Driving Change in the Local Food Scene

Gone are the days when food trucks were called “roach coaches.” Today’s food trucks are often mobile state-of-the-art kitchens experimenting with flavor combinations or offering authentic dishes. For their followers, there’s a sense of being among an inner circle of foodies.

Virgil's Jamaica Food TruckFor Virgil Wilson and his wife, Taffee, these devoted foodies have made their food truck business a success. The owners of Virgil’s Jamaica food truck say the food truck crowd is different than the foodie crowd that only goes to brick and mortar restaurants.

“The food truck foodies come prepared. Regardless of the weather, they will come, dressed in the appropriate gear with tents and whatever they need,” said Wilson, who also runs the quarterly Wake Forest Food Truck Rodeo. “For these folks, it is all about the food and the sense of community.”

On July 17, temperatures topped 100 degrees, and yet more than 3,500 people showed up to dine on the offerings of the 20 food trucks participating in the Wake Forest Food Truck Rodeo.

Wake Forest Mayor Vivian Jones, a fan of Fuzzy’s Empanadas, didn’t find the empanada truck at the July event – the lineup switches up out of fairness – but she was happy to see the community members enjoying themselves.

“Wake Forest is such a great place to live, and events like the food truck rodeo really add to the quality of life,” Jones said. “Plus, our community festivals, like Friday Night on White are well-attended, typically 10,000 people, and there just aren’t enough places downtown for the people to get something to eat without the food trucks.”

In Rolesville, Mayor Frank Eagles has been committed to bringing more restaurants to the growing town, and one way he plans to do it is by regulating and courting food trucks. In June, the Rolesville Board of Commissioners approved amendments to an ordinance that regulate food trucks. Eagles says he has received complaints from residents that commissaries used by food trucks are taking up spaces where restaurants could open.

Eagles says he recently met a chef who wants to bring a barbecue food truck to Rolesville if he can find a spot to park it in every day.

“I want what’s good for Rolesville. And the people of Rolesville want restaurants,” Eagles said.

Cockadoodlemoo Food TruckAcross the country, communities and particularly restaurants, have a love-hate relationship with food trucks and use local ordinances to control them. For Jolie Rollins, co-owner of the CockADoodleMoo truck, that prospect is part of doing business.

“Regulations are part of any business operations. We struggle with anything that adds additional cost but does not add additional value. This does not make sense to me, but it’s what we must do if we want to continue,” Rollins said. “The people in Wake Forest, Rolesville and Raleigh are the best and why we will put up with the inconveniences.”

In Wake County, there are currently 75 mobile food unit permits. And, according to Jessica Sanders of Wake County Environmental Services, there are no new regulations on the horizon.

As for any adverse impact on restaurants, Greg Pearce, owner of the Wake Forest brick-and-mortar restaurant Over the Falls, says he sees it as positive.

Pearce says that he and his father, who owns the Renaissance Plaza on Brooks Street, offered their parking lot to the rodeo and became sponsors when the town voted against conducting rodeos. He feels strongly that anytime you can do something that brings people downtown and promotes food, it is a win for everyone.

Cousins Maine Lobster“We love the food truck rodeo. At Over the Falls, we see a small spike in sales, but the real increase is in the number of new customers who are just discovering downtown Wake Forest. That is the real benefit,” Pearce said. “Anytime people cluster together to dine and have a good time, it is a destination, and that is a good thing.”

Deb Keller, owner of Cousins Maine Lobster Food Truck, says that food trucks are just one part of the overall food scene in a community, sometimes even offering dishes that can’t be found elsewhere. For Keller, the best part of owning a food truck is looking out at the crowds and seeing everyone mingling while they wait for their food.

“There’s this sense of fellowship and interaction with the food truck. People talking to their neighbors,”  Keller said. “Food trucks not only contribute to the food scene, but they also contribute to the social scene.”

— Susan Ware Flower | susan.flower@rolesvillebuzz.com | August 2016 | Photos courtesy of each food truck’s Facebook page.