The Original Food Trucks
LOS ANGELES, CA - It’s not the kind of question you ask in public, but: Would you eat from a plain white catering truck?
While perusing the menu of a fancy green-and-orange food truck parked near Warner Bros. Studios in Burbank on a recent afternoon, a man in a button-down shirt and slacks pauses, then says, “No.”
Another admits, “I don’t care. I just want good food!”
Good for him. Because, unbeknownst to either of these customers, until last summer the trendy-looking Prime Time Cuisine on Wheels was a typical taco truck, not a Twitter-hyped “food truck.” It served a dozen daily stops at factories and construction sites — the sort of truck that might get called, unfairly, “roach coach.”
“You want-a-salsa?” Lucy Granados asks with a Spanish accent, as she hands a white food container through the pick-up window to a customer wearing designer sunglasses.
At 47, Granados has been working on food trucks nearly half her life. The Mexican immigrant and her husband, Solomon, bought one for $30,000 cash 10 years ago. Last summer, they spent $5,000 more on new tires, engine work and the type of custom wrap that shouts “gourmet.”
“Our business was suffering. Most of our customers earned minimum wage and didn’t even want to pay $2 for a taco,” Granados says. “We knew wrapping the truck would get us into organized events and introduce us to a new clientele.”
The Los Angeles County Health Department tallies about 6,000 permitted catering trucks. About 200 are gourmet: snazzy vehicles dishing up (mostly) fusion food, with a strong online presence. But the vast majority are run by Mexican or Central American immigrants — native Spanish speakers, disconnected from technology.
In the ocean of catering trucks flooding Los Angeles streets, Prime Time Cuisine on Wheels is a rarity. Few traditional trucks have gone gourmet.
“For some, the digital divide is so strong,” says Erin Glenn, CEO of La Asociación de Loncheros. “Just because social media may work for one group doesn’t always mean it’ll work for another. Just because this is happening doesn’t necessarily mean it’s better. It’s just another form of doing business.”
The gourmet food truck business model exploded in 2009. Kogi Korean BBQ pioneer Roy Choi used social media to bring crowds. That appealed to the young and affluent, making taco trucks fashionable in neighborhoods that previously had not tolerated them. Facebook and Twitter became the cookie-cutter tools that savvy entrepreneurs used to connect with next-generation customers. Interest in food trucks went from zero to 60 almost overnight.
“When I came in to consult for La Raza Foods, nobody wanted to rent a catering truck,” Rick Restifo says. The veteran truck operator has nearly 40 years of experience and serves as a business adviser at one of California’s largest commissaries, where food trucks are mandated to park overnight.
Find the entire article by Patricia Nazario at The LA Weekly <here>