St John’s meals truck pattern is useless
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On a hot afternoon in Hollywood’s Young Circle Park, Chris Brown stands in front of a red truck painted with egg rolls, an American flag, and a Jamaican flag that is barely visible because it is covered in hundreds of scraps of paper. Each is printed with a menu that includes an amazing list of egg rolls. There’s the Philly cheese steak, the corned beef and cabbage, the chicken and cabbage vegetables, even a Korean barbecue variety. The cost: two for $ 11.32.
“Get your egg rolls here!” Brown, who calls himself Chinaman, screams like a carnival bark. “We have strawberry lemonade.”
Brown’s truck is one of a dozen parked here. All try to attract potential guests with colorful murals, bright lights, and menu boards. Some give out samples.
Nearby, on the northeast side of the park, a woman with a beagle orders chicken wings and a bottle of water in a truck called Wontons on Wheels. She’s about a dollar short of cash, so co-owner Nick Biscoito throws in the water for free. The simple act of kindness is paid back when a line forms behind it. In no time a slow evening turns into a lucrative night with customers ordering wontons and shrimp burgers.
Biscoito says he launched the truck with partner Kyle HoiPong a year ago to share about their groceries, which they will hopefully sell in stores. The Trinidadian-based partners offer wontons with Caribbean flavors like jerk chicken and calypso shrimp ($ 10 to $ 12). Biscoito drives the truck out about three evenings a week. He can make $ 500 to $ 600 on a good night, but a few days are broke. Success is determined by the taste and weather of the audience. “If it rains, that’s the end,” he says. “The culinary world is a cutthroat business. You have to hope that you are ahead of the game.”
“Would you like to sit in a restaurant with good food and service, or stand on broken glass in a rocky vacant lot?”
Although Hollywood’s food truck gathering still attracts a steady stream of families to the park, the food truck scene in South Florida has dwindled. Roundups are smaller than a few years ago, and many attract fewer than a dozen trucks. The amount has also shrunk.
But the most significant – and longest-running – roundup is the monthly one at Magic City Casino (450 NW 37th Ave.). Sef Gonzalez started the gathering in the casino parking lot in 2011 when the St John food truck craze was peaking. In 2013, Gonzalez organized a parade in which 62 food trucks circled the casino in a 3.5 km loop. That stunt, he says, earned him a Guinness world record (which was later eclipsed by another, larger gathering).
Back then, St John’s food scene was very different. Trendy hotel restaurants and chains reigned supreme, and there were few places where locals could get a cook-controlled meal without breaking the bank. As a result, some chefs turned to an alternative way of selling their product: food trucks.
Richard Hales had just opened Sakaya Kitchen in December 2009 when he decided to build a food truck. A graduate of the French Culinary Institute who worked with the venerable Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Hales fit into the first wave of St John’s food truck owners – creative chefs eager to embrace an emerging culinary trend. Hales says today, “I saw the food truck movement in New York. I thought it was pretty crazy. Then I saw trucks like Latin Burger and GastroPod in St John. I thought a truck would do a better job.” at Sakaya Kitchen. “
Hales spared no expense for his Dim Ssam, a go-go truck. The interior of the $ 65,000 vehicle was custom built by Food Cart USA to the chef’s exact specifications. He hired tattoo artist Kat Von D to design the graphics and created a new menu that featured a range of items from Tater Tots to Brussels Sprouts.
Soon Hales was organizing the Wynwood Art Walk Food Truck Roundup on the second Saturday. It was easy to curate an event that people wanted to attend. “At the time, I was the third or fourth food truck in St John,” he recalls. “Those were the days. It was such a cool, hot, new thing and there was a tremendous amount of exposure.”
The first rounds were mostly chef-powered trucks like Jeremiah Bullfrog’s GastroPod, a shiny retro Airstream from 1962; the fish box from the owners of La Camaronera restaurant in St John; Jefe’s Original Fish Taco; and Mrs. Cheezious. Panther Coffee began selling cold brews from a makeshift bike cart. Some roundups offered beer and wine.
St John food truck owners soon found fame. They played on shows like Cooking Channel’s Eat Street and were featured on national TV morning shows. Ms. Cheezious ‘Brian Mullins was flown to New York to attend a network sponsored event called “Live With Kelly and Michaels Truckin’ Amazing Cook-Off”.
Mullins compares what happened next to the California gold rush. “People bought trucks that never worked in a restaurant,” he says. “They thought a food truck was an ATM on wheels.”
The number of food trucks circulating across South Florida rose to about 200. On popular roundups, they made up to $ 2,000 a night.
Dim Ssam a Gogos Hales says that food trucks have been victims of their own success. “People went to the laps and waited 45 minutes for that shitty meal from a new truck,” he says. “Nobody will blame you if you stop going to food trucks because you were burned for high prices and bad food.”
St John’s evolving food scene also had a negative impact on food trucks. Hales says, “There has been a restaurant explosion in recent years. Would you like to sit in a restaurant with good food and service, or stand on broken glass in a rocky vacant lot?”
Today you can still see Dim Ssam, a go-go feeding movie, and television crews filming in St John. Ms. Cheezious’s truck – part of a business that now includes a restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard – also goes mostly on special occasions. “The truck used to be packed like we were loaded for war,” says Mullins. “It was me and some solid-line chefs, and we made $ 8,000 on Art Walk.” These days, Mullins is taking his truck to events as a marketing tool to attract potential catering appearances. “It’s not worth taking the truck out to make $ 1,500. We’re so popular that I have corporate clients. We’ve built relationships with St John Beach hotels. I’m booked out with catering events until next year.” “
Food halls have taken the place of food trucks. “The best thing about food trucks is that you get out of your car, out of your bubble, and into a community atmosphere,” says Hales. “This is exactly what happens to dining rooms – and they are curated with a better eye.”
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Laine Doss is the food and liquor editor for the St John New Times. It was featured on Eat Street by Cooking Channel and in the Great Food Truck Race by Food Network. She won an Alternative Weekly Award for her contribution on what it’s like to wait for tables.