Grand Rapids, MI: Mobile Food Trucks and Carts Challenge our Notion of Convenience Food

What the Truck is just one of several food trucks you will find as you wander ArtPrize this year. Sherrill Berry

By Sherrill Berry | Michigan Live

What the Truck is just one of several food trucks you will find as you wander ArtPrize this year. Sherrill Berry
What the Truck is just one of several food trucks you will find as you wander ArtPrize this year.
Sherrill Berry

Just as ArtPrize challenges our idea of art—through October 6 this year—and art literally takes over the downtown area, some entrepreneurs are challenging our taste buds on the go, without stressing our pocketbooks.

Putting one of the first sets of wheels forward in Grand Rapids, Paul Lee, who also owns The Winchester, 648 Wealthy St. SE, rolled onto downtown streets in a fun, decorated van that makes you do a double-take and smile: What The Truck. Striving to be more “progressive,” Lee brought the food truck to Grand Rapids to bring “better street food” and give people more options.

Lee, who comes from a family of entrepreneurs, “grew to love” the restaurant industry, having worked his way through some college courses in sports medicine and teaching before deciding to open his own restaurant bar. “Food was a big part of vacation,” Lee explained, which is where his experience with food stems and its power to bring and keep people together. Lee develops the mobile menu himself, offering seasonally-inspired creations as well as “playful” ones—from nachos, tacos, and sandwiches to breakfast burritos and more. Lee’s mission to “feed the masses not the classes” lends itself to having “fun with food” through his food truck. Look for What The Truck to be out somewhere during ArtPrize.

The idea of an ice cream truck is not new with familiar, repetitive tinny tunes echoing through neighborhood streets and signaling frozen treats well before the 1950s. But Spoonlickers brings the novelty to a fresher level with its self-serve frozen yogurt. Working with a local dairy, Dianna Darling and her husband, David, propose the new rotating flavors every few weeks at each of the three locations—Ada, Eastown, and Knapp’s Corner—in addition to the truck trailer, which is equipped with a total of six soft-serve flavors and ten canisters of toppings, including candy bar favorites along with homemade brownie bites, homemade caramel, and homemade chocolate ganache plus fresh fruit. The mobile self-serve froyo truck rolled onto the scene this May for its inaugural summer season, appearing at festivals and fundraisers such as the Local First Street Party and the Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Foundation Beach Polo Match as well as private events.

Darling combines her Greek roots and family restaurant upbringing with the initial help of her husband’s business management and operational experience to “do something on [her] own” that was also family-oriented after working as a medical device consultant for several years. Darling is proud of the company’s new pink ribbon spoon association with Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Look for the Spoonlickers truck near the Grand Rapids Children’s Museum during ArtPrize for a sweet or tart frozen treat along with fun activities for the kids.

The newest and youngest guys on the mobile-cart scene downtown are the Woking Taco guys—Benjamin Gott and Kyle Lenkey. Gott, originally from Chicago, is a self-taught programmer with an entrepreneurial spirit. Lenkey, from Dixon, Illinois, west of Chicago, is a Grand Valley State University alumnus with a bachelor’s degree in finance and marketing. Both ended up in West Michigan and met a few years ago through Gott’s startup Boxed Water Is Better, where Lenkey interned. Gott explained his “playful concept” for Woking Taco was born from his enjoyment of “quick, simple snack/lunch food options.” It also is a “relatively inexpensive way of testing things out,” Lenkey added.

After developing the recipes out of their kitchens and holding a few intimate tasting parties with friends, they teamed up with Uptown Kitchen for prepping the made-from-scratch ingredients. Friend and “hobbyist chef” Zac Boswell helped them develop a “signature spice,” according to Gott. Catch the Woking Taco cart at the corner of Ottawa and Monroe Center or at the Downtown Market for lunch or late night, and grab a Chinese takeout box filled with corn chips, rice, beans, lettuce, and cheese. Choose from seasoned chicken or a “special” option, such as rattlesnake sausage during ArtPrize. Or, you can go veggie. Top with the hot sauce of your choice and go! Watch the Woking Taco as it evolves, and see where the experiment takes this fun new food-cart idea.

Other mobile food trucks/carts out and about in West Michigan include Fatty Lumpkins of Muskegon, Stoner Taco of BarFly Ventures, and Standard Pizza Company. You may have seen the two “Standard” guys—Matt Parrott and Dan Woodward—with the fancy pizza oven at some festivals around West Michigan. Their Neapolitan-style, thin-crust pizzas feature fun names and simple toppings. They are just one of a growing number of creative mobile-food options in the area with brick-and-mortar dreams.

On a side note, there have been several additions to the food-and-drink scene around Grand Rapids. So venture to some other neighborhoods while you’re out during ArtPrize and check out newbies such as The Cakabakery in Eastown, Kangaroo Kitchen & Catering in the East Fulton Business District, Raad’s Mediterranean Grill in East Hills, Lantern Coffee Bar & Lounge, and McKay’s Downtown.