Food trucks hit by virus find new foodies

LYNNWOOD, Wash. (AP) – On a hot summer night, two food trucks pulled up a tree-lined street in a hilltop neighborhood outside Seattle. The smell of grilled meat filled the air, and neighbors slurped on boba tea drinks. Toddlers, teens, their parents and dogs sat in the grass, chatting behind masks, singing and imitating conceivable hugs to stay socially distant while waiting for their food orders.

Long seen as an urban treasure, food trucks are now being preserved by the suburbs during the coronavirus pandemic. No longer able to hang on to bustling city centers, these small businesses on wheels venture out to where people work and spend most of their time – at home.

While food trucks chase customers who once came to find them, they find a captive audience excited about cooking, tasting new types of cuisine, and mingling with neighbors about what feels like a night out while safely closed stay at home.

“This is festival season, fun season. All the good that we normally do as human beings, we can no longer do, ‘said Matt Geller, president of the National Food Truck Association. “Going out to a food truck is a taste of normalcy, and it feels really good.”

Owner of YS Street Food Group, Yuli Shen, discovered the Seattle Hill area via Facebook, and she and a friend who runs the boba tea truck Dreamy Drinks recently went out together and served customers for three hours.

It’s a change and a relief for Shen. Before the pandemic, she raised money by parking on Amazon’s campus near downtown Seattle, where hordes of office workers lined up for Chinese rice bowls. By July, she was fretically looking for somewhere to go.

‘It’s very difficult to find a location to park, so we have to find another place and different people. It’s harder to run the business, but we’re trying, ” Shen said.

Business of the afternoon of the week is the largest part of the turnover for an average food freight, which can make $ 800 to $ 1200 per day, Geller said. And lucrative performances at major summer festivals and community events paved the way for leaner winter months.

Since house-to-house orders closed city centers and canceled meetings earlier this year, many food trucks – such as brick-and-mortar restaurants – have gone out of business or are unsure when they will reopen.

Food trucks are adapting their business model as they move to the suburbs: They focus on dining, adding kid-friendly options and preparing them for larger orders. A new neighborhood means you are not sure how many customers they will get and bet on how much food to bring. To avoid this, many trucks encourage customers to pre-order online.

Geller said the suburban shift has been a boon for food trucks in places like Seattle, Nashville, Tennessee, and Austin, Texas. He said people in the suburbs have been good at staying connected with neighbors during COVID-19 via Facebook groups, where meetings for food trucks are advertised.

BJ Lofback decided to pivot his Nashville food truck and restaurant away from labor-intensive Korean food after firing most of his staff when business collapsed. He rebranded as Pinchy’s Lobster Co. and now sells lobster rolls, which he can prepare for the most part.

Without his usual lunches and music events in downtown Nashville, he and other truckers began reaching out to homeowners’ associations in large parts. It has been such a success, he misses the “stressful, expensive” event schedule. Now, he can keep all the money he earns, instead of paying up to 20% of his income in events for events.

“The economy just worked,” Lofback said. “Personally, I hope that even if a vaccine drops tomorrow and immunity to herd mornings is fulfilled, I hope weeks still have us.”

Piroshky Piroshky, an institution in Seattle at the iconic Pike Place Market, lost 90% of its brick-and-mortar business when the pandemic struck, said operations manager Brian Amaya.

The bakery turned to online outlets, home deliveries and food truck events. Some events with his famous handpieces have been as successful as a modest day in a store. The 28-year-old company is considering adding a second food truck.

“It’s enough to pay our employees and cover the cost of it and make some income for us to continue,” Amaya said.

The idea was also new to Julie Schwab before she created events that have become virtually a food truck lore near Lynnwood, Washington, about 16 miles (25 kilometers) north of Seattle.

Business owners are asking if it is true that one truck made $ 4,000 in one night. She tells them that food trucks make a shift between $ 1,000 to $ 4,000. The high school psychologist also advises other communities that want them in the food truck circuit.

“You see what happens to everyone who comes out, and people get to know each other,” Schwab said, adding that people wear masks and keep their distance. “It has been really great to build a community despite what is happening with this pandemic.”

After hearing how the sector had fared, Schwab took a stick in organizing an event in June for the only food truck she had ever visited. Now they plan trucks seven days a week and into December.

Thanks to the trucks, Schwab discovered bibimbap, a Korean rice bowl, and she enjoyed helping out with small businesses, many by people of color.

But there have also been headaches: hours of trucking work schedules, promoting events and answering neighbors’ questions. Sometimes trucks are late, unprepared or without shows.

Christine Thai, a hospital program coordinator, was surprised to learn about the scene for food trucks in her community when she recently went to one of Schwab’s events with her husband and baby. It was a rare outing for the family, and they got to enjoy a strawberry matcha latte.

“The suburbs are getting cool because people no longer want to travel,” Thai said.


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