Food carts and trucks have been fixtures on city streets for over 100 years—hot dog stands, sausage vendors, pretzel wagons, ice cream, coffee and sandwich trucks serving basic, daily food needs to a hungry population. About four to five years ago the food truck options began to change. Although taco trucks were a staple in Los Angeles for decades, Kogi Korean BBQ, a small food truck start-up, started selling Korean barbecue tacos on the streets of LA in 2008. A new food trend was born.
What makes this food truck trend different from decades prior? The food trucks today are serving a range of choices in cuisine, type of food, quality of ingredients, and formal training of the chef/owners. In essence, a range of food choice has captured the public’s attention.
The Ringling Picnic, now in its second year of operation, is serving downtown Sarasota from its new location at 242 S. Washington Blvd, on the orner of US-301 and Adams Lane in Sarasota. Even though the food truck trend has been around for a few years, getting it rolling into Sarasota was no small feat. Mindy Kauffman, the original founder of the Ringling Picnic, spent the better part of a year negotiating for space, permits, licenses and vendors. Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Andrew Seeley, Chef/Owner of Flying Sliders and one of Mindy’s partners in Suncoast Food Trucks.
JLQ: So, food trucks! How did you get involved in this trend?
Andrew Seeley: My grandmother had a big influence on my life as a kid. She owned a bar/restaurant so food was in my DNA. I always enjoyed preparing food for friends, especially for football tailgates. A few years ago, I watched The Great Food Truck Race on the Food Network and I was hooked. I decided to research this idea further and went to LA, the mecca for food trucks, to learn from the pros.
JLQ: And you learned?
AS: The food truck is not just a vehicle selling food. In fact, the truck is a professional kitchen on wheels that serves restaurant-quality food. I had the opportunity to meet with hundreds of food truck chefs and owners. They were very welcoming and eager to share stories, techniques, ideas for food quality and important efficiencies. I decided right then to purchase my truck.
JLQ: How much does a typical, well-equipped food truck cost?
AS: Depending upon the equipment, you can get an entry-level truck used for around $30,000, with new ones ranging upwards of $100,000.
JLQ: Well, that is a significant investment. What makes it so costly?
AS: As I said before, these food trucks are commercial-grade kitchens. On my truck I have an open kitchen with a griddle, steam tables, two panini makers, two toaster ovens, water storage for 25 gallons, a commercial-grade refrigerator and prep area. I also have a propane generator and all required safety equipment.
JLQ: What makes the food truck so appealing or unique?
AS: For starters, the color and the branding are cool. There are trucks of all shapes, sizes and colors. My grandmother’s restaurant was known as the Flying Pines. When I was thinking of a name, “Flying Sliders” sounded cool. I liked the idea of combining aliens in the brand with an out-of-this-world food experience—so Flying Sliders was it.
JLQ: Tell me about the food from the truck. I have tried items from a few trucks, including yours, and they are quite good.
AS: Thank you. We try to provide a great food experience at a reasonable cost. In fact, our sign explains we are a “restaurant on wheels.” Food is cooked to order and may take a little more time than a fast food place.
Because of our limited storage capacity, size, and the constant turnover, we are always ordering fresh food. As a result, our product just tastes better. Also, because most owners are the chefs as well, the customers get to interact with us. This gives us valuable feedback, allows us to “tweak” the recipe and collect new ideas for the menu.
We are working to broaden the menu selection, rotating items in and out. Today, we offer a grilled asparagus panini with prosciutto and provolone; chimmichurri-marinated skirt steak with avocado butter; an Asian-style pulled pork with pickled cucumbers and Sriracha aioli on an Hawaiian roll; and roasted portobello with arugula, bruschetta, herbed goat cheese and balsamic glaze. In a couple of weeks we will be rolling out our shrimp and grits cake and seasonal turkey special.
JLQ: That is quite an offering. Where will you go from here?
AS: We believe the concept of choice is big for food trucks. Food trucks appeal to those who like to try different types of foods and flavor combinations. As a result, we are always looking for ways to provide and expand our menu either from our truck directly or by inviting other food trucks to joins us at the Picnic. We are also considering farm-to-truck offerings, event and party catering and various festivals. The more people get to know us and the quality of our food, the bigger and better the business will become.
JLQ: You mentioned events and festivals as potential venues—any upcoming ones you would like to highlight?
AS: Yes, thanks. On Nov. 3 we will be in Lakewood Ranch at the Dog Days of Autumn which will be taking place at Greenwood Adventure Park. Also on Nov. 17 there will be a food truck rally at the Sarasota Bay Water Festival.
JLQ: Andrew, thank you for your time. You have an exciting opportunity and we wish you the best of success.
AS: Thank you, Jack, for sharing our story.
Jack Littman-Quinn is a serial entrepreneur, writer, blogger, foodie and social media enthusiast, covering current trends in food, restaurants and dining in Sarasota. You can read more of Jack's restaurant reviews at www.srqreviews.com.