On this Fourth of July, I thought I’d salute a very special group of entrepreneurs pursuing the American Dream. The burgeoning food truck culture in this town is diverse and exciting, and while the delicious food is often the focus of coverage on these road warriors, I wanted to take a closer look at the artistry and creativity these ambitious small business owners bring to the table.
Recently I was lucky enough to be one of about a dozen food blog judges at DINING LOT 2012, Nashville’s first annual Food Truck Festival. I got to sample fare from about 15 food trucks of all colors and flavors. It was a tough job, but somebody had to do it.
Beyond drooling over the culinary offerings, one of the first things I noticed about the cluster of food trucks as I approached the festival in Centennial Park was that they’re so darn cute! Clearly a lot of thought was put into the signage, logos, and design. As I perused each vendor I noticed artistic touches in everything from the attire of the vendors to the way their condiments were displayed and food was plated.
While one could easily argue that any small business needs to have a good look and smart design to attract customers, I was struck by a certain something extra about these trucks.
A few weeks ago I read an old post on theKitchn blog about Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, a gourmet ice cream shop. (Nashville has one on the East side.) In the post, I was really struck by this quote from founder Jeni: “When I was at Ohio State [art school before starting Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams]…there was an installation where they had these giant vases filled with scent. You would walk up and pull the top off and smell the scent inside. I had already been making ice cream at home, and I was like, ‘this is art.’ If those vases filled with scent are art, then butterfat filled with scent that melts on your palate and explodes, that’s art too.”
That got me wondering if, like Jeni, any of Nashville’s food truck entrepreneurs founded their trucks as a way to make a living while also getting to flex their artistic muscle.
Tammy Fisher, creator of Dixie Belle’s Cupcakes, was a photographer before starting her truck. She still shoots part-time for certain clients, but mostly focuses on the cupcake business now. “It is pretty cool to have the photography and design background to bring to my business,” she says. “It makes me strive to be sure they look as good as they taste!”
Tammy Fisher, proprietess, Dixie Belle’s Cupcakes. Her sister sewed her decorative, ruffled cupcake apron!
Fisher’s Toffee Crunch cupcake, a chocolate cupcake with vanilla buttercream topped with caramel toffee popcorn and caramel syrup, was as good as it sounds.
Co-owner Jay Jenratha, of Deg Thai, wanted his truck to be eye-catching. A native of Thailand, all the designs are Thai inspired patterns which include a little graffiti. His partner Chad Trout is a musician. He moved to Nashville in 1995 after getting a deal with Mercury Records and worked with country singer Del Reeves for years. They say they both try to funnel their individual creativity into the truck the best they can. “Jay loves being an artist when it comes to food…I love people and am always thinking of how we can market the business with music, videos and photos,” says Trout.
The Tiger Tear Salad I sampled was one of the best things I tried at the festival. It was composed of marinated and grilled top sirloin steak atop a bed of super crisp romaine. The dressing was a combo of lime juice, soy sauce and sweet chili sauce.
At The Grilled Cheeserie, while neither of the two co-owners are visual artists per say, co-owner Joseph Brogan says their logo was inspired by an old French film poster. When not on the truck, Brogan works in the music industry on the recording side. He says the truck is definitely an outlet for his creativity and agrees that food trucks do need to go the extra mile in their design. “When you’re stuck in traffic, driving a 25-foot truck, you definitely want to feel confident that the design of your truck is a good representation for your company.”
The tasty “melt of the moment” I sampled was fried green tomatoes, buttermilk cheddar and Benton’s bacon between slices of rosemary bread.
Herby Mustard and ‘Tot Sauce’ at Grilled Cheeserie
Wanderland Urban Food Park, an event management company, put on the festival. They specialize in working with mobile street food vendors, and help facilitate these mobile entrepreneurs by taking care of the permits, promotion and organization of group food truck outings in exchange for a portion of proceeds. They hold weekly markets
I didn’t have one favorite food truck – they all brought something interesting to the table. After meeting so many of the food truck owners, I have a greater appreciation for the craft of these entrepreneurs, both in their edible art and beyond.
Following are some photos of the fabulous trucks, vendors and fare I sampled at DINING LOT 2012 – a feast for the eyes, for sure!
Wild Bill’s Old Fashioned Soda Pop Co. – the panels attach to the outside of this pulled cart.
The taps, featuring flavors like Rocky Mountain Root Beer and Vintage Vanilla Cream (my two favorites)
Ginger Lemon Italian Soda from the Sugar Wagon
Such a cute sign!
Moovers and Shakers, the OMG – Rhubarb Shake drizzled with honey and cinnamon!
Meatloaf from The Bean and Tater. I loved the sweet glaze and nutty texture of this loaf.
Hot chicken from The Hot Spot. This chicken has a jamaican jerk seasoning on it, in addition to an Asian hot sauce. Not your typical fried chicken!
The Bistro Truck serves up grilled pizzas
I loved the Bistro Truck’s pizza. The crust is grilled, which makes it a bit stiff and crunchy, a bonus when you’re eating pizza outdoors standing up!
Got a favorite food truck?
*This story was also published in the Tennessean.