Quick, mobile and with an affordable menu, food trucks – clusters of them – have taken over the streets of Milwaukee.
Take-Out Tuesday in Schlitz Park and Food Truck Friday at Cathedral Square Park are just two of the gathering spots for the more than 15 different food trucks based in the Milwaukee area.
Stephanie Stumpf, a regular to Food Truck Friday, has her “truck of choice,” Fast Foodie. Fast Foodie is known for its Globacos – “global tacos,” each filled with international food items.
“I’ve tried almost everything on the menu,” Stumpf said. “But I usually get the Hahny Hanhy,” a mixture of Korean barbecue beef, rice and broccoli slaw.
Food trucks have been making the rounds in the Milwaukee area for years. But rather than wait for the vendors to stake out their own spots, clusters like the one organized by the East Town Association for Food Truck Friday are gaining traction.
Clusters typically have anywhere from three to 10 different trucks. With such a concentration of food options, hungry customers can find anything from crepes from Satellite Crepes to pita sandwiches from the Pita Brothers to grilled pork from the Hard Wood Café.
Fast Foodie owner Jackie Valent Lucca said the clusters create a scene that leads to better service.
“We all know each other and, at the end of the day, we’ve got to work together,” Valent Lucca said. “I’m not out here to play dirty.”
Tigerbite food truck owner W. Chang, who operates his truck with his fiancée Noel Ly, said it works better because Tigerbite operates differently from the other vendors with its signature Asian fusion options, like the PHO-nita taco.
“It is a great thing to flank in these different trucks,” said Scott Baitinger of Streetza Pizza, named “best food truck in the U.S.” by Bloomberg BusinessWeek. “ . . . It makes for a different dining experience.”
While the trucks are mobile, regulations require them to have a base kitchen to work from, with just the assembly and baking taking place in the truck. Chang said he prepares his non-processed food fresh each morning and evening.
“We work just as hard as anyone else,” Chang said. “It is all about the preparation. . . . We put a lot into it.”
The Hard Wood Café, the new truck on the block, started up six weeks ago. It is owned and operated by Craig and Debbie Forbes. Craig Forbes said the truck’s sleek appearance was modeled after a gypsy wagon, complete with a wooden exterior and a side porch where the grilling is done.
“We are both chefs and retired,” Craig said. “This is always something we wanted to do.”
Hard Wood Café was one of more than a dozen food trucks that took part in Mobile Days last week at Research Park at 10499 Innovation Drive in Wauwatosa. Mobile Days, which was launched this year, drew about 1,000 people for its first effort in May.
At last week’s Mobile Days, Sue Nieberle of New Berlin, a “slider connoisseur,” grabbed the super slider from Red Truck sliders, while her Mount Mary College co-worker, Eichelle Thompson, snatched up a gyro, her first in 20 years, from American Euros.
“The first time I had a bad experience,” Thompson said. “This completely changed me around.”
Most trucks open and close with the seasons – typically, they’re on the streets from April through November, depending on the weather – and do catering in the other months.
Streetza Pizza, on the other hand, hits the road year-round. With recipes for more than 200 types of pizza, Baitinger said he tries to go for the unexpected, as long as it’s edible – macaroni and cheese, crème brule or strawberry pizza encrusted in black pepper slices – and can be made ahead of time.
“We find stuff we like and throw it on,” Baitinger said. “It is a lot of experimentation. . . . We rely on our Twitter followers to give us suggestions, and we develop our menu based on what people tell us they like.”
Using social media is another tool that food truck owners use to let followers know where they are. And iPhone apps, such as Eat St., have tracking devices that monitor where a truck is located.
“At the end of the day, it’s not about making the money for me,” Fast Foodie’s Valent Lucca said. “I look at it as we are in the people business selling food, not in the food business selling to people.”