JACKSONVILLE, FL – In Austin, Texas, food trucks and trailers are a way of life, serving everything from sushi to gourmet doughnuts.
As part of its dining coverage, New York magazine names the city’s best 25 food trucks each year.
In Orlando, a dozen or so food trucks gather on certain nights for a food truck bazaar.
And many cities have phone apps that help people keep track of what food trucks are where.
In Jacksonville, the mobile food action is just a bit slower. A few trucks here, a couple of trailers there.
Drew and Curt Cavins, the brothers who own Mossfire Grill and O’Brothers Irish Pub in Riverside, gave it a shot with their Bus’In Your Chops food truck this year. But it didn’t last more than a couple of months.
“We just didn’t get enough customers,” Drew Cavins said. “And the city kept running us off.”
He said the city told them to leave one downtown parking lot during the day. Then they had to leave an area behind a Riverside nightclub because neighbors complained about the noise from their bus.
“We just gave up on it,” he said. “I know it would work if that’s really what you wanted to do. But we’re trying to run two restaurants and have a family life.”
Keith Waller has had a little better luck with his Monroe’s On The Go truck that he launched this year, selling the same barbecue he does at his Westside restaurant, Monroe’s Smokehouse Bar-B-Q. He already had the truck, a $100,000 rig he had for a decade. But he was only using it to cater the Gatornationals drag racing held each year in Gainesville.
And he knew what was happening with food trucks around the country.
“It’s gone from being a greasy hot dog wagon to being actual food with chefs,” he said. “The perception is changing. But not really in Jacksonville.”
Still, he’s busy most weekdays, usually at business parks where he’s gotten permission from the owner.
The food is cooked back at the restaurant because the truck really isn’t set up for long, slow smoking.
John and Jeff Avera do cook their food in John’s Grab-N-Go. The father-son team first rolled out their bright red food trailer in March.
John Avera, the father, had lost his job in steel fabrication and was looking for something else to do. Son Jeff had worked in restaurants and talked about a trailer.
About $24,000 later, they were in business together.
John Avera said it cost him about $1,000 to get all his city and state licenses, but he hasn’t had much trouble since then. The first week, they did set up in a parking lot without the owner’s permission.
“We didn’t know what we were doing,” he said. “We’d sell people watermelons there and thought it’d be OK. But then they came and told us the restaurants were complaining and we had to leave.”
Now they set up on Beach Boulevard each afternoon in front of a sod business that’s given them permission, cooking burgers, chicken fingers and so on. They’ll do some nightclub parking lots on weekends.
“We’re not doing as good as we’d like,” Avera said. “But we’re just getting it going. And I get to hang out with my son every day.”
As the mobile food business slowly grows, there’s a bill before Jacksonville City Council that would make it far more difficult to operate any kind of food truck or trailer in town. Right now, it says that any transient merchant would be prohibited from setting up within a mile of a permanent business selling similar products.
Current laws put the distance at 300 feet, though downtown sidewalk vendors are exempt.
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