Area food trucks have discovered healthy competition is the key ingredient in their recipes for success.
“There is definitely a synergy and we all kind of feed off each other when we come together,” said Christina Cunningham, marketing and event coordinator for Witty Pork’s and Street Treats food trucks. “It’s actually one of the best community feels I’ve ever been a part of.”
Using locations such as the Pioneers Museum for Food Truck Tuesdays and a shopping center parking lot in Widefield for Food Truck Fridays, mobile eateries are pulling together to share their customers in hopes of turning greater profits.
“No one seems to be in direct competition with each other because we all make different food,” Cunningham said. “It’s more about trying to build each other up and help each other out.”
Food truck operators and the city of Colorado Springs recently spoke with the Business Journal about how the portable restaurants operate locally.
No place to call home
Some cities refer to them as food truck parks while others call them courts. Regardless, those cities have established areas where food trucks are able to set up shop on a regular basis.
The Springs at one point had a similar location downtown in a parking lot next to and owned by the YMCA.
“One of the reasons it closed is because the YMCA said they needed the space,” said Matthew Fitzsimmons, a planner for the city of Colorado Springs. “It also kind of petered out by itself because it wasn’t well regulated.”
The city took into consideration what went wrong at the location when developing the concept for Food Truck Tuesdays last year.
“We had learned all those lessons, like we don’t make it every day or year-round,” Fitzsimmons said. “We make it once a week, which makes it special, and then we well-regulate it.”
Earlier this year, the Pioneers Museum emailed application forms for Food Truck Tuesdays to all food trucks licensed by the city of Colorado Springs.
Twelve trucks were selected from those that responded.
Fitzsimmons said selection criteria were based largely on trucks that could commit to participate in all 25 weeks planned for the 2018 season.
“Last year and this year, [Food Truck Tuesdays] has been so successful,” he said. “One of the trucks sold out the first three weeks and every time they would double the amount of food they brought. They are selling out because there are so many people coming.”
The city regulates where food trucks can park and vend their offerings when operating in the Springs, in order to reduce safety concerns and limit interference with brick-and-mortar restaurants.
“We want to make sure [food trucks] don’t swarm in and the brick-and-mortars get upset because they are putting all their energy into having a great restaurant here,” Fitzsimmons said. “We have found that downtown restaurants in general support [Food Truck Tuesdays]. We are trying to make the city a great place to live and visit and we think food trucks are definitely a part of that.”
About a year ago the city allowed downtown businesses with meter parking two annual permits for food trucks to park out front. So far, about seven businesses have taken advantage of the permits.
“I’ve told many food truck operators to just go around and ask if [businesses] would want that,” Fitzsimmons said. “That is a great opportunity because where there are meters there are lots of people.”
Meanwhile, when parking on private property in the city, food trucks are required to get a temporary use permit. Residential and commercial areas also have allotted times food trucks are permitted to operate in them.
“Another place they can park and operate is in parks, but if they are in the park at all, they have to get a permit through the park,” Fitzsimmons said. “We also are always [open] to suggestions on where we could do another food truck event or allow them to park that wouldn’t negatively affect area restaurants.”
One big family
In July, Jeremy Sweet, the co-owner of Colorado Sno-Balls, along with Bryce Dillingham, the owner of Roll Up Food Truck, started Food Truck Fridays at a shopping center parking lot at 5698 S. U.S. Hwy. 85/87 in Widefield.
“We decided to call our other [food truck] friends that we have been working with throughout the community the past few years and come together and help market each other and work as a team,” Sweet said. “Our mission was to bring great quality to an area that doesn’t have as many restaurant options.”
Each week, the event has grown, with hundreds of people stopping by Aug. 31 to try the 13 food trucks.
“We are seeing people bring out their lawn chairs and even tables,” Sweet said. “It’s really become a community gathering and festive affair. I don’t think we could do it with any less trucks at this point because it would be too many customers.”
The event also offers food truck operators a location free of fees or requirements that they share their profits.
“We don’t charge anybody to come out here,” Sweet said. “That was one of the things that was hard for [Colorado Sno-Balls] when we first started up in our trailer. We just do it on an invite basis and really welcome any truck as long as their menu doesn’t conflict with any other truck’s menu.”
Cunningham says most food trucks have had to learn the hard way not to agree to high fees or profit percentages when setting up at certain locations.
“We learned a lesson that we are no longer going to be paying out a lot of money to places,” she said. “Everyone wants to kind of come after the money but we are a small business too.”
Fitzsimmons has heard of trucks having to pay about 30 percent of their profits when operating at certain locations in the Springs.
The financial arrangements for Food Truck Tuesdays are that each truck pays a weekly fee of $25 and agrees to share 3 percent of their profits at the end of the season. Funds go the museum’s nonprofit support group and are then used to help fund museum operations.
“It’s through the museum and it goes back to the museum, so it’s a positive thing,” Cunningham said. “We like to do events where if we do give a percentage of sales it’s to an organization we would like to donate to.”
Piglatin Food Truck also recently partnered with Bob Derian of Chef Bob’s Lobstah Truck and Epicentral Coworking to create a more permanent location for food trucks to set up downtown. Called Boulder Street Bites, trucks will set up at 116 E. Boulder St.
“Think of it like a co-op,” Aaron Ewton, brand manager for Piglatin Cocina & Food Truck, told the Colorado Springs Business Journal’s sister paper, the Colorado Springs Independent. “We’re all trying to pull our networking resources together to make it more than just a truck sitting in a lot.”
The new spot is open 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. weekdays.
Meanwhile, corporate lunches also have been a more recent development as a location for food trucks to park and vend.
“Employers want to keep their employees’ lunch break to a half-hour or hour and offer them something special without having to leave campus,” Cunningham said. “We also have been going to a lot of church and school events. Then, with our pizza truck, we do breweries. It just takes a while to build up your name and get the phone calls for all that.”
The owners of Witty Pork’s and Street Treats food trucks also operate a commissary kitchen called Colorado Springs Commercial Kitchen that they share with other food truck operators.
“Part of joining our kitchen is we will help you get your name out there,” Cunningham said. “It’s really about word of mouth in this business to get started.”
Dillingham said food trucks coming together and pooling their social media audiences to promote the same event or location benefits them all.
“It is cool to work together, we are all figuring out,” he said. “We all offer different food, and it’s great to see people go to all the different trucks and make a plate and take a picture and send it to us. It really shows they are not just coming for one truck.”