The Rise of Food Trucks
While planning a trip to the Bay Area in California four years ago, one experience ranking high on my list of things to do was grabbing some grub, grazing in the grass, and chilling at a food truck park. And behold, there I was, at the Presidio of San Francisco, on a sumptuous sunny day, the funky, “get up and shake what your momma gave ya’” music of live band, and, those aromas -- not the ones of that organic smoked substance (however, undeniably prevalent)-- but of the glorious fare representing a myriad of cuisines, from soup (Pho) to (dough) nuts, that permeated the brisk Spring air from a gazillion food trucks; well, maybe not a gazillion, but more than I could count.
According to The New York Times Magazine, food trucks can be traced back to 1872 in Rhode Island where a vendor named Walter Scott parked his covered wagon in front of a local newspaper office in Providence. Mr. Scott peddled sandwiches, pies, and coffee. His customers were pressmen and journalists of the newspaper who worked the late shift. Other sources credit Charles Goodnight, of Texas, as the first food truck operator. Mr. Goodnight is recognized for inventing the chuckwagon which was a type of covered wagon kitchen. The chuckwagon fed cattle herders and cowboys back in the day. It is interesting that also, during this time, smoke aromas fragranced the air of the chuckwagons along the smell of prepared hearty meals. History has it recorded that Mr. Goodnight was a heavy smoker of tobacco but not the wacky kind. I think.
Here in the Southern Tier, food truck parks are not quite on the scene yet, however, we do have the pleasure of indulging in some good eats offered by a considerable number of vendors; Global Taco, Heidi Ho’s, and My Eva Authentic Mexican Food, just to name a few. Nick Totman, Owner/Operator of Fire Dawgs BBQ and Catering, believes that there is friendly competition in the area. “I have talked and learned from other trucks in the area. We are all friendly with each other and willing to give tips and hints to each other. At the end of the day, we all just want everyone to make a profit.” Nick jumped into the food truck business in 2018. “I was working at a used car dealership as an inventory manager. While I loved what I did, I hated working for someone else. I am also an Assistant Fire Chief (Volunteer) in my local town. I heavily help with food fundraising and knew I was good at it, so I said, “what the heck, let’s try it for a job!” As with any startup business or entrepreneurial venture, there are the challenges, demands, and unknowns that are simply par for the course. Fire Dawgs BBQ and Catering is and was not exempt. Totman states, “There are many hurdles in this business. I think the biggest hurdles were and still are the unseen side of it. The permits, licenses, insurance etc.”
Although up and running for three years, the struggles of operation remain. “Actively, hurdles include gaining and keeping employees. The days and hours are weird in the food truck world and many people just can’t swing it. Other hurdles include the price of food. It always varies; and with COVID, everything has sky-rocketed.” Totman gives credit and appreciation to his family for their support in this endeavor. His dad was instrumental in helping him to transform a trailer into the operating food truck. “My family has been crucial in this business succeeding,” Nick affirms.
According to Nick, the food truck “explosion” started pre-COVID and the pandemic further pushed its growth, expansion and popularity. “People enjoy the grab and go (feature) of amazing food,” Nick explains. “They enjoy tasting what the food truck owners can offer with their own twist.” Fire Dawgs BBQ pop-ups can be found within approximately a 50-mile radius. Pop-ups at breweries are golden. “Breweries have proved to be the best locations for us so far. The food and beer combo is super ideal for the customers,” Totman explains. A “good day,” according to Nick is, “a minimum of a 4-digit gross right now. That’s around 50 orders.” If I were to guess, I’d say that Nick definitely experiences a “good day” consistently on a regular basis. The Fire Dawgs BBQ menu includes items such as “Cowboy Nachos,” “Pretzel Buffalo Chicken Log,” “Loaded Waffle Fries,” and a pulled pork meal. I went home with “Pretzel Pork Sliders” and the “White Horse Meal.” Yes, Nick – amazing grab and go food!