By Sandra Pedicini | OrlandoSentinel.com
Angela Jefferson didn’t know what to think when her brother e-mailed the photo of a bright yellow truck in a Citgo parking lot, calling itself the “Korean BBQ Taco Box.”
“I was like, ‘Is that real?’ I have to give it a try,” said Jefferson, 47, a medical technician from Orlando who added later that she enjoyed her first taste of food-truck fare.
Aspiring restaurant owners are setting up shop in parking lots all over Orlando, trying to mimic the food-truck scenes of Los Angeles and New York. They’re serving barbecue, gourmet salads, foie gras and cupcakes.
Just like regular restaurants, food trucks must get state licenses and inspections, and they also have to navigate a maze of local rules.
Cities such as Winter Park and Orlando will not allow the trucks in streetside parking spaces, for instance. That could pose a challenge to Joey Conicella, whose plan for his Yum Yum Cupcake Truck is to “feed the meter and move on our way.”
Steven Saelg, a former chef whose new Crooked Spoon serves burgers, salads and quesadillas, has been kicked out of a couple of spots by code enforcement and a property manager.
“I kind of went with the idea of, instead of asking permission, I’ll ask forgiveness,” he said.
Now he has started planning ahead, working out deals with property owners. Late last week, he had his trailer parked at a Chevron at Fern Creek Avenue and Colonial Drive, renting the space for $25 a day.
Local governments should encourage the trucks because they bring communities to life, said Chris Muller, dean of Boston University’s School of Hospitality Administration and a former University of Central Florida restaurant professor. “The streets should be full of them,” he said.
Tony Adams agrees. He owns a catering business called Big Wheel Provisions that he plans to expand with a food truck.
“The food-truck revolution is coming,” said Adams, trying to negotiate a lease for private space downtown. “Hopefully, Orlando is catching up.”
Jae You, who opened his Korean BBQ Taco Box last month, pays nearly $1,000 monthly for his Citgo spot at Colonial and Primrose drives. He’s considered working near UCF some days but fears moving around too much could keep him from building up a following.
So far, he’s not using social media. Other, more-mobile food trucks use Twitter and Facebook to advertise where they will be, though some vendors are skeptical that relying on social media will be a winning strategy for Central Florida.
“It’s all technology-based. I don’t think people are as savvy here as they are in L.A., with following Twitter and everything else,” Saelg said.
Food trucks started getting national attention after one called Kogi started tweeting its stops outside Los Angeles nightclubs a couple of years ago.
More low-profile food trucks have operated quietly for years along Orange Blossom Trail and State Road 50, serving pork kabobs, jerk chicken and chorizo during limited hours — often late at night or on weekends. And hot-dog stands have set up outside hardware stores for years.
Dean Watson ran a food truck on West Colonial Drive years ago before going into the business of converting trucks into restaurants on wheels. Lately, Watson said, business at his Triple D Mobile Fabrication has “spiked tremendously. I’m backed up two months right now. I’ve got people doing pizza trucks, Creole trucks, soul-food trucks. Anything you can think of.”
Budding restaurateurs buy trucks and trailers for a few thousand dollars at auctions or online. Some vehicles were used to prepare and sell food, but others come from other places such as delivery companies. The Yum Yum Cupcake Truck came from a prison. The trucks are loaded with fryers and fridges, stoves and sinks, and then hit the road.
Operators like the low startup costs and the ability to work their own schedules.
“We thought this would be a good way to get our name out there and not have the full-time commitment,” said Rob Nelson, whose family always enjoyed cooking and on New Year’s Eve launched the Red Eye BBQ truck.
Red Eye often serves food after 11 p.m., catering to people out at bars and clubs, and avoiding the ire of other restaurants.
Other trucks are working both lunchtime and late-night.
“There’s a whole host of chefs in this town that get off work at 11 o clock” and want some high-quality food, Adams said. “Where else can you get foie gras at 2 in the morning?”
Despite their challenges, the new food-truck owners think they can thrive. Some have talked about banding together to market themselves, or even clustering in the same place.
“It’s successful when it’s a culture,” Conicella said.