In the weeks leading up to the Texas Food Truckin' Fest at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, no one was sure what to expect. DFW has seen a fair share of food truck festivals that have fizzled, and Arlington does not have trucks operating on a daily basis, so attendance expectations were anyone's guess. Add in a large group of new trucks making their DFW debut, and a decent chance of rain in the forecast, and this two-day event was one that started with a lot of open questions.
I went out to the Ballpark early on Friday to watch the setup, and every truck owner was as ready as could be. When I left at 5 p.m., people were starting to arrive slowly but with much excitement. I came back out to the Ballpark at 7 p.m., and the crowd had arrived and the party had started. By the end of the night, the rough estimate was that 3,000 people had come through the gate to experience 35 trucks, lined up on the street next to the Ballpark. The food lines were steady but not overwhelming, the live music was great, the kids were busy in the bounce houses and everyone was enjoying sitting under the stars watching the Rangers on the big screen. When I left at 9:30 pm, I posted on Facebook and predicted that Saturday would be "off the chain."
I may have underestimated the success of the event.
Saturday, I watched early Facebook and Twitter feeds from the trucks, and it seemed that Saturday opened well, with early crowds. When everyone stopped posting all afternoon, I knew exactly why. Cruising Kitchens posted a picture that confirmed my suspicions: the trucks were much, much too busy to use social media.
I went back out the The Ballpark for an early dinner and found that several trucks were anticipating an early sell-out. Within the hour, three trucks were closed and one was on its way back from the store, with a new load of ingredients. The food trucks face great risks with these large events, if they over-prep, they are left with huge quantities of food that goes to waste. Freshness is a universal quality with these gourmet trucks and leftovers are not used the next day of service. On the other hand, if you under-prep, you look ill-prepared for the event and leave customers frustrated. For many trucks, prepping can be done on the truck and within an hour or two they can be back operating; but for a truck like OinkNMoo BBQ, with meat that takes hours and hours and hours to smoke, when you are out, you are out. It is a delicate balancing act.
I had concerns about the large number of new trucks at this event. I, personally, would never recommend a truck making their debut at a large event, but several chose to do so. The cold trucks like What's da Scoop?, Mr. Snowie, Maui Wowi and Parrott Icce did well. The hot trucks, like A Taste of Cuba and Lee Malone's seemed to be struggling to keep up with the crowds, and I regret that I did not get to try their foods. A Taste of Cuba was letting people know of the longer than expected wait times, and I look forward to watching them improve their process of operating on a truck.
One of the highlights of The Texas Food Truckin' Fest was the opportunity for attendees to vote on the best food truck. Truck builder Cruising Kitchens built a custom trophy, which in the end, was awarded to Empanda Armada.
Every event has a few things that can be improved upon. The Texas Food Truckin' Fest only had three that I could identify.
1. Once again, the trucks could not sell water or soft drinks from the trucks. I find it unacceptable that I have to make an extra stop and pay a higher fee to get a bottled drink. At least at this event, the trucks were able to sell "specialty drinks," and I noticed that the fojito's from Yellow Belly and lemonade from Nammi were hits.
2. I never saw recycling bins for trash that could be recycled. A lot of plastic bottles went with the general trash this weekend.
3. More trucks. The original goal was to have 50 trucks from across Texas. The event ended with 35 trucks, with only one being from out of town. It is my hope that next year, earlier scheduling of the trucks and better communication between the event planners, including the host city and the truck owners can result in 50 or more trucks being a part of a food truck event that showcases many trucks from across the state.
Still, overall, this food truck festival was probably the best in DFW, to date. Attendance totals had not been confirmed but I heard that one truck owner say they sold in three hours what they normally sell in a week, and every truck owner that I talked to told me that they were having record sales. Kudos to U.S. Food Trucks, the City of Arlington and The Texas Rangers for a great event.