The food truck fad appears to have found a comfortable home in the Atlanta suburbs.
Communities around metro Atlanta have reported that thousands of people have taken part in food truck events during the summer and fall in order to check out the trucks’ unique fare and socialize with neighbors.
This year, Dunwoody held a popular weekly event in Brook Run Park known as “Food Truck Thursdays.” Brookhaven liked the idea and followed suit with its “Food Truck Roundup” on Wednesdays in Blackburn Park.
Sandy Springs has offered food trucks during its ArtSSpring festival, and Buckhead is home to the Atlanta Food Truck Park on Howell Mill Road, where people can go to find food trucks any day of the week.
For those who’ve somehow missed them, food trucks are large vans outfitted as mobile restaurants. They’re known for offering inexpensive, international and upscale food – things like lamb burgers, Asian-style tacos or gourmet popsicles.
Bettie Cagle of Red Bird Events created Smyrna’s food truck event last year and was one of the organizers of Dunwoody’s Food Truck Thursdays. Cagle said the food trucks bring something unique to the suburban communities.
“In town, there are events going on every day. The trucks are very available in the city,” Cagle said. “We’re giving people a destination and opportunity for a community event. I think that’s why it’s been so big. It’s been so much fun.”
When Cagle first pitched the idea of the Smyrna event, some of the food truck operators were skeptical, she said. But the crowds have been great since the first night.
“Now that we’ve seen that it works, there is no hesitation at all,” Cagle said. “This formula of great food and music and community is working all over metro Atlanta.”
In addition to the crowds, food trucks find it’s often easier to obtain permits to operate in smaller cities, Cagle said.
“In the city of Atlanta, you may have to get three permits for one location. In the suburbs, you need a valid health permit and a business license in the city,” Cagle said. “In Dunwoody, that process only took 20-30 minutes maximum. It’s very simple.”
Brookhaven’s Communications Director Megan Matteucci said the city initially started the food truck programs this fall as a way to celebrate Brookhaven’s parks.
“When we first started them, we knew they were popular in other communities. But weren’t sure what kind of turnout we would have in Brookhaven,” Matteucci said. “We’ve been overwhelmed by the turnout. Each night, the trucks served between 2,000 and 3,000 meals. We’re pretty happy with that.”
Matteucci said in addition to the food, Brookhaven offered music and kids’ activities as a way to bring residents out to the park. Brookhaven held its last Food Truck Roundup of the season Oct. 30. Matteucci said the city is planning to continue the programs next year, beginning in the spring.
Bill Grossman, secretary of the Dunwoody Homeowners Association, said his organization is known for sponsoring popular seasonal community events like the city’s Fourth of July Parade and Light Up Dunwoody. Food truck nights offered something different each week from May through October.
“We started it off the last day of school with, I think, six trucks. We immediately had a huge crowd the first night. The only complaint we got was ‘the lines are too long, add more trucks,’” Grossman said.
Grossman said the events also attracted lots of young families and people he’d never seen at other Dunwoody gatherings. The combination of the park, music and food seemed to work well, he said.
“When the weather’s nice and the musical act’s good, it’s almost magical,” Grossman said.
But city-sponsored food truck nights aren’t universally beloved. At Brookhaven town hall meetings, some residents complained that the programs made traffic worse on Ashford-Dunwoody Road. And some local businesses don’t like that the city is promoting the mobile restaurants that drive in from elsewhere.
Bill Brown, owner of There Brookhaven, said he thinks the city should support local businesses, too.
“I’m not anti food truck,” Brown said. “I don’t look at it as competition at all. I’m old school, and I believe business gets business. However, if the city chooses something to support and promote, there’s a lot of independent business owners in the city that aren’t getting that kind of tweets and support.”
Cagle said she tries to find ways to incorporate local businesses into the events. For example, in Duluth, she said, one of the Mexican restaurants has a table at the event to sell margaritas.
“We’re working to really promote local businesses as well as our events,” Cagle said. “I don’t want to come in and take someone else’s business. We’re finding additional ways to promote the businesses as well as allowing them to be part of our event.”
Cagle said she believes the best part of the food truck events is that they foster a sense of community and encourage residents to get to know one another by spending the evening in the park.
“That’s what people are doing – they’re not grabbing food and leaving. They’re making it a whole night event,” Cagle said.