By Ryan Raiche | ABC Action News
LAKELAND, Fla. – Restaurant owners were skeptical a year ago when Lakeland decided to hold food truck rallies once a month in downtown.
All they could think about what stiff competition.
“I don’t think anybody liked it, as far as all the business owners and restaurant owners. We were kind of worried about it taking business away from us,” said Giovanni Moriello, Owner of Palace Pizza.
His logic seemed on target — thousands of people flocking to trendy food trucks could kill his pizza-loving crowds.
But it didn’t.
“We started seeing that every time there was a food truck rally we would get more busy,” he said.
Black and Brew noticed the same trend, also opposite what the owner originally feared.
“Actually from the very first food truck rally we experienced a big influx in business,” said Owner Chris McArthur.
He estimates they saw a 30-percent boost in business the night of the first rally a year ago, and it’s been keeping steady ever since.
Part of impact is from people who don’t want to wait in long lines or want a beverages or desserts that many of the food trucks don’t offer.
The food truck rallies also bring thousands of people who walk through downtown. Many of them notice restaurants they haven’t seen before, so they end up bringing the family back the night night.
“You’re exposing people to downtown and you’re giving them the opportunity to stumble upon your business while they’re down here,” McArthur said.
The food truck rallies take place the second Thursday of every month. As many as 25 food trucks from around central Florida line the streets downtown.
It’s become so popular even Moriello, who was once skeptical of food trucks, built one of his own.
“The concept is that it has a brick oven on the truck. It was custom made by a friend of mine who put in the truck. Lakeland doesn’t have a brick oven pizza right now,” he said.
For the first time in Lakeland, Palace Pizza will have its new truck up and running during the next food truck rally in January.