By Ray Reyes | The Tampa Tribune
TAMPA — In a heavyweight bout of duelling food truck rallies, Miami jabbed first but Tampa today delivered the knockout blow.
Ninety-nine food trucks rolled into the Florida State Fairgrounds on Saturday, shattering a Guiness world record of 62 trucks that gathered in one spot in Miami earlier this year.
Tampa’s event, dubbed “The World’s Largest Food Truck Rally,” lived up to its billing, organizers said.
“This is awesome,” Jeremy Gomez, owner of promotion company Generation Food Truck, said amid rows of colorful trucks hawking barbecue, cupcakes and gourmet sandwiches. “I love this, man.”
Gomez, who also runs the Not Your Ordinary Food Truck, which serves kangaroo on stick and antelope burgers, even had a little smack talk for rival city Miami.
“This is nothing special,” he said about Saturday’s epic, record-breaking truck rally. “I knew it was going to happen.”
The event, co-sponsored by the Florida State Fair Authority, The Tampa Tribune, radio station 98Rock and others, started at 8:45 a.m. in downtown Tampa.
Mayor Bob Buckhorn rang a dinner bell, announcing to food truck operators that they could start their engines and fire up their kitchens. The parade of 99 trucks then wound through downtown streets to eastbound Interstate 4, and onward toward the fairgrounds.
“That was a bit hair-raising,” Mary Miller, owner of London Fish and Chippy, said with a laugh about the drive from downtown.
Miller said most of the food trucks stuck close together on I-4, driving at steady speeds. The long line of rolling restaurants seemed to annoy motorists in smaller vehicles who wanted to drive faster, she said.
Miller, from the Central Florida city of Eustis, said she just was happy to make it to the rally.
“This is a great event,” she said.
It’s also a family affair, with most of the entrepreneurs related to each other. The matriarch or patriarch developed recipes; brothers and sisters cooked food; and sons and daughters worked cash registers.
Rivalries with other cities aside, operators said their food truck business strengthened familial bonds.
Bob Barnett of Red Zeppelin Rockin’ Lobster Roll, said his mother, Robyn Rahman, had scores of recipes for lobster macaroni and cheese, lobster bisque and lobster sandwiches. Rahman told her son she had an idea and a niche product and the family’s lobster food truck was born.
“She said to me, ‘You never listened to me your whole life, but listen to me now,’” Barnett of Clermont said. “She said she was tired of retirement. I built motorcycles. But I love this.”
Lizzie McComas of LizzieCakes said she considered a brick-and-mortar bakery, but told her husband that her pastries — brownies, dessert empanadas and her signature cookie pies — would be a hit if served out of a food truck.
“I convinced him that we weren’t in debt,” said McComas, of New Port Richey. “I wanted to get to people who couldn’t come to me.”
Miller said disagreements with relatives inevitably occur, even in the food truck businesses.
“Oh, we get into terrible rows,” Miller said about her daughter, Ashlie Vazquez. “She threw butter at me. I threw a piece of fish at her.”
Customer Mike Rivera was impressed with Saturday’s rally. An unabashed food truck fan, Rivera said he and his family were ready to sample as many dishes as they could.
“A lot of people don’t understand the food that comes off these trucks is phenomenal,” he said. “It’s restaurant-quality.”
The event runs until 8 p.m. today at the Florida Fairgrounds.