starting these food trucks?

O'LAUGHLIN: There is a big food truck community out there, so I don't think people are necessarily buying an empty truck and outfitting it. There are places they can go to get a truck or even a used food truck that someone already used that already has all of the cooking equipment in it.

CAVANAUGH: So how many food trucks are there here in San Diego?

O'LAUGHLIN: For gourmet food trucks, I would say there are around 21. Specifically 21.

CAVANAUGH: 21.

O'LAUGHLIN: Around 21.

CAVANAUGH: You've done your counting. And is that -- I want to make sure that people understand this food truck phenomenon is certainly not just a San Diego phenomenon. Tell us about food trucks across the nation, if you would.

O'LAUGHLIN: It's definitely not a San Diego phenomenon. San Diego is behind a lot of other cities. There are some places that are really considered the food truck mecca, and those would be, like, the Portland Oregon, LA, norm city, Austin Texas of these are cities that have hundreds and hundreds of trucks and food carts roaming their streets. And it's really catching on in cities across the country, including San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that I'm speaking with Kelly O'Laughlin, she's creator of San Diego Food Truck facebook page. And Marissa Cabrera, she's a KPBS reporter. And we're taking your calls if you'd like to share with us your experiences with the food trucks, independent gourmet food trucks here in San Diego. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. 1-888-895-5727. Now, kelly, Marissa said that she basically stumbled on this phenomenon because of the facebook page. Tell us about it and why you decided to create it.

O'LAUGHLIN: Well, I love food, as Marissa said. She loves food as well. I love trying new you things, and I did spend some time in Portland Oregon, which I mentioned before is considered one of the biggest food truck meccas in the United States. And I really fell in love with it there. The food is so diverse and it's so amazing, and when I moved to San Diego a couple of years ago, there were only a few trucks on the streets. And there wasn't really anywhere on the Internet where you could get information about all the trucks in one place. And I also enjoy social media, and plays with social media sort of, so I decided to create the Facebook page, and I never ever thought that many people would join the page. And it's grown so much, and people are really passionate about it. And I especially enjoy the community of people talking to each other, and posting pictures and getting really excited about all of the food trucks.

CAVANAUGH: And one thing it's important for people who are not familiar with food trucks to understand is they just don't park somewhere all the time. They're moving around. And Marissa, where -- how do the food truck operators decide where they're gonna bring their truck on a certain day?

CABRERA: Absolutely. I would say the majority of the time, they're really focused ongoing out to business parks where there may not be a lot of food option around for office workers. When I went out to visit with the girls from Deviliscious, they were out in Sorrento Valley parked right outside of Qualcom. So you're talking about thousands of office workers. When I was out there, I was speaking to someone who was eating at Deviliscious, and they said, you know, if it wasn't for these food trucks who come out and park Barnes Canyon Road, my only other option for lunch would be bring left overs or it would be the cafeteria inside my building. So they really focus on these business parks. Another area where they kind of focus on is late night in Northpark, south park area. And occasionally food trucks will also all kind of come together for a monthly event. And in different spots around San Diego County and sort of put out this event, visitors pay a small fee, and that money kind of goes to clean up costs and to set up, and tear down and all of that.

CAVANAUGH: And there's one happening tomorrow that I'm gonna tell people about at the end of this. And Sorrento Valley also seems hike a big place that food trucks are headed on a daily basis; is that right, Kelly?

O'LAUGHLIN: Yes, it is. Yeah. Because of all the office workers there.

CAVANAUGH: Well, one of the -- in your feature, we learned, Marissa, that one of the ways we can tell that independent food trucks have become so successful is because now there's a corporation who wants to get into the mix. Jack in the box has decided to jump in on the food truck game. What does jack in the box says about that in.

CABRERA: Well, they -- yes, jack in the box rolled out its food truck a couple of weeks ago in the gas lamp on a Friday night. They call it the munchy mobile. It's a huge truck, it's 34 feet lock, it's bigger than any other food truck that's out there on the streets right now. It's gonna be roaming from the beach to downtown areas about three days a week. And they're really more focused on the big events issue the big Friday night events. They're really after, you know, the college crowd, those people who are looking for a late night bite. They're not necessarily focused on office workers going out to Sorrento Valley or Kearny Mesa or copely drive. They're really focused on those people who are coming out of the bars or outa a Friday night and looking for a quick bite to eat. I've spoke with Jennifer Kennedy with jack in the box's marketing team, and this is what she had to say when I asked her why this fast food chain is jumping into the food truck business.

