By Don Bolding | Waco Trib
Organizers and vendors at the second Texas Food Truck Showdown were better prepared this year for the crowds that overwhelmed the inaugural festival last year, Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce officials said.
Organizers said this year’s turnout likely would match the estimated 9,000 hungry people that led to confusion and sold-out vendors last year. This time around, the festival was ready.
Last year, food trucks were concentrated around Heritage Square, but the 38 trucks this year expanded into the ALICO building’s parking lot, with Fourth Street closed between Washington and Austin avenues.
An army of 350 volunteers helped shepherd waiting people into orderly queues, and vendors arranged for a smooth flow of food served at a steady pace with enough stock to avoid running out.
The trucks offered a wide variety of international foods as well as American classics.
The day’s activities were split into daytime and evening events, chamber spokeswoman Julina Macy said. The trucks served snack-type portions from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. after an early-morning “celebrity judging,” and attendees got to vote on the best in each of several categories.
Then after an hour’s rest and announcement of winners, the vendors opened back up with full menus, and attendees ate dinner and listened to music. This year, the AC/DC tribute band Back in Black from Dallas performed.
The champion of the showdown, for the second year, was Chef Tai’s Mobile Bistro, owned by Tai Lee, of College Station, who also has three brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Lee serves Oriental dishes with American touches to the recipes, he said.
“I wasn’t at all confident of winning when we started in the morning,” Lee said. “But it started looking better up in the day. I’m grateful to the people for choosing us again.”
Other winners were Holy Frijole of Fort Worth, chosen for Best International Dish with Mexican and other Latin American food; Rock’n Roller’z Roll’n Grill of Buffalo Gap, with the Best Between Bun award; The Great Australian Meatpie Co. of Plano, with the Most Unique award; The Dream Kitchen of Dallas, with the Best Dessert award; and Billy Bob’s Burgers of Killeen, with the People’s Choice award.
Eight of the trucks this year were local. The rest came from around the state.
“Last year we just underestimated the growing popularity of food trucks, and the festival fell on a beautiful day between two rainy spells. It was just a perfect storm. This year, we knew,” Macy said.
Johnny Bokupil of C & J Catering in Temple said he took note of the festival’s better organization this year and made better preparations himself.
“Last year we ran out of chipotle wings and had to dip into our evening menu during the afternoon and then ran out of that halfway through the evening,” Bokupil said. “Patrons sometimes couldn’t tell which line they were in. This year, everybody planned a lot better.”
Another feature was water bottles that were sold once and refilled at no charge.
The festivities also featured an area with children’s activities, a collection of about a dozen arts and crafts vendors and a series of performances by Twiggy, a squirrel who mounts tiny water skis behind a remote-controlled boat. A crowd of hundreds clustered around the portable pool dubbed “Twiggy’s Lagoon” for the last of six shows and watched the little creature swim to catch the skis and then hold on, tail held high, while the boat did laps.
Trainer Lou Ann Best, of Sanford, Florida, said this Twiggy, the latest of nine, is a descendant of a baby squirrel rescued after a hurricane threw it to the ground years ago. The Twiggy squirrels have made several national media appearances.
The chamber recruited a volunteer force 10 times the size of last year’s. Volunteer Jamie Brooks, of China Spring, working at a booth to register and assist other volunteers, said some who signed up did not show up, but others brought friends and family who hadn’t signed up in advance, “so it’s all evened out.”
Besides keeping the food lines in order, they sold tickets redeemed for samples at the trucks, helped make sure vendors had everything needed to operate and helped keep the grounds clean.
“I just enjoy giving back to the community,” Brooks said. “I think we all do.”