By Ty Beaver | The Tri-City Herald
Good news for food truck fanatics: Food Truck Friday in downtown Pasco is here to stay — at least through August.
But, organizers say, if you know of any food trucks, send ’em their way.
The overall demand for grab and go fare is booming, but it’s been difficult to bring in new trucks with different cuisine. Officials are hoping a proposed extension of Food Truck Fridays into the evening and an outreach effort to recruit new vendors will keep the event, and the Tri-City food truck culture, going strong.
Food Truck Fridays began March 6 as a 12-week pilot program orchestrated by Pasco Specialty Kitchen, the Downtown Pasco Development Authority and Pasco Farmer’s Market with five vendors offering meals between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the market at Columbia Street and Fourth Avenue.
It has since grown to eight vendors offering barbecue, cajun creole, sweets and Asian fusion. The program has generated $50,000 in gross sales for the participating trucks, allowing them to maintain weekly sales of $500 to $700.
“The problem we’ve run into is we have created a monster,” said Marilou Shea, director of the Pasco Specialty Kitchen. “These businesses are now all booked.”
Calls from customers to add more to the event, from tacos to pizza, haven’t gone unheard, she said, but efforts to address them haven’t been fruitful.
Part of the issue is some trucks aren’t operating fully within state rules, Shea said, and they must to be part of Food Truck Friday. But the larger issue is availability. Many vendors have contractual or lease agreements for their current locations and can’t move. Even if they aren’t required to stay put, many fear pulling up roots where they have regular business.
“I can’t move because I’ll lose my customers,” said Kai Phengsavanh, owner of Kindra’s Wok ‘N Roll. Her truck is based near the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory campus in north Richland.
Organizers said they hope to stimulate sales and increase the number of vendors by adding evening hours. Phengsavanh said her truck will be joining that effort as evenings are more available for bookings for her business. The different hours also could bring in a different clientele that hasn’t been tapped yet.
Pasco Specialty Kitchen also will offer a Mobile Vending University beginning May 29. The five-week program is meant to show the ins and outs of the industry, including obtaining a truck and how to streamline daily operations, all an attempt to grow the base of vendors.
She is asking people to weigh in on the evening hours expansion and other ways to grow the event on Pasco Specialty Kitchen’s Facebook page.
“We are trying to build the pipeline,” she said.
But that effort could take some time.
Phengsavanh said she loves having a food truck because it gives her flexibility to spend time with her kids and spares her the expense of staffing a restaurant. She’s even expanding, adding a second trailer that will offer pastries, smoothies and bubble tea in the coming weeks.
But running a food truck isn’t a cake walk, she said, as promoting it via social media, prepping food for meals and looking at ways to improve the business makes it a full-time gig.
“I know there’s a demand but there’s a lot of hard work involved,” she said. “People think you work 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. That’s not it.”