Kansas City, MO: Social Media, Foodies Drive KC Food Trucks’ Success

Kansas City Food Truck Association Brandon Simpson, owner of Jazzy B's, started his food truck three years ago. But since forming Kansas City Food Truck Association in January, he and other owners are seeing tremendous growth. He said he loves the ability to take his unique flavors to different areas of Kansas City, and says for that reason, he's hesitant to open a brick-and-mortar location. Try his cinnamon fries or "Armadilla Eggs" — which aren't what they seem.

By   |  Business Journals

Kansas City Food Truck Association Brandon Simpson, owner of Jazzy B's, started his food truck three years ago. But since forming Kansas City Food Truck Association in January, he and other owners are seeing tremendous growth. He said he loves the ability to take his unique flavors to different areas of Kansas City, and says for that reason, he's hesitant to open a brick-and-mortar location. Try his cinnamon fries or "Armadilla Eggs" — which aren't what they seem.
Kansas City Food Truck Association
Brandon Simpson, owner of Jazzy B’s, started his food truck three years ago. But since forming Kansas City Food Truck Association in January, he and other owners are seeing tremendous growth. He said he loves the ability to take his unique flavors to different areas of Kansas City, and says for that reason, he’s hesitant to open a brick-and-mortar location. Try his cinnamon fries or “Armadilla Eggs” — which aren’t what they seem.

You’ve probably seen them outside Sprint Center during a packed concert or huddled outside art galleries in the Crossroads Arts District on First Fridays.

It’s a trend that’s catching on. In January, foodie entrepreneurs from all over the metro banded together to form the Kansas City Food Truck Association, and now they’re starting to pop up at big events.

And Friday, the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce’s genKC organization is hopping on the food truck bandwagon in hopes it will help it host its biggest event yet.

Friday marks the fifth anniversary of GenKC, a program that aims to attract, retain and foster the professional development of 20 to 30-year-olds in the Kansas City area through networking, community service and other events. Event chair and genKC spokeswoman Kimberly Fry is trying to create a festival-like outdoor event at City Market to bring in a record number of attendees on Friday.

“Food trucks are a bit trendy right now, so we’re hoping it will make for a fun and light atmosphere,” Fry said.

Interestingly enough, owners of food trucks within the organization, like Jazzy B’s owner Brandon Simpson, aren’t looking to own a traditional restaurant. When he was laid off, he needed a quick money-maker. He had been cooking for years, and though the idea of opening a restaurant sounded enticing, he wanted to escape the risk of being stationary.

“I wanted to be able to move around Kansas City and let people try my version of barbecue,” Simpson said. “Had I gone with a brick-and-mortar location, it would have taken longer for greater Kansas City to get a taste of what I do.”

Developing a following is tough for someone who is always on the move. However, Simpson has started to see people who have tracked him down for more.

And while Simpson considers himself a “vet” just three years into his operation, he says Kansas City has been slow to catch onto the trend. Other cities like Austin, Dallas and Indianapolis have parks dedicated solely to food trucks, where business is “outrageous,” Simpson says.

Collective value

Right now, KCFTA only teams up as a herd of independently-owned food trucks regularly during First Fridays at 21st and Wyandotte streets in the Crossroads Arts District, and weekends in the West Bottoms. It also just announced a “Food Truck Invasion” every Thursday in the BMO Harris Bank parking lot at 11th and Walnut streets. At the moment, they’re the only places with room to park — an issue the association is addressing with the City Council.

But Simpson said the food trucks provide a huge catering benefit that restaurants just can’t match: variety. And though at big events the trucks sit side by side, Simpson said neighboring competition is no cause for concern.

“It’s more of a brotherhood: everyone wants to see everyone succeed,” Simpson said.

The association works together at its events to ensure all of the trucks’ price points are similar. Not only that, but approaching the city with space and parking issues as a group is much more effective, he said.

“A bigger unity is the biggest voice you can have.”

KCFTA relies heavily on social media to let the public know about trucks’ whereabouts.

To find the food trucks, iPhone users can use a locally developed app called Truckily.Facebook and Twitter users can also find members of the Kansas City Food Truck Association, or visit the organization’s website.

The Food Truck Festival at City Market for genKC’s anniversary will be held Friday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tickets are $20 for non-members and are still available on the organization’s website.

http://www.bizjournals.com/kansascity/news/2013/06/18/kc-food-trucks-thrive-off-social.html