By Jere Downs | The Courier-Journal
For nearly two decades until 2011, Phil Goldsborough operated the Longshot Tavern on Frankfort Avenue, then gambled $40,000 to open hisLongshot Lobsta food truck in 2013.
For the first day of business, “we did a trolley hop on Frankfort Avenue and didn’t do anything. It was dead,” Goldsborough said. “I went home with my head in my hands. I thought I was in the wrong business.”
The next day Goldsborough parked in the Highlands and found fans of his $10 sandwich of fresh lobster salad on a butter Coney roll “all lined up. We had all these folks coming up to the trailer.”
By the end of last year, Goldsborough grossed $140,000 on lobster sandwiches and lobster bisque. While poor weather is the bane of every food trucker, the 54-year-old widower said he is making a living and enjoying his freedom from a lifetime behind the bar.
“It’s simple. It’s fast. You can feed people quick,” he said.
From a handful a few years ago, food trucks have become firmly established downtown in Louisville, where lunch seekers reliably find them weekdays on Fifth at Jefferson Streets, outside Slugger Field on Preston at Witherspoon or on Jackson near University Hospital. Online tracking also helps followers find their favorite eats, including Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, the websites of the Louisville Street Food Alliance, the Louisville Food Truck Association and the Courier-Journal’s Food Truck Louisvillewebpage and mobile app.
Wherever hungry people congregate, food truckers come out in force. You can find them at farmers markets, like the Douglass Loop Farmers Market on Bardstown Road at Douglass on Saturdays or the monthly Flea Off Market in NuLu at 1007 East Jefferson St. Many like MozziPi wood-fired pizza truck and Pollo, a gourmet fried chicken truck, also ply their trade at weddings and private events while some likeJGoodwins Fusion Grill find customers in suburban office parks.
Food truckers have also become crucial at festivals and at creating buzz around economic development. On Tuesday, Mayor Greg Fischer relied on food trucks to spur Fourth Street foot traffic for the opening of Guthrie Street between Chestnut Street and Muhammad Ali Boulevard. The lunchtime “Food Truck Roundup” on a formerly deserted 1970s plaza helped Guthrie Street become “an important venue for large outdoor events downtown,” said Rebecca Matheny, executive director of the Louisville Downtown Partnership.
Food truck fare has come a long way from the deep-frying caravans that hawk funnel cakes and fries at the Kentucky State Fair. Some food truckers still like their fryers and grills for their quickness, but explore that niche with hand cut fries at Black Rock Grille, the grass-fed beef hotdogs with kraut made from scratch at Red Top Gourmet Hotdogsor the home-cured pork at Lexie Lu’s.
Food trucks also serve up culinary diversity. You can find Korean-inspired tacos fromThe Traveling Kitchen and the Louisville Sushi Truck. The Sweet `N’ Savory food truck ladles local strawberries atop its gluten-free crepes or Kentucky basil and tomatoes inside its Caprese crepe. The orange V-Grits food truck serves southern-style comfort food, with rib-sticking “macaroni and cheese” and a vegan burger among the favorites.
Still, no one is getting rich inside the truck. A decent living can be had by attracting at least between 75 and 100 customers for lunch, or grossing between $700 and $1,500 for one run, many food truckers say.
For others, a food truck is a destination, like Get It On A Bun at Booty’s, a food truck since 2011 run by a couple that began with a hot dog cart in 1996.
“I’m on the street making money being called ‘Miss Booty’ all day long,” said Tammy Boutiette, co-owner of the truck and vice president of the Louisville Food Truck Association. “This is my bucket list for retirement.”
Food truckers sink money into their rigs. The most expensive food truck in Louisville isJohnny’s Diner Car, custom built for around $100,000 by industry experts who include the Food Network in their clientele.
For other entrepreneurs, a food truck remains a dream worth striving for. Shively’s Wand Cardine, 32, is a lifetime line cook turned caterer whose slogan is “Where you don’t get mad, you get fed up.”
Cardine runs a catering business serving wings, a turkey burger, shrimp Po’ Boy sandwich and fried fare from his home, for Brittony’s, the business named after his wife. Lately, Cardine has been selling candy door-to-door, delivering meals for a $10 donation and maxing out his credit cards to purchase $250 worth of deep fryers from Wal-Mart.
“I’ve been working fast food so much it came to the point I couldn’t do it no more,” said Cardine, who works from his apartment kitchen on Crums Lane. “My goal is not to give up.”
During his first term, Fischer streamlined city regulations to encourage food trucks’ development, said S. Brandon Coan, a lawyer who once served as a policy advisor. Food truckers abide by the same health department regulations as brick-and-mortar restaurants, carry insurance and are licensed by the city as mobile vendors. Along the way, two food truck associations sprang up. Now, some food trucks are lobbying for a food truck park of sorts, or “pod” as it is known in other cities. A city-sponsored location could provide toilets, seating, and hookups for electricity and water.
While those discussions have just begun, “a pod is the next logical step,” said Theresa M. Zawacki, senior policy adviser for city economic development.
For now, food trucks compete for parking spaces downtown, keeping in mind they can only park at one spot for 14 days, and cannot return there until 30 days have passed.
The rules “keep us mobile,” said Michele Metcalf, owner of the Lexie Lu’s food truck. “The biggest problem for food truckers are the customers who suffer when they can’t find us.”
Jere Downs can be reached at (502) 582-4669, @JereDowns on Twitter and Jere Downs on Facebook.
FIND THE TRUCKS
You can search for Louisville area food trucks on Facebook, Twitter, Yelp, or on their websites. The whereabouts of some food trucks are also reliably posted on the by the Louisville Street Food Allianceand Louisville Food Trucks Association. You can also find Louisville area food trucks in real time via the Courier-Journal’s food truck finder website and mobile app at www.FoodTruckLouisville.com