By Ashley Primis | Philadelphia Inquirer
A rainy, windy forecast is a day to sleep in for many food truck owners. But the weather didn’t deter Jonah Fliegelman, Nathan Winkler-Rhoades, and Eric Hilkowitz, the owners of Pitruco, a two-month-old, Ferrari-red pizza truck, from serving lunch recently at 33d and Arch Streets, one of their regular spots. (Eric gets there at 8:30 a.m. to snag the space.)
Jonah called out to a customer, “Would you like an umbrella? We have some you can borrow.” He turned back to manning the truck’s centerpiece, a wood-fired oven where pizzas puff up to golden goodness.
On a day like this, they’ll be lucky if they serve 60 pies, says Winkler-Rhoades. In the world of food trucking, it’s just one of the many unknowns they battle daily.
Food carts and trucks have been a part of Philadelphia’s dining landscape for decades – traditionally serving egg sandwiches, Chinese food, and cheesesteaks.
But since 2009, following a national trend, about two dozen new-breed truckers have rolled onto the scene, entrepreneurs serving highbrow foodstuffs like espressos and duck tacos. In fact, efforts are under way to organize an association of this new wave of trucks, to collectively lobby for their interests. (See accompanying story.) In cities like L.A. and Portland, Ore., where the mobile truck scene is thriving, a strong infrastructure helps hopefuls navigate the system and obtain affordable goods.
“Food trucks are a burgeoning, vibrant fun part of Philadelphia’s scene. . . . We do everything we can to encourage innovative businesses like this to open and grow in our city,” says Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger, a self-professed frequent food truck patron.
As with many aspects of the food industry, the romantic appeal often overshadows the rough reality. It is physically and financially challenging work. Some trucks – like Latin Farmer, Tyson Bees, and Coup de Taco – have closed after a short run, making it hard to tell if this is a viable industry or a short-lived trend.
For many fledgling truckers, a mobile eatery is a recession-friendly step toward restaurant ownership. But that doesn’t mean start-up and operating costs are low.