By Mark Antonation | Westword
Carol Mel and her husband, Paul Norton, run Lucky Mary’s Baking & Sweets Company, a dessert food truck and catering business that Mel launched seven years ago. Their friend David Sevcik got into the food-truck business in 2016 with Mac N’ Noodles, and has since added Capital City Wraps and the Colorado Pig Rig. Business had been great for all of them, until this year. The pandemic has negatively affected nearly every aspect of the food-service industry, including food trucks, which found themselves without summer bookings at festivals, concerts, private gatherings and other events because of restrictions on group gatherings.
Norton and Sevcik weren’t ready to throw in the towel, though, and they didn’t want to see fellow food truck owners go out of business, either. So they founded Colorado Food Truck Stops, a collective that now totals more more than fifty vendors who have found new ways to get their food to customers. And this week, Colorado Food Truck Stops will unveil its first coupon book, the 2021 Food Truck Season Pass.
“Back in March when the first shutdown happened, all of our events got canceled, starting with Frozen Dead Guy Days,” Norton explains, referring to the annual Nederland festival. “We had already purchased all our food for it. But we had a bunch of contacts in neighborhoods, so we started calling to see if we could set up in their neighborhoods.”
Most of the suburban housing developments were more than happy to welcome the food trucks, since it was an easy way to explore new food while staying safe. There were more requests for appearances than Norton and Sevcik could handle on their own, so they started helping other food trucks fill in time slots all over the metro area. “We formed Colorado Food Truck Stops, and it started booming, and we got to forty or fifty neighborhoods,” Norton continues. “And we’ve never charged [other food trucks]. Many booking groups charge $40, $50 or even $100.”
“We plan on making it an even bigger entity, not taking away from food trucks, but helping them make money,” Sevcik adds.
The new season pass is entirely digital; you can purchase one on the Colorado Food Truck Stops website by registering, paying $35 and then accessing the individual coupons, which include two-for-one deals, discounted menu items, discounts on catered events and even beer deals from several breweries that the food trucks have partnered with this year. Then it’s just a matter of finding your favorite trucks in your neighborhood or one nearby. Norton says that he almost never books locations within Denver city limits, since many of the suburbs are easier to deal with and have less expensive licensing requirements. “We follow the 470 belt around the metro area, and that’s where we tend to operate,” he notes. “We like to set up on private property — clubhouses or rec centers in neighborhoods where HOAs can email everyone or post on their Facebook page in advance.”
Colorado Food Truck Stops makes sure that neighborhood residents are on board with the idea of food trucks setting up, and they sign up trucks that have pre-order and online payment options to help keep lines short for health and safety reasons. Sevcik says that he considers an appearance successful if he can serve seventy to eighty people, and he and Norton help ensure good turnout for each truck by not booking too many vendors in one location. So bookings generally involve one savory vendor (sometimes two) and one dessert vendor, giving customers a little variety without spreading out sales between too many trucks.
Sevcik says he has also held several free lunches since April to help those in need of a good meal. He’s now on the lookout for organizations where he can set up to serve food for free; these giveaways are “about 95 percent out of pocket,” he adds.
Norton and Sevcik agree that there’s potential for long-term success as a food-truck operator without ever having to make the step to a brick-and-mortar restaurant. “A lot depends on the operator,” Sevcik states. “Be consistent, offer good service and make good food. If you can make it three years, that’s the test. If you can make it three, you can make it four.”
This year hasn’t been kind to food trucks, but Colorado Food Truck Stops is helping its fellow vendors get past the hardest year ever to make it past that three-year mark. The 2021 Food Truck Season Pass is available now, but the big sales push begins on Black Friday (November 27), so mark your calendar.