If you drive by the Johnson City, Tennessee, Kmart on the first Saturday of the month, you’ll notice a circle of trucks in the parking lot and people with all kinds of food. This is the kind of event that happens when food trucks become fashionable.
“I think food trucks have become popular the past two to three years,” said Samantha Lopez, owner of Sam’s SnoBall Paradise. “There haven’t been as many food trucks as there [are] now.”
Michael Archdeacon, owner of Foodie Fiction, said food trucks took off after Noli Truck food truck came to Johnson City.
“We were the second … real deal food truck,” he said. “By the end of 2015, I think there were around 11 of us operating in Johnson City.”
Now, there are many food trucks in the area that serve everything from pizza and tacos to desserts.
“We saw a niche in this area that was unfilled: Gourmet, fresh, inventive, restaurant-caliber cuisine served in a super disarming and unpretentious venue … from the side of a truck,” Archdeacon said.
Food truck vendors enjoy their units because they allow mobility and lower operating costs. Because the trucks can be moved, businesses can choose new locations to provide easier customer access.
“The beauty of a food truck is the ability to roll down the street if that spot ain’t working out,” Archdeacon said.
His truck, for instance, is now operating on select days at the corner of University Parkway and W. Walnut Street. He pointed out the location attracts more East Tennessee State University students who walk to the stand, even though there is not a lot of parking in the area.
“We’re hoping to accept ETSU ID BUC$ payments soon and really be hopping at that location,” he said.
Food trucks also allow lower overhead payments. A truck or trailer is less expensive than owning or renting a building for a restaurant. The trucks run on generators and have to purchase water for use in the kitchens, but they do not have to own property for the trucks to sit on, according to Archdeacon.
“A food truck equals low front-end investment and overhead plus freedom to roam and create,” said Archdeacon. “[It’s a] great equation.”
The lower overhead helps customers as well. It allows the trucks to serve higher quality food for less because businesses don’t have to spend as much to operate.
Archdeacon said certain items on his menu would cost at least four dollars more if they were sold in a “brick and mortar” restaurant rather than a truck.
Food truck customers also like the units because they have more options.
“The variety of food and drink that food trucks offer can present new options to the people in this area that might have only been available in larger, metropolitan areas,” said Rich Rogers, owner of Mason Joe Coffee Company.
Deana and R.J. Clawson visit multiple food trucks in the Tri-Cities area and Asheville, North Carolina.
“You can always find something different that you wouldn’t find in a restaurant,” said Deana.
Food trucks also allow customers to eat from locally-owned businesses. Most food trucks are owned by local entrepreneurs with a passion for food.
Archdeacon believes the greatest draw for customers is the novelty of a food truck.
“Eating from a truck, trailer, cart or a double-decker bus is freakin’ cool!” he said. “But that novelty will wear off if you can’t bring the goods. People here know what … good food looks, smells, feels and tastes like.”
Johnson City has events for mobile food units to come together and share their products with the community.
On the second Saturday of each month, Food Truck Junction allows food trucks from Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to meet and let the community try different foods in one location. They are held in the Kmart parking lot on Peoples Street in Johnson City.
“I think this is a good location,” Jennifer Greenwell said. “There’s plenty of parking. It’s a good side of town; it’s not too crowded [or] overwhelming.”
Greenwell is a Johnson City resident who attended her first Food Truck Junction on April 8.
“We wanted to try some new food in the area,” she said.
Greenwell tried The Chicken Coop’s honey barbeque wings and sliders, as well as dessert from Kona Ice. She had plans to try food from Foodie Fiction later in the day.
The trucks set up in a circle around picnic tables and any non-food truck vendors. Music is played over speakers, which invites in people who drive by the lot.
“Last time we were here, it was really cold, and it was busy,” Kristin Tipton, co-owner of Smokin Pete’s Barbeque, said during the April Food Truck Junction.
The Clawsons consider themselves food truck enthusiasts. They like Food Truck Junctions because they can sample from different trucks at once, and they attend every event.
“We try little bits off each [truck] and share them,” said R.J.
Smaller scale Food Truck Round Ups are held on certain Saturdays at JRH Brewing. About six food trucks attend these events, which are hosted by Foodie Fiction and the brewery. Live music is provided by local musicians.
Archdeacon warns that food trucks are not easy businesses.
“It’s…long hours, hot conditions, high-stress and low profit margins,” said Archdeacon.
Besides food, a lot of time goes into maintenance of the trucks themselves. Foodie Fiction had to delay serving dinner on March 30 because of mechanical problems.
MiMi’s Cookies N’ Creamery also had to cancel serving their ice cream sandwiches in Johnson City on March 28 because of issues with the truck’s brakes.
Archdeacon says he would recommend starting a food truck business to anyone who has a passion for the restaurant business.
“You better love what you do if you enter this field,” said Archdeacon. “With that being said, I can’t picture myself doing anything else.”