Last week at the Twilight Concert Series, Bobbie Henderson handed a colorful plate of vegan nachos through the window of Ginger’s Truck to a customer taking a chance on the plant-based dish.
Seeing the vibrant red and green peppers and seasoned sunflower seeds with sun-dried tomatoes, the woman looked surprised — a reaction Henderson said she often witnesses.
The woman devoured her meal beside her husband, who’d opted for a rice bowl at another food truck on the assumption that he wouldn’t be full after a vegan meal.
“He and his wife came back to the truck because he was so surprised by the taste, portion size and how aesthetically pleasing [the nachos were],” Henderson said. “He told us how delicious the dish was and that he was embarrassed for not giving it a try.”
The vegan Ginger’s Truck and vegetarian truck Falafel Tree are hoping to surprise more customers at the inaugural Food Truck and Brewery Battle from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday at The Gateway’s Olympic Plaza, on Rio Grande St. between 100 South and 50 North. The event will feature live entertainment and is free. Food trucks and breweries will have food, drinks and samples for sale.
The battle kicks off the Salt Awards, The Salt Lake Tribune’s annual celebration of community favorites and emerging talent and experiences. Nominations close Thursday and voting will begin Saturday at tribsalt.com.
Owning a vegan and gluten-free food truck has been a challenge in an industry saturated with trucks serving meats and carbs, Henderson said. Ginger’s Truck is an offshoot of Ginger’s Garden Cafe in Utah County, and Henderson said she often travels into Salt Lake County, where clientele is more open to the idea of vegan food.
Depending on the area, Henderson said, she doesn’t always advertise the truck’s food as vegan or gluten-free. At times, she avoids certain words on her menus and in conversation with customers — vocabulary she calls plant-based swear words.
“There is a lot of misinformation, and when people see words like vegan, raw, gluten-free or organic, they question everything about the food,” she said.
When the truck is serving in Utah County, Henderson said, she relies on offering samples and explaining the food to customers unfamiliar with vegan options.
The Mediterranean-inspired Falafel Tree has used the same tactics since opening in May. The added hurdle of serving a style of food that is foreign to many Utahns makes sampling an integral part of attracting customers, said Janalee Hinkson, who works with the Salt Lake City-based truck.
Chef Abdul “Abby” Massoud is a native Egyptian, and Falafel Tree’s menu is based on the foods of his childhood. The truck’s most popular dish — the falafel sandwich, which combines seasoned, crunchy deep-fried chickpeas wrapped in a warm pita with cool tahini — challenges the stereotypes of plant-based food being bland, not filling or just a side dish, Hinkson said.
“We tell people that if they just try [our food], they’ll love it,” she said. “Once people have heard their friend try our falafel or other dishes, they are a little less nervous to try it themselves.”
Neither food truck is looking to convert Utahns to a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle. Henderson said she aims to build community and educate customers on how delicious, diverse and filling vegan dishes can be.
“People think eating vegan is like a group you belong to or you don’t,” she said. “We try to explain that having one meal out of their day not contain meat isn’t as big of a deal as they think.
“Their salad didn’t need to have chicken. It never needed it.”