Food trucks feel winter’s chill
For operators of food trucks, the winter season can be as different as the fare they serve.
For some, it’s time to slow down and regroup. For others, routes continue but work is catch as catch can. And for a lucky few, it’s business as usual.
“Our goal is to help the food truck community through the winter,” says Ben Damonte, manager of the Damonte Family Event Center at Sage Hill and organizer of the South Reno Food Truck Fest.
After two successful events, the fest is expanding to the second and last Friday of each month through May. The Desert Way venue features room for 10 food trucks, indoor seating for 150 with additional table space in two heated patios, and what Damonte said was a welcome local event for South Reno residents.
Area food trucks, which usually race from one event to the next during the summer, were happy for the off-season event, too.
“The winter has been tough and the Sage Hill food truck Friday has really helped out,” says Brad Stocking, owner, Mount Mogrit Gourmet, which serves grits, salads, sandwich wraps and desserts, including Stocking’s latest recipe, huckleberry cheesecake.
Stocking, like a lot of food truck operators, keeps up a routine in the winter, hitting such spots as Desert Research Institute, Bibo’s on Record Street near the University of Nevada, Reno, and Henry Schein Inc., a dental supply distributor on Rock Boulevard. But he says inclement and cold weather sometimes keeps many regular customers inside.
So an event such as the food truck fest helps, although Stocking thinks he probably just broke even after paying the $100 fee. He says the first outing was well-attended but rain dampened the Feb. 28 event, where he generated sales of just three times the fee, enough to cover his costs.
“I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by the Sage Hill event,” says Tom Cushman, owner of St. Lawrence Pizza Co., featuring wood-fired pizzas. “Neither had great weather but I did a lot better than I was expecting to.”
Cushman, who has been operating his truck since 2011, took most of February off to recharge and repair his mobile kitchen. That’s why Cushman works 100-hour weeks in the summer, to fund some downtime in winter. But he says despite the slow start, March is already picking up.
“I had more scheduled in the first week of March than I did in all of February,” says Cushman.
Food truck purveyors say it’s important to operate even when business is slow to keep their brands fresh.
“We’ve been losing money on winter, but we’re building up a customer base,” says Rich Selden, owner, Electric Blue Elephant food truck, which serves vegan food. “We do it because we’re a new truck so when the high season comes around people will know who we are.”
Selden hits a lot of the same spots as other food trucks — office building complexes, big call centers – but says he often sticks to the downtown area, including the Discovery Museum, and UNR because of the type of food he serves.
For Sandra Knoll, operator of Taster’s Paradise Mobile Cafe & Bakery food truck, winter hasn’t changed her year-old business much. She still runs the same route, including a law office and a couple of hair salons.
Knoll attributes her good fortune to an eclectic menu that includes baked goods, a breakfast burrito, a daily lunch special, and hot drinks that people clamor for even more in the winter.
“Everyone wants hot chocolate or coffee and they’ll stand in the snow and the rain to get it,” says Knoll. “Actually, I’ve had a really good winter. I was shocked.”
“I’m excited about the growth, I think it’s only going to make our city better, as long as we as a community hold on to what makes us special,” says Porterhouse Marketing owner Sarah Porter.