By Jennifer McClellan | AZCentral.com
Like an out-of-control house party, last year’s Street Eats Food Truck Festival was so popular that it was a disaster.
The inaugural festival at Salt River Fields was planned in a six-week period that included the holidays. The single-day event was expected to draw about 5,000 people. Organizers charged for parking, and opened only one lot at the complex, which is the spring-training home of the Arizona Diamondbacks. They also sold nearly 8,000 discount tickets through online deal sites.
The result was a cluster of 20,000 people, hourlong lines for food at the trucks and to get a drink (trucks couldn’t sell beverages). And a few trucks sold out early.
“We’ll be the first to admit that, operationally, we could have done better,” said Aaron Studebaker, director of sales and marketing for Salt River Fields, which will host the festival again this weekend.
“(Now) we are ready for the crowds,” he said. “We want to show people we have made adjustments. We have another year under the belt and have hosted events similar to this.”
As an example, he pointed to the Arizona Taco Festival, which moved to the complex in October and had an attendance of 22,000. The venue also has hosted Oktoberfest, a barbecue festival and a hot-air balloon event.
Studebaker said other adjustments include adding a second day, making parking free and opening more lots, limiting ticket sales, allowing trucks to sell water and soda, moving away from a cash point-of-sale system, and nearly doubling the number of food trucks.
“It’s a brand-new event,” he said.
Also, he worked more closely with the Phoenix Street Food Coalition, which has a proven equation to figure out how much food is needed per truck to serve 20,000 people.
This year, visitors will buy $2 food and drink tickets at tents throughout the festival. Trucks will have a limited menu and charge a number of tickets for each item, rather than a dollar amount. The same tickets can be used for drinks and at the bar tents.
More than 45 trucks from around the nation are scheduled to participate, including Chuckie’s from Iowa and San Diego’s Devilicious, which was on Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.”
Arizona trucks include Satay Hut (Dutch-Indonesian grilled meats), Short Leash Hot Dogs, J-Licious Tacos, Island Loco and Old Dixie’s.
A cooking stage will feature demonstrations from chefs and TV food personalities. Geoffrey Zakarian of “Top Chef America” will take the stage at 1 p.m. Saturday, and Adam Richman of “Man v. Food” at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Valley resident Erika Monroe-Williams and her husband, former Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Matt Williams, will demonstrate how to make simple small dishes for Super Bowl parties.
Monroe-Williams is the personality behind the Hopeless Housewife website (thehopelesshousewife.com). Later this month, she will appear on a national prime time cooking competition (she signed a contract and can’t talk about it yet) and is writing a cookbook due out at the end of the year.