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Food trucks in DFW: a two-year review

DFW Food Truck Foodie is a DFW.com content partner. DFWFoodTruckfoodie.com


Posted 2:03pm on Wednesday, Jul. 10, 2013

On July 4, 2011, I watched Eat St. on the Cooking Channel for the first time, and the idea for a food truck blog was born. Two years later — almost to the day — the Eat St. teaser for Nammi truck was released, and for less than half a second you see and hear me. What a surreal moment and an exciting way to acknowledge two amazing years chronicling the DFW food truck scene!

In those two years, many things have changed on the landscape. When I started the blog, there were approximately 10 gourmet food trucks roaming in Dallas and two or three stationed at various locations in Fort Worth. Today there are approximately 70 trucks roaming across the Metroplex, most operating daily, with another five or six operating only on weekends, or for special events. Along with the increase in truck numbers, some of the other noticeable changes include:

Locations

In July 2011: Trucks did not often cross county lines. Dallas trucks were mobile, in limited areas, primarily the Arts District, the Design District and Irving. Fort Worth trucks were primarily stationary, operating daily on the property of a bar or small business.

There were no food truck parks — not anywhere in the Metroplex.

Today: The majority of trucks operate between both Dallas and Fort Worth on a regular basis. There are three successful parks in Fort Worth, and a new brand new one in Dallas. In the two-year time period, another park in Fort Worth and a “pop-up” park in Dallas have opened and closed.

Collaboration

July 2011: Local businesses were nervous about having trucks operate on their property. Even if a particular business allowed the trucks to operate, it was fairly common to have other nearby businesses contact the police or local health department to have a truck leave the area.

Today: Businesses are clamoring for trucks to come to their property and there aren’t enough trucks to meet the demand. And rarely do I hear of a truck being asked to leave an area.

July 2011: Trucks did not set up and operate together. At that time, the truck owners were not sure how their sales would be impacted by another truck serving next to them.

Today: It’s very rare to find a lone truck at any location. By fall 2011, the owners were realizing, based on response from customers in the Dallas Arts District that multiple trucks created a food court environment and more people could dine at the same location and sales would actually increase for everyone.

Events

July 2011: The talk of a food truck event was just beginning, thanks to the foresight of Sigel’s on Greenville Avenue. By the end of August, Dallas had seen its first food truck event, with 10 trucks.

Today: Food truck events are the norm and have actually lost some of their appeal; some people no longer flock to the novelty of having to stand in line for 45 minutes to get food that they can get two days later without a line. Having 10 trucks at a location has also become standard; now it takes 25-30 trucks together to be classified as a “large” event.

Type of owner

July 2011: The type of owner starting a food truck has also changed — generally following the track of any start-up industry. The first truck owners were risk takers, willing to take on whatever challenge a city or the public threw at them. They understood that operating a truck took good food, good marketing and good customer service, and it all had to happen at the same time. The original food truck owners were very aware that they were bringing something new to the streets, and they took that responsibility very seriously.

In 2012: By early last year, a new set of owners joined the DFW food truck revolution. Not all, but many of these truck owners seemingly wanted to make what they thought would be easy money and hadn’t done the research to understand all that entailed a food truck operation. Many of these owners had been told by family and friends that their specialty dish was good, and “they should open up a restaurant.” They found a truck, often times without researching which cities would permit that truck, and set off to make their food and money. Sadly, many of these trucks did not last a year, either because they could not move freely between cities, or because the owners ran out of funding or couldn’t fulfill the time commitment required to operate the effectively.

By late 2012, DFW started to see the new wave of truck owners, those who had done their research, had a business plan and had the funding necessary to operate a food truck. These truck owners weren’t quite as risk-tolerant as the first group but in the time it took them to research and refine their truck operations, they put together a solid business with a full understanding of the challenges they would face in operating a truck. From these trucks, we are seeing high quality, innovative street food that is lifting the food truck scene again.

Today: As we move in to the middle of 2013, we are seeing the very beginning of the next wave of the food truck movement in DFW. Several food truck owners have completed or are near completion in opening brick and mortar locations, and almost every other owner is at least considering whether a brick and mortar is right for them. At the same time, established restaurants are in the beginning stages of opening food trucks as a means to expand their brand. In addition to Fort Worth’s The Lunchbox, which has already rolled out a truck, in the last two months I have talked to at least 10 DFW-based restaurants that have a fully operating food truck in their 12-month plans.

The DFW food truck scene has not hit its peak yet. The industry is continuing to grow, learn and make mistakes, while still moving forward.

DFW Food Truck Foodie is a DFW.com content partner.

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