TAMPA, FL – Laid off from his job selling industrial pumps during the summer of 2011, engineer Todd Sturtz did what a lot of people would do. He decided to take some time off, relax around the house and contemplate his future before looking for another job.
That lasted three days.
By the end of the week, the 30-year-old food lover was launching a blog called “Tasting Tampa” and organizing food trucks for a rally at his church in South Tampa.
When word of the truck rally spread in August, local food lovers went wild with anticipation. And he’d found his job.
The 10-truck rally, held at Hyde Park Presbyterian in late September, drew an estimated 5,000 customers, filling nearby parking garages and clogging traffic on neighborhood streets. It was clear that Tampa hungered for the type of mobile gourmet food enjoyed in Orlando, Miami and other metropolitan cities across the country.
“I was fortunate to find another job that I loved so quickly, but it was like I had a fire hose running in both directions,” he says. “Once I announced the first one, people were coming out of the woodwork.”
That first event led to a half-dozen more rallies around the Bay area, spurring Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn to begin sponsoring regularly-scheduled truck fiestas in downtown parks and pushing St. Petersburg officials to change regulations prohibiting food trucks from operating in city limits.
Sturtz acknowledges bumps along the way, many of which came from inexperience.
“We have to make the trucks happy, the property owners happy and the attendees happy – they’re the most important part,” he says. “Usually, someone is going to end up not being ecstatic.”
After a rally in Tarpon Springs, for example, the trucks made money and attendees appeared to enjoy the variety of food, but downtown stores were unhappy about the loss of customers.
“It’s a lot to juggle, and you can’t please everyone,” Sturtz says. “I want the people to be happy and have a good variety of food.”
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