College students heading back to campus may notice some culinary changes. As food trucks become more popular among the college set, some on-campus dining programs are fighting outside competition by launching their own mobile eateries.
Savanna Harvard, a senior at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, was a regular customer last spring at Brothers Street Eats, an independent Cajun-style food truck that had permission to park on campus. “It was a nice change from the dining-hall food I usually had,” Ms. Harvard says. “I liked the shrimp po’boy and gumbo the best.”
Then, in April the university ejected Brothers Street Eats from campus. In its place, the university will debut its own truck called La Lola Loca next month, offering foods like chipotle BBQ pulled pork and chicken tinga with pineapple.
Virginia Johnson, the university’s associate vice president for auxiliary services, says Brothers Street Eats was invited on campus only for a trial period to gauge student interest in food-truck dining. “Having a truck of our own gives us the flexibility to respond directly to our students, rather than working with off-campus vendors to address student requests,” says Ms. Johnson.
College officials say running their own food trucks brings in more revenue for the universities. They also can tailor menus to fit the student body. The University of Texas at Dallas plans to debut its first food truck this fall, featuring a fusion menu of Asian, Indian and Mediterranean cuisines to reflect the school’s large number of international students, who make up 19% of the student body.
Aramark Corp. and Bon Appétit Management Co., two companies that manage food services for universities, say they have seen an increase in demand for college-run food trucks, especially as a way to offer late-night dining options and serve remote areas of campus. Aramark says it will add nine more university-run food trucks this fall, and Bon Appétit says it will add five.
In total, nearly 100 colleges have their own university-run food trucks, compared with only about a dozen five years ago, according to the National Association of College and University Food Services, which represents about 550 higher education institutions in the U.S. and Canada.
Many universities don’t allow outside food trucks to come onto campus. But some, like the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, grant limited access to select independent vendors. MIT, in Cambridge, Mass., doesn’t take a cut of the vendors’ revenue or profit, but charges a flat rate for the trucks to park.
Kaicheng Liang, a second-year graduate student in electrical engineering at MIT, eats at food trucks nearly every day. Some days he walks more than 25 minutes just to dine at the trucks. “Food on campus is so limited, so everyone goes to food trucks. You’ll see grad students lining up for an hour to get food,” he says.
Mr. Liang’s favorite is Momogoose, an Asian fusion truck, and he usually orders ga nuong, a Vietnamese dish with lemon-grass-infused grilled chicken. Timing is important for lunch, he says. “The latest I go is 12. At 12:30, it’s crazy busy. By 12:45, they can run out,” he says.
The University of Washington sidestepped competition by launching several of its own food trucks in 2010, early on in the food truck frenzy. About once a week, Thamar Theodore, a junior at the Seattle university, stops at the Hot Dawgs truck and treats herself to a “Seattle dawg,” a hot dog topped with cream cheese and grilled onions. The wait is long, but the food is worth it, she says.
“Even if it’s raining, I’ll see long lines. People will wait for those dogs,” Ms. Theodore says.
The University of Washington’s three food trucks—Hot Dawgs, Motosurf and Red Square BBQ—have exclusive access to the college clientele, though the university still gets requests for access from outside vendors. “People want to bring their falafel trucks, their taco trucks, their pie trucks, their ice creams—but we already have our trucks,” says Andrea Benson, general manager and head chef for the university’s food trucks.
Some universities that run their own food trucks allow students to pay for meals by swiping their dining-hall I.D. cards, but other colleges haven’t yet installed that technology. Even universities that allow independent food trucks on campus sometimes let them collect dining-hall dollars from students.
Laura Hall, of Durham, N.C., has owned and operated two on-campus eateries at Duke University. This year, she decided not to renew one of her contracts on campus and is instead launching her own food truck with the same name, Refectory on the Go, which will serve fare like oatmeal, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.
Although Ms. Hall won’t be parking the truck on campus, she still expects to draw large numbers of students heading to and from classes. And, she says, her food truck won’t have to pay fees to the university. “At the end of the day, I didn’t want to be under the dining services’ control,” Ms. Hall says.
Many students may not be aware whether their favorite food truck is run by the college dining program or by an outside vendor. At the University of California, Riverside, the Culinary Chameleon, a bright green food truck launched in January that regularly changes its menu, doesn’t advertise itself as college-run. “I don’t think most students realize that dining services is running the truck,” says David Henry, director of residential dining.
Jordon Warren, co-owner of Brothers Street Eats, says he tried to keep his customers after being kicked off the Alabama campus. “We would stay as close to campus as we could given the [Tuscaloosa city] regulations,” he says. “We couldn’t be on campus or within 120 feet of an existing restaurant’s front door.” Still, Brothers Street Eats, which was launched last year, recently shut down as sales dwindled.
“I loved the food at Brothers Street Eats,” says Ms. Harvard, the University of Alabama student. “I’d eat there about once a week on my way to class.” But loyalty only goes so far. “It doesn’t make a difference to me who owns the trucks. All I want is fast service and good food,” she says.
Read more: http://ow.ly/d8CZ5