NEW SPEAKER: The big difference is that, you know, for 60 years our customers have been coming to us, and so now it's our turn to go to them and really connect with them in areas and doing experiences that are relevant to them. So when they're out downtown, when they're at a Chargers game, when they're at the Padre game, instead of making them have to go the extra mile to come find us, we'll be there for them when they're ready of.

CAVANAUGH: And I suppose the people within the food truck community are not too thrill body this, Marissa?

CABRERA: Yes, as you may imagine, not everyone is thrilled are especially those who really enjoy the scene and like the scene because it's unique, because it's sort of exclusive and under ground still, and not mainstream, especially here in San Diego. So when I was doing research for the story, and I was talking to Kelly, we were thinking about this, and whenever you really have any sort of corporation jumping into an industry that's known for being personal and intimate. You're gonna get some sort of push back. I -- also in doing research, I was reading different blogs and people were talking about oh, gosh here come the corporations, they're gonna hijack the food truck movement. And others felt that these food trucks were gonna start becoming a mainstream thing. So again, I mean, not everybody was excited about it. I did speak with Diane Huffman with Deviliscious, these a food truck owner, and he doesn't necessarily see it that way. She actually doesn't see it that way as competition. Here's what she had to say about that.

NEW SPEAKER: I think that they're not competition for us. The corporate chains robot on the street every day doing what we do, they're not out here, you know, they're not gonna come out here and park on barns canyon and you know, try and get food to office people. That's not what they're about. They're about pushing their corporation, they're about doing the Friday night event downtown or the especially event here or the special event there. That's not the niche that we're going for. That's not gonna be what our money maker is. Not only that but I don't wanna be up till two PM serving lobster.

CAVANAUGH: We're talking about food trucks in San Diego and taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. P. J is on the line from Encinitas, good morning, P. J, welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi, how are you guys doing?

CAVANAUGH: Great, thank you.

NEW SPEAKER: I was just -- the other weekend I was at the good guys car show at Del Mar, and I got to see this converted milk truck. I guess it's a wine delivery truck from vine Ago go have you guys ever heard anything about it?

CABRERA: No.

CAVANAUGH: No, no one's ever heard anything about it.

NEW SPEAKER: I just thought that would go perfectly along with some food, you know, hand delivered, some libations for you.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, thank you for calling in with that, PJ. Well, actually on the line with us is the owner of an operation that he would prefer to call the drink truck rather than a food truck. David Wassermann joins us, he's the owner of Joe's on the Nose. David, good morning.

WASSERMAN: I'm doing great, thank you for doing this.

CAVANAUGH: So why did you start Joe's on the nose?

WASSERMAN: We started Joe's on the nose back in 2007 just really as a need, a need for surfers, really, and before this food truck, I was a surfer in San Diego, and you know, you'd surf in San Diego, really any time of year, but especially in the winter, there was a need once you got out of the water for a hot cup of coffee, a hot chocolate, something like that, so we kind of talked about it in the water for years, it's really cold, we're warming our wet suit, but [check] what did we need and so it was always a running joke for years amongst the surfing community in San Diego, have a coffee truck. And then one day I found a truck and kind of went with it.

CAVANAUGH: So what do you offer on -- in your truck?

WASSERMAN: We are a beverage truck. You know, we love all food trucks but I wouldn't say we feel exclude, but we're a drink truck, and we're pretty proud of the fact that we're a drink truck. So we do a full range of drinks. [check] to cold drinks to lots of specialty signature drinks. We do a range of organic coffees, lots of espresso drinks we do tea drinks, smoothies, four different kinds of hot chocolates, all really made with better ingredients, all handmade, one by one.

CAVANAUGH: Now I asked Kelly before about how difficult can might be to actually set up one of these trucks. What are some of the challenges you faced?

