If you’ve been waiting for the future, take a walk down the street because it’s already here. More than likely the future is going to be served to you as a delicious Vietnamese Pork Bahn-Mi sandwich with a side of fresh cut fries from the window of a gourmet food truck.

The food truck movement is the latest in evolution in today’s hyper mobile, independent and creative business world. The food industry is going through massive innovation as technology such as social media, smart phones and tablets make it even easier for small businesses to create a niche, target a market and start building up a loyal customer base.

But where did these food trucks come from? How do they work? What impact do they have on the community?

And why the heck can’t we get one of these delicious meals on wheels at the beach?!

Food trucks are leading the way when it comes to transforming how, where and what we eat and it’s time you find out more.

WHERE DID THIS COME FROM? THE BUSINESS OF MOBILE FOOD SERVICE

The Jacksonville food truck culture is one of the most vibrant new communities in Jacksonville and is currently experiencing rapid growth as locals flock to their windows to have everything from a freshly prepared vegan dish, a filet mignon Philly, duck confit or tacos lovingly made with local ingredients. The many entrepreneurs behind these trucks are serious about food and serious about business. These are not your grandparent’s food trucks.

The Great Recession of the past few years has forced those in the food industry to find a new way to continue business without the restraints a traditional brick and mortar establishment places on small business owners. Mike Field, one of the organizing forces behind JaxTruckies, which is the social media hub of all the food trucks in Jacksonville, told us that the “flexible business model allows entrepreneurs a highly scalable way to test the viability of their business concepts before making a larger investment. “

In fact, two brand new restaurants in the Riverside neighborhood, Pele’s Woodfire and The Salty Fig, started out as food trucks and are some of the hippest and busiest establishments in Jacksonville with unique food and anexpansive selection of beer and fine cocktails.

Field also emphasized the economic impact food trucks have in the growth of our urban core’s density. “Food trucks serve a niche by filling gaps in underserved areas,” he explains.“For example, there are now two food trucks operating outside of the new Duval County Courthouse.

Because so many buildings have been demolished around the courthouse, it’s too financially burdensome for most small business owners to acquire land, build a restaurant, stock the pantry and hire workers…for a neighborhood like downtown, food trucks also activate the streets with crucial pedestrian activity as office workers come down from their towers and walk a few blocks to their favorite truck.”

The growth of the food truck industry is directly related to the positive impact they have in the community and the quality of food they serve. The food trucks of Jacksonville offer food you would expect to pay triple at chain restaurants, but with even finer ingredients and the personal service that is absolutely unattainable at the bland stucco, circus-like chains of urban sprawl. Supporting these nimble entrepreneurs supports intelligent economic growth and keeps your money in the community.

When asked if food trucks threaten the business of traditional establishments, Field was adamant in his response. “Throughout the county, food trucks have had a quantifiable positive impact on street vitality and neighborhood life by improving quality of life and promoting social interaction,” he says. “Food trucks stimulate foot traffic which has a spillover effect to all businesses in the area.” A tangible example of this was the Food Truck Rally to Stamp Out Hunger benefitting Second Harvest that was held Downtown last summer. JaxTruckies teamed up with Burrito Gallery and brought eight food trucks into their parking lot.

Over 2,000 people attended the event, bringing in a huge amount of activity. Tony Allegretti, Director of Downtown Engagement at the Chamber of Commerce and a partner of the Gallery Group (owners of Burrito Gallery), emphasized the opportunity the rally brought to Burrito Gallery, allowing them to sell a tremendous amount of food because of the long lines at the food trucks.

According to Field, other businesses Downtown have reported the positive impact food trucks have had on business. In fact, the monthly event on the Northbank Riverwalk, Community First Saturdays, showcases many of Jacksonville’s favorite food trucks in one location.

 

THE HURDLES & THE HATERS

Despite the overwhelming positive aspects about food trucks, there have been a few hurdles for these food innovators and creative professionals to overcome.

Many of these obstacles are in the form of burdensome, outdated legislation in both the City of Jacksonville and the cities of Jacksonville’s beaches.

Two years ago you wouldn’t have found one food truck,but now there are over forty throughout Jacksonville offering some of the best food in the city. Two of the pioneers in the business, Curt and Drew Cavin, of popular Riverside restaurants,O’Brothers and Mossfire Grill, fought for the right to even exist when they opened their food truck two years ago. Once the city rectified outdated regulations the explosion of creative food industrialist has proliferated around the city.

But one spot you still won’t find these connoisseurs of convenient cuisine are Jacksonville’s beach towns.

Field gave us some background on the fifty-year ban on food trucks at the beach, telling us it goes back to the age of dairy trucks when independent dairy truck operators were driving up and down the beach selling expired dairy products.

The original ban on mobile food trucks had good intentions and was implemented to protect the public from this abuse. “Sometimes, regulations have a way of killing a fly using a sledgehammer,” Field says.

Fifty years later this well-intended legislation continues to block the flourishing food truck business from benefiting the beach community.

There are rumblings of change though. We inquired with Keith Doherty, owner of Lynch’s Irish Pub and a member of the Jacksonville Beach City Council and although he could not comment on the issue, he did let us know that the Jacksonville Beach Planning Director is working on an ordinance regards food trucks that will be ready sometime in the near future.

In fact, Beaches Watch hosted a food truck forum last summer that discussed bringing food trucks beachside and the public response was overwhelmingly positive, leading one to believe that sooner rather than later, beach patrons may have a plethora of delicious food options on the beach.

It truly is an exciting time to see the changes going on in Jacksonville at all levels. The food trucks are contributing greatly to the vibrant cultural fabric of our city. If you want to keep tabs on where these mobile food entities are at any given time, be sure to follow them on Twitter at @JaxTruckies or their Facebook page.

 

Written by Guy Barnhart