Chow Truck, Utah’s original food truck, shuts down

(Scott Sommerdorf | Salt Lake Tribune) Customers line up to order from the Chow Truck, a bright yellow food truck that closed last week.

The food truck that launched Salt Lake City’s mobile eating scene eight years ago has closed.

The Chow Truck’s demise was announced June 16 on Facebook by co-owners J. and Megan Looney. They attributed the closure to some “unforeseen mechanical problems” with the bright yellow truck with the fire-breathing dragon logo.

“It’s a bittersweet thing,” J. Looney said. “We were going to sell the business at the end of the summer season. We wanted the name to carry on.”

Paying for a major repair proved impossible.

“Anyone who is in the business understands that our margins are razor thin; we lead a tenuous existence,” he said. “Any food truck owner is one mechanical failure away from shuttering their business.”

The Looneys say they will continue to cater events through the Chow Truck name and their private chef company at www.chefjlooney.com.

(Djamila Grossman | The Salt Lake Tribune) Customers stand in front of the Chow Truck, which is parked in front of Ken Sanders Rare Books store in Salt Lake City, Friday, Oct. 15, 2010. Chow has successfully pushed the city into writing new rules for food trucks.

For many Utah diners, Chow Truck was their first food truck experience, and they were disappointed to hear about its closure.

“You were my first food truck, and even now, my mouth waters for your tofu tacos,” said one Facebook commenter.

Added another: “Amazing run, Chow! This is the end of an era, for sure”

The closure does mark the end of an impressive eight-year run for a business that served tacos and sliders with an Asian twist.

In 2010, well-known Utah restaurateur SuAn Chow launched the Chow Truck, exciting diners and blazing a culinary trail for others.

It wasn’t easy. She had to fight archaic city regulations that barred the food truck from parking in one location for more than two hours at a time. She also couldn’t pull up to the curb — even if she fed the parking meters.

“When I showed up on the scene, they didn’t know what to do with me,” Chow said in a telephone interview from Montana, where she now works.

With tenacity and salesmanship — and help from sympathetic bureaucrats — the city changed the ordinance, allowing the Chow Truck, and the hundreds of other food trucks that followed, to roll more freely about the city.

Other Utah communities mimicked that model when drafting ordinances of their own.

“I had to convince them that this was not just a passing trend,” Chow said, noting that her business background and her ability to run the truck as a “restaurant on wheels” helped.

“They felt that I was a solid model to work with,” she said, adding, “I am really proud to be part of that process.”

“SuAn blazed the trail,” said J. Looney, who worked on the Chow Truck for several years before buying the business in 2015. “She made people comfortable with the idea, opening doors and building the reputation.”

Since then, traveling restaurants have traversed Utah, specializing in everything from pizza and hamburgers to crêpes and rice bowls.

(Scott Sommerdorf | Salt Lake Tribune) Customers line up to order from Chow Truck. The bright yellow food truck that serves gourmet tacos and sliders closed last week.

Unlike taco carts and hot dog stands that are anchored in one location, food trucks move around, parking at malls, call centers, banks, college campuses, concert venues, festivals and fairs. Hungry diners find them by following them on Facebook, Twitter or a website.

“Today, there are probably more than 300 food trucks operating in Utah,” said Taylor Harris, a founding partner of the Food Truck League, which coordinates food truck events and catering across the Wasatch Front.

“The food truck scene has really grown,” he said, noting that there are trucks everywhere from Logan to Moab and St. George.

But with the Chow Truck‘s exit, is there too much competition for trucks to be successful?

“No,” J. Looney said. “There are tons of food trucks, but we are nowhere near saturation. The state could probably support 100 more trucks.”

It has, however, lost the original.