WASSERMAN: Well, we started way back when, in quote, and there weren't as many issues to deal with, in terms of parking on the street. And I actually did make an empty truck, and we put everything into it. We have photos on our website of me putting walls in the truck and putting equipment into the truck. So we didn't -- we couldn't go and buy something because we didn't know anyone who had these trucks for sea sale, a coffee truck. And so in terms of what we had to go and figure out, we actually at the San Diego environmental health department it was really great in working with me to try to figure out what we needed to put into it, their guidelines regarding mobile food facilities, mobile food trucks and we just kind of worked together to figure it out, along with great vendors in town to install the equipment in there and just kind of just made it happen.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line, Howard is calling from Rancho Bernardo. Good morning, Howard, and welcome it These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi there. Thank you for taking my call. I just had a question regarding food safety. As a consumer, I'm concerned this she's mobile food outlets are held to the same standards for regulatory standards for food safety. And even as brick and mortar establishments. And even if they are held to the same regulatory standards, is there a system in place for insuring regulatory compliancy and adequate system to insure they're complaint such as with brick and mortar restaurants?

CAVANAUGH: Gotcha. Gotcha, Howard, thank you very much for that question. And let me go to you, first, David, on that, because I guess you deal with that, you know, in real life.

WASSERMAN: Absolutely. Uh-huh. Absolutely. Well, all the local food trucks, including my drink truck, yeah, we have inspections come down all the time. The county is really apt to stay on top of this. Certainly. But before one is permitted, people be the rules and indicated upon the rules. There has to be a food safety manager on -- managing the truck, and with that, everyone in the truck should be certified to handle food as well as keeping food together. This is one argument. Nothing against you, Howard, this is one argument that we see a lot from brick and mortar establishments that try to challenge that -- challenge us on that. But actually, did you go look in any of the food trucks that I've seen working in town or around the kitchen, and I've visited lots of food trucks around, these things, these places are insanely clean. These are -- customers, and if you're working in such a small work space rather than having a larger commercial kitchen, you're working in a commercial kitchen that's fairly small, it has to be kept clean in order to produce food so quickly.

CAVANAUGH: Kelly, Marissa, would you like to comment on the safety and the cleanliness of food trucks?

CABRERA: Absolutely. I think some food truck owners would also say that in a way, they're out there in front of the public eye. I mean, there isn't a wall that's separating the football, necessarily.

CAVANAUGH: From the kitchen.

CABRERA: From the kitchen, exactly. So you know, people frequenting these trucks know kind of what they're getting.

CAVANAUGH: Do they get rated like restaurants? A, B? That kind of thing?

O'LAUGHLIN: I don't know if they're rated, but I also would say these trucks are working so hard to be out there and succeed, and I don't think they're gonna allow having a messy truck in any way.

CAVANAUGH: David?

WASSERMAN: Yeah, if I can pop in, other cities around the country have started letter grading systems, Los Angeles is starting that, if they haven't started that already. We'll see if that happens in town here. I've always said kind of welcome it, and in some respects because we're proud of it, I think all of the truck owners are proud of what we do, we're in the trying to hide anything. I've been kind of proud, we have had inspectors come in our truck in the middle of our workday and say, wow, this is a really clean coffee shop. We're not used to seeing steam wads this clean or -- and we're definitely on display in our country where you can see everything that's going on right in front of you.

CAVANAUGH: Let's hear Stephanie calling from assistant district attorney. Hi Stephanie, welcome to These Days. Stephanie are you with us?

NEW SPEAKER: Yes, hello.

CAVANAUGH: Hi.

NEW SPEAKER: Hi. I wanted to comment on the food trucks, I was so excited to hear you speaking of them this morning, a gentleman at my office has an ap on his smart phone, and he follows all these smart trucks and he got me to go to lunch with him one day to Mijo's it was probably the best burger I ever had in my entire life out of food truck, I was shocked, I thought this was a construction site situation. As a result of listening to These Days, I heard about an art gallery a different day, went down there, there was another food truck there, they were having a whole cultural gallery week, and I had -- I would have never been exposed to any of those stores, the galleries, had I not been exposed to the food truck. So it really is bringing the San Diego culture together, exposing people to other things they wouldn't already have known about. And I also wanted to comment on the corporate food trucks. Of I think also with San Diegans we are becoming a lot more foodie like, and we want to support the small businesses, the small companies, so I wouldn't necessarily go downtown and seek out a jack in the box truck, first of all 'cause I don't eat fast food, but I would go seek out a food truck and follow them as well in order to support them and know that they're giving me good food and they have gone to possibly the farmer's market or when they say it's organic it really is. So I really appreciate everything they're doing.

