Food writer John T. Edge shared Chow Truck tacos and his insight about the growing popularity of street food nationally at Trolley Square Tuesday afternoon.
Surrounded by foodies, aspiring truck owners and passers-by, Edge talked about the recipes he collected in The Truck Food Cookbook: 150 Recipes and Ramblings from America's Best Restaurants on Wheels. Other topics included the evolution of street food, and the ongoing debates about how cities regulate the mobile business.
Edge applauded the Salt Lake City Council's recent decision to allow more freedom for food trucks. The new rules, approved in May, allows trucks to park on private property as long as they remain 100 feet from restaurants, and to operate in public venues if they've obtained the appropriate parking passes. In addition, a fleet of up to 10 trucks are allowed to park together to establish a "mobile food court."
"We're probably not ground-breaking," said Ray Milliner, of the Salt Lake City planning division, in explaining the recent regulation updates. "We're going along with the trend as best we can."
The updated Salt Lake City regulations will assist truck owners to grow their small businesses, Edge said Tuesday afternoon, but fewer regulations for the trucks would be even better. "The most vibrant street food scenes are in the cities where they foster these businesses," Edge said. Milliner said local restaurants sought to prevent food trucks from competing for customers, especially because they do not pay rent and other expensive operational costs.
"Our hope was to create some regulations that provide balance," Milliner said. "We tried to enhance the benefits that the trucks bring to the city and mitigate some of the worries restaurants had with them."
Suan Chow, "boss lady" of The Chow Truck, pulled in the Tuesday morning event along with the Better Burger truck. Chow, the first to open a food truck in Salt Lake City three years ago, said she has not faced terrible opposition from traditional restaurants. She works with many local restaurants, featuring a recipe from a local cook each month to bring variety to her menu.
Chow said most restauranteurs don't understand the challenges unique to the mobile food business, including weather and extensive route planning. "It's not like the brick and mortar restaurants. where you wake up and know where you're going to work in the morning," she said.
For Scott Angus, the business opportunity sounds enticing, even after hearing about the challenges. He hopes to open a grilled cheese and french fry truck next spring.
Angus, a Salt Lake City cameraman, came out for lunch on his day off to pick Edge's brain about what makes a food truck a success and what makes it a failure.
"It's seems like he's really gotten to know the scene outside of Utah," Angus said of Edge. "This street food scene is getting big and it's coming here quick."
Derrick, Karen and Gannon Beale, of Highland, expressed their excitement about the growing trend. They were converted to mobild food after traveling to multiple states and sampling delicacies along the way. During Edge's talk, Gannon Beale clung to his new recipe book, sneaking a glance at the recipes every so often.
"I think people seek the intimacy of the truck," Edge said. "That interaction is what I crave."