Last year, Jeff Ledoux, a mentor at Johnson & Wales’ Entrepreneurship Center, embarked on a Rhode Island food truck marathon, hitting 22 vehicles in three days.
What did he learn? Well, besides the fact that our state has, to quote from his blog post documenting the journey, an “awesome”/“amazing”/“delicious”/“stupid good”/“out of this world”/“the definition of insanity”/“so damn good”/“best. . . this side of the moon” array of mobile food options, Ledoux also walked away with a simple tip for anyone considering a similar mission.
“We were ordering normal meals at each one, and we quickly realized that that’s a mistake,” he says. In an endurance test such as this, small orders are the way to go. Think: tater tots from Noble Knots , edamame and crispy spring rolls from Fugo , a single taco from Mijos Tacos .
We were inspired by Ledoux’s marathon when putting together a food truck roundup for this year’s Summer Guide. Not only did we venture out of our writing cave to sample nibbles from as many rolling restaurants as possible. (Warning: eat pulled pork sandwiches on successive days and you’ll feel like you’ve swallowed a cinder block.) But we also sorted our findings into small, bite-sized portions.
Read on. And, remember: the print version of The Providence Phoenix doubles as a handy place mat.
THE STARTING POINT
There’s no better place to get a sense of the scope and scale of the local food truck scene than David Dadekian’s aptly-named “Definitive RI Mobile Food” list on Twitter (twitter.com/dadekian/lists/definitive-ri-mobile-food). Dadekian — founder of the indispensible eatdrinkRI.com and recent recipient of a $300,000 Innovation Fellowship from the Rhode Island Foundation – has assembled 61 trucks here, from Acacia Café (@AcaciaFoodTruck; banh mi sandwiches and black bean burgers) to the Z food truck (@zfoodtruck; veggie chili and caprese wraps).
Looking for wings? Try Citizen Wing (@CitizenWings). Cupcakes? Cupcake1 (@CUPCAKE1_RI), The Sweet Shoppe (@ginalynn6258), and sugarush (@sugarushtruck). Tacos? Mijos (@MijosTacos), Paco’s (@PTacosMobile), Poco Loco (@pocolocotacos), and Tallulah’s (@tallulahstacos). Grilled cheese? FanCheezical (@fancheezical). Lobster rolls? Roxy’s (@ROXYSLOBSTER) and Lazyman (@LazymanLobster). Vegan soft serve ice cream? Like No Udder (@LikeNoUdder).
When you’re done perusing the list itself, click “Tweets” to see what the trucks are saying in real time. Example: a GottaQ! (@IGottaQ) tweet from a recent Sunday afternoon that reads, “Serving Now at Tucker Field, Across from Cumberland HS — Mendon Rd Cumberland Until 5:00PM EDT.”
But Twitter has its limits. It can’t, for example, tell you the exact distance between you and the nearest food truck. That’s where Food Trucks In comes in. FTI, the recent creation of Johnson & Wales grad and former limousine company owner Eric Weiner and his business partner, Stephen Cross, has a simple goal: “to be the best source to find food trucks anywhere in the country,” Weiner says.
And they’re doing a damn good job. When you log on to foodtrucksin.com and type in your zip code or address, you’ll get not a just a complete list of the trucks serving your area (each with its own accompanying profile page), but a ticker telling you the exact mileage between you and any trucks using FTI’s “Serving Now” function.
Though FTI now covers more than 850 cities nationwide, “It was this growing food truck scene in Providence that caught my attention,” Weiner says. “I went and visited some of the local trucks, [and] I fell in love with the stories of these small businesses trying to become successful.”
Food Trucks In is, of course, its own small business trying to become successful. And at some point in the next three months, Weiner says, the company will switch on its revenue-generating model: a subscription fee for trucks (no more than $30, Weiner says) allowing trucks access to the check-in function, giving them a special FTI-operated locator map to use on their website, and giving them software that makes it easier for consumers to contact them for catering private functions.
So, what percentage of US food trucks are registered with the site? Well, that depends on how you define “food truck.” Weiner says he’s heard US food truck population estimates ranging from 5000 to 300,000, with the high number including “every single ice cream truck and every single hot dog cart.” For the trucks that fit FTI’s criteria, though — being mobile and having a website, Facebook, or Twitter page — “we think the number is probably right now around 7500,” he says. FTI has approximately 4100 registered trucks to date, he says, with about 15 to 20 added each week.
Looking to get the most mileage out of your food truck budget? Check out these high-density food truck gatherings taking place this summer.
Ocean State Food Truck Park* Round-Up: Every other Friday throughout the summer - June 13 and 27, July 11 and 25, August 8 and 22 – from 5-10 pm, at 50 Niantic Avenue, in Providence
Providence Flea: Every summer Sunday from 10 am–4 pm, at 345 South Water Street
“Food Trucks at the Beach” in Narragansett: Mondays and Wednesdays, from 6–10 pm, through September, at 39 Boston Neck Rd
*Yes, there is something call the “Ocean State Food Truck Park.” Tucked away next to an HVAC supply warehouse near the Cranston/ Providence line, it’s not necessarily what would be considered prime real estate (though it is visible from Route 10). But OSFTP does get points for at least two things: being the pioneer food-trucks-only designated spot in Rhode Island, and the wooden shack on the premises painted with a psychedelic mini-mural of an anthropomorphic pizza slice rodeo-riding an anthropomorphic hot dog.