CAVANAUGH: Thanks for the call, Stephanie, I appreciate it. Kelly, you know, you have your finger on the pulse of the food truck industry here in San Diego. Where do you think the industry is going?

O'LAUGHLIN: It's growing very rapidly. When I started my Facebook page in June of 2010, there were only a couple of trucks out there, maybe like tree or four, and now like I said, there's 21 or so, and I think it's really growing quickly, and it depends on a couple of things, it depends on what the last caller justice talked about, people becoming more and more aware of food trucks and they're not a quote unquote roach coach, that you can get delicious, gourmet, healthy affordable food from these trucks, that's really exciting and different and something new, and it also depends on local government regulations and zoning, and when they're gonna make it easier or more difficult for food trucks to park and be around.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And do we see any trends in one direction or another? Or is that still a question mark?

O'LAUGHLIN: As far as the zoning? --

CAVANAUGH: Yes, right.

O'LAUGHLIN: I'm really not that into it. I'm sure the truck owners know word for word what the rules are on that, but I know flower places that make it really easy. They have local governments that are very supportive of the food truck scene, and there are other places that outright ban them.

CAVANAUGH: Right. So hopefully San Diego make its [check].

CAVANAUGH: And what you found from your experiences with other towns around the country, there's room for a lot more food trucks in San Diego.

O'LAUGHLIN: Oh, yes, we could use a couple hundred more.

CAVANAUGH: David, I know that you're always looking to expand the drinks that you offer, Joe's on the nose. I personally, coming from New York, I was very happy to think that you're thinking of an egg cream.

WASSERMAN: Oh, yeah, egg cream's always popular. I grew up with them. My father used to take me to [check] and get my egg creams, if you know that place, Maureen. I don't know.

CAVANAUGH: I didn't know that, but I know that experience.

WASSERMAN: Yeah, definitely the experience of an egg cream. I know the tricks of making them. You can find them around, you know in LA there's one place to get an egg cream but it's nowhere close to what an egg cream should be. So we'll see but if I can actually, Maureen comment.

CAVANAUGH: Please do.

WASSERMAN: On what was just being said regarding zoning. We're to have a unofficial, soon to be more official, association in San Diego of all the food truck owners and we've been studying and worrying about regulations, we're really looking forward to working with the county and the city to examine these laws and see what the things are. Because as a food truck owner or a drink truck owner we're not trying to take business away from brick and mortar establishments. Quite the opposite. And in the San Diego food world, which has been growing in the past six years, I would say. In really leaps and bounds. We have brave local chefs, Brian malarkey, [check] Scott Wagner, these people are all doing great stuff in the restaurants among lots of other local chefs using farm to table ingredients and doing things like that. And food trucks are just another side of this equation. I mean, San Diego and food trucks are part, not you, Kelly, are part of this growing cull marry world. And I'm excited that for the City of San Diego to really embrace that, ands you can see from people calling in, there's other people, especially on Kelly's page. People are all about this. And it's just another end to creating great food and drinks in San Diego.

CAVANAUGH: David Wassermann, thanks a lot. I appreciate it.

WASSERMAN: Thanks.

CAVANAUGH: David Wassermann, owner of the Joe's on the nose drink truck. I want to say thank you to Kelly O'Laughlin, and Marissa Cabrera, thanks for speaking with us today.

CABRERA: Thank you.

O'LAUGHLIN: Thanks Maureen.

CAVANAUGH: Now, the April food truck event is tomorrow. It's [check] that's Hancock street, tell feature more than ten different trucks, and it starts at 5:00 PM and goes until the food runs out. And you -- that's tomorrow on Hancock street. I want to urge everyone who wants to comment to go on-line, KPBS.org/These Days. Coming up, it's the weekend preview on These Days.

Comments

Avatar for user 'astrofan'

astrofan | April 14, 2011 at 8:32 a.m. ― 3 years, 8 months ago

When I saw that Jack In The Box has a food truck I knew that "gourmet" food trucks had Jumped The Shark. It marks a gradual return to just having roach coaches for construction workers.

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Avatar for user 'JuniorNajor'

JuniorNajor | July 26, 2011 at 7:40 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I'm at Paras Newsstand in North Park. The food truck across the street at the Office is the bomb!

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