Atlanta, GA: Stalking the Not-So-Elusive Food Trucks

People gather to eat from food trucks at the Howell Mill Food Park - photo by Thomas James Spravka

By Jill Vejnoska | AccessAtlanta.com

People gather to eat from food trucks at the Howell Mill Food Park - photo by Thomas James Spravka

Keri Bulloch is a modern-day metro Atlanta “trucker.”

Instead of a CB radio, the mother of two from East Point monitors Facebook and Twitter.

Rather than hauling food cross-country, she chases it around Midtown and the Westside.

Drive a big rig? Hardly.

The only vehicle Bulloch was rocking on a recent sweltering Friday afternoon at Atlantic Station was a stroller. With the other hand, she tidied a table where she’d just downed an al fresco lunch that was equal parts calorie count and cutting-edge happening.

“I’ve been following the trucks around,” said Bulloch, 37, who’d come with a friend from Cobb County and their four children to experience Food Truck Fridays. Gesturing to where the crowds and trucks had seemed to magically materialize within the past hour, she exulted, “It’s kind of like a flash mob for food.”

To others, they’re “pop-up food courts.” Or “food truck rodeos.” Whatever. What’s indisputable is that metro Atlantans’ behavior and habits are being happily altered by these “now you see ’em, now you don’t” gatherings of as many as a dozen food trucks in one place at the same time.

 

Vino Wong, vwong@ajc.com Street food gets a boost at the Atlanta Food and Wine Festival and at a few other events around the city, including the weekly gathering of food trucks at the Woodruff Arts Center.

“I feel like I walked two miles for food,” Kristen Jenkins laughed one recent Tuesday night at the Howell Mill Food Park, behind a Willy’s near the busy intersection of Howell Mill and Collier Roads. Her trek from the home of friends might not have been quite that lengthy, but that scarcely lessened Jenkins’ contentment as she noshed on a basil Parmesan waffle cone from the Good Food Truck and saw the upside to the return trip: “Walking back reduces all that you eat here.”

You can’t fault that logic.

Nor can you fail to appreciate the more subtle message being sent each time someone lines up for the to-die-for lime fries from Tex’s Taco Truck and spends the next 10 minutes chatting with the stranger next to him:

As large metropolitan areas go, this one’s relationship with public transportation may be uneasy at best. Public food, though, is a whole other story.

“Look at that: People have brought their own lawn chairs and blankets and are just sitting out, like it’s the Fourth of July,” Thomas James Spravka, 53, a photographer and self-described foodie from Marietta, said at the Howell Mill Food Park. “They’re making an event out of it all by themselves.”

It was only the second time that the Tuesday-night gathering had taken place. Yet already, the buzz and sense of bonhomie were palpable: Week 1 had attracted 1,200 attendees and 2,000 Facebook followers. Many took to social media afterward to praise the event and offer suggestions for tweaking the food park experience slightly. Organizers paid attention.

Week 2 featured additional offsite parking and a police officer directing traffic. Several picnic tables at the kid-laden event allowed “truck-er” families to linger longer on the sultry summer night. A band played, and a feeling of community suffused the hay strewn patch of land.

Some had traveled miles from their own communities to be there.

“I work in Midtown sometimes and I came across the first Street Food Thursday at the Woodruff Arts Center,” said Brad Weaver, 31, who was digesting his Good Food Truck Poodle (a hot dog on a french toast bun, topped with maple syrup,) alongside his wife, Lisa, 29, and their 18-month-old son, Haven.

With their friend, Nicole Williams, 24, they’d made the trek from Woodstock. “I told her about this,” Weaver said, pointing to Williams, “and she said, ‘Yes, please.’ ”

“Where else can you get lime fries and a french toast hot dog with syrup in one place?” Williams said with a laugh.

Uh, more places than you might think.

Founded 18 months ago, the Atlanta Street Food Coalition is in charge of working out the rotation of which trucks go where on what days. The job’s gotten more pleasantly cumbersome as the number of sites keeps multiplying.

“When we started, we didn’t know how much things would develop,” said Greg Smith, 29, the University of Georgia Law School-trained president of the coalition, which also helps the truck operators navigate the regulatory processes in each county. “It’s become a real social atmosphere. That’s not something I was really thinking about going in, but it’s really cool.”

On Fridays now, food trucks roll out simultaneously at Atlantic Station and in Buckhead, where the Shops Around Lenox joined the street-food scene earlier this month.

Food Truck Wednesday takes place in the Stove Works parking lot in Inman Park. Meanwhile, Street Food Thursdays continues its delicious march down Peachtree Street. Originally in two locations — the Woodruff Arts Center plaza and the corner of 10th and Peachtree — it expanded to a third spot, at Seventh and Peachtree, earlier this month.

“We will do Street Food Thursdays until no one comes to them anymore,” vowed Tucker Berta, director of marketing and public relations at the Midtown Alliance, a sponsor of the event. “We will skate across the ice on the plaza to make it happen [in winter] if people still want it.”

Don’t sell some of these truckers and their devotion short. Second only to gasoline, social media is what drives Atlanta’s burgeoning street food phenomenon. From Yumbii and King of Pops to Munch Food Truck and Tamale Queen, nearly all of the trucks are on Facebook and Twitter, updating their locations and specials daily or hourly.

The conversation goes both ways:

“PLEASE come to Woodstock — SOON! We ARE part of the metro and have monthly concerts at the Woodstock Park,” one woman recently posted a Facebook plea to “Pinkie,” the rolling goody-mobile of Yum Yum Cupcakes.

Hail Caesar increasingly gets — and responds to — posted requests for its so-called Lettuce Wagon to pull into office complex parking lots and serve lunch.

On the day that Street Food Thursday expanded to three locations, the Woodruff plaza was packed with 12 food trucks and hordes of hungry people from nearby offices. While Amber Hunter settled on lobster rolls from the Souper Jenny truck and her co-worker decided to eat dessert first in the 94 degree heat (“It’s refreshing and melting,” Kate Dondero said of her orange basil popsicle from King of Pops), others checked their smart phones for info on what trucks were at the other locations. And who was serving what, where.

Some truly wanted to be in the know. Yet others might be afraid of getting left out, suggested Justin Oh, a social media strategist who was one of 30 people in line at the Tex’s Tacos truck around noon.

“Social media helps you create a sense of scarcity and temporariness,” said Oh, who’d come with a handful of co-workers from 22squared advertising agency in the Proscenium Building. “Now it’s not only about the food, but also about catching it before it’s gone. It’s like a game in some ways.”

If so, Beverly Sims found herself drawn to play. This was her third consecutive week at Street Food Thursday, but her first time at Tex’s Tacos.

“I want to see why there’s such a long line,” Sims shrugged, smiling slightly. “So now I’m in line.”

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