By Andrew Gaug | News-Press Now
Three food trucks. Three different ideas. Three chances to bring a popular way of selling food to the masses to St. Joseph.
You may have seen one of them at Felix Street Square, Kansas City Chiefs training camp, Parties on the Parkway or any number of festivals and fairs St. Joseph has had this spring and summer. Expect to see more soon.
Aimed at different audiences, The Truck Stop, Cravings and Jeff’s Snow Top Soft Serve combine to cover all of the bases. All of them are surprised no one thought of this sooner.
“In St. Joe, we’re slow to embrace anything and slow to take a chance on anything new or out of the ordinary,” Lance Taylor, co-owner of The Truck Stop, says. “We just kept waiting on something to happen. Like somebody’s going to do a food truck and they’re going to do it well. We just decided to open one of our own.”
Serving everything from hoagies and hot dogs to enchiladas, depending on what appears on the often-rotating menu of items, The Truck Stop opened in the spring and immediately saw its business take off, with it becoming a staple at Chiefs training camp.
A former restaurant at the East Hills Shopping Center, Cravings owners Dana Wilson and Nick Smith learned early about the importance of cultivating an audience and, more importantly, keeping it.
Working concessions since she was 16, Ms. Wilson says it’s always been a love of hers. Now able to take her mobile kitchen on the road to sell her popular hand-breaded tenderloin, hand-cut curly fries, funnel cakes and freshly-squeezed lemonade, she and Mr. Smith have rarely been more satisfied.
“I did this before out of a tent … and it was a disaster. It was just a lot more work hauling it and loading it, so now, with everything being in the trailer, I have a commercial kitchen that I can take with me,” she says.
Both Mr. Taylor and Ms. Wilson agree that a food truck is the way to go for them. They’re not anchored to a building, pay no money in rent and don’t have to deal with an establishment’s seasonal business fluctuation.
“You can control your overhead. You can afford to take those steps to make sure things taste better when you’re not paying all that rent and all that kitchen equipment,” Mr. Taylor says.
The story of how each came to be is interesting. Cravings and newcomer Jeff’s Snow Top Soft Serve, which serves everything from Avalanches to sundaes with lactose-free ice cream, started because the owners wanted to try something new. All it took was two old bread trucks to start.
With its eye-catching purple truck, Jeff’s Snow Top Soft Serve got a used restaurant soft serve machine for a good deal and started heading out on the road.
“I saw an opportunity to get into the ice cream business and I thought ‘Huh? I might try that,’” owner Jeff Fjellman says.
A full-time janitor and employee for another company, Mr. Fjellman differs from his food truck co-horts since he’s relatively new to selling concessions and doesn’t have a lot of time to do it.
“The opportunity came up, and I’m always looking for a way to reach out, to give back to people,” he says. “Some day, I want to work for myself, and this is one of the ways I could dip my toe into that.”
With the help of Ms. Wilson and Mr. Taylor, Mr. Fjellman is slowly seeing his soft serve ice cream become a hit at places like Parties on the Parkway and at Lake Contrary. He says it’s still a learning experience, but one he’s happy to have.
“Next year, it should be better. I’m learning from observation,” he says.
As are the other food trucks as they try different things to draw in a bigger crowd. Following Chiefs camp, The Truck Stop will experiment with serving the late night bar crowd.
“There’s a handful of bars that do not have food. They are blowing up our phone,” Mr. Taylor says. “It gives them food, their customers don’t have to leave and go elsewhere, so we’ve been asked to do it and we’re going to give it a try.”
In addition to the truck and to continue the business when it gets cold, Cravings also will be doing catering soon so Ms. Wilson can continue working with and employing people from the St. Joseph Youth Alliance, a partnership she’s adamant about supporting.
Mr. Taylor says St. Joseph residents shouldn’t be surprised to see more food trucks on the streets and at events in St. Joseph next spring. For him, the more, the better.
“We want more food trucks to create that atmosphere that eating off of a food truck is safe. We don’t open the hood and cook off the engine,” he says. “We actually have cooking equipment that’s safe, and we want people to realize it.”