Louisville, KY : Food Trucks Go Beyond Curbside Service

Credit Linda Golden

By Ashlee Clark Thompson | WFPL.com

Credit Linda Golden
Credit Linda Golden

One food truck couldn’t contain the plans Matt Davis had for Lil Cheezers Gourmet Grilled Cheesemobile.

Davis took to the Louisville streets in a Velveeta-yellow truck in 2011, selling creative takes on the classic grilled cheese sandwich to office workers, club kids and curious passers-by. In less then 18 months, Davis has established a brick-and-mortar restaurant, too.

“The idea was not to put all the eggs in the Lil Cheezers (truck) basket,” Davis said.

Davis is among a budding crop of food truck owners who have expanded their businesses beyond selling out of the side their vehicles. Morels Vegan Food Truck was one of the first food trucks to appear in Louisville in 2011, but mobile operations have ended – its owners now focus on selling retail vegan items under the name Morels the Vegan Butcher. Grind, a food truck that specializes in gourmet hamburgers, has begun to sell take-home veggie patties off the truck and in partnership with Grasshoppers CSA. A stationary location is in Grind’s future plans, and other food trucks could also explore the idea.

“Now that Matt Davis at Lil Cheezers is pulling it off, more trucks will probably look into it,” said Jesse Huot, who owns and operates Grind with his wife, Liz.

Davis didn’t want to limit Lil Cheezers to four wheels and pavement – he explored options such as franchising or opening a common kitchen in which the growing number of food truck operators in the city could do their prep work. Then a prime Highlands location became available earlier this year when Jamie’s 14K Cupcakes closed its storefront at 938 Baxter Avenue. Davis has since opened and operated a Lil Cheezers five-table restaurant in that space in addition to operating the original food truck.

“We decided to transition because the right property opened at the right time,” he said.

Davis also plans to debut a second truck in the first week of January 2013 pending health inspections and permitting.

“When all these things are firing on all cylinders, the business model looks delicious,” Davis said.

Davis said he sees the Lil Cheezers food trucks as “satellite branches” of the restaurant. With a lower overhead and increased mobility, the trucks provide an opportunity to test new concepts and change course – or location – quickly if something doesn’t work.

“Food trucks are the new restaurants,” he said.