ST. PETERSBURG — The end of the school year plus Cinco de Mayo. Oh, and Kentucky Derby as well as the rare occurrence of a "Supermoon." With all these reasons to celebrate on Saturday, University of South Florida St. Petersburg is hosting downtown's first food truck rally from 4 to 8 p.m. Thirteen food trucks will convene in Parking Lot 2, at Second Street S and Sixth Avenue, with free parking available in the campus parking garage.
Scheduled for the same day as St. Petersburg's annual Taste of Pinellas, USFSP director of communications Tom Scherberger says this was by design.
"A few blocks away from Taste of Pinellas, it will be another draw — people are coming downtown that day with food on their minds. We wanted to have a celebration between the last day of exams and commencement."
The event is sponsored by Tasting Tampa, which has organized a series of successful food truck events, including the area's very first, which drew some 3,500 people in Hyde Park. It also sponsored the first Mayor's Food Truck Fiesta in downtown Tampa.
Shannon Sturtz, Tasting Tampa's director of operations, has seen the area's food truck scene grow by leaps and bounds just since the beginning of the year.
"Four months ago I quit my full-time job in the wedding industry to concentrate on Tasting Tampa. Our first rally we had nine trucks; now in my database there are about 60 local trucks from which we can choose. Pretty much every day I'm getting an email from a new truck. It really just exploded in the beginning of 2012."
She attributes food trucks' immense popularity to the Food Network shows featuring trucks, as well as the national excitement about the rallies. Some of it also may be local governments' increasingly food truck-friendly regulations.
"People locally are getting excited about eating good food, and a truck is a nice way to open a restaurant that is a little less expensive," says Sturtz. "A truck is a good way to try out a concept."
Saturday's rally will feature veteran trucks such as Fire Monkey, but several newcomers will wheel into town.
"A couple of new ones on the scene include The Dude and his Food, which features a variety of dishes, and the Hot Mess Truck is a newer one with different sandwiches. Pocket Pirates is another relatively new one, with ridiculously good fries — like avocado fries and zucchini fries. And they were working on carrot fries," Sturtz says.
The event features a DJ and live entertainment, but the main attraction on Saturday will be red hot and wrapped in foil.
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293.