By Laura Reiley
Times Food Critic
TAMPA — Tampa Bay's first food truck rally rolls into the Hyde Park Presbyterian Church in South Tampa on Sept. 24.
The rally is the brainchild of local foodie Todd Sturtz, a civil engineer by training and the author of the new tastingtampa.com food blog. He's an enthusiastic supporter of Tampa's growing food truck scene.
"The event just fell into place," he said. "I'm friends with Bryan Goodell, the owner of Wicked 'Wiches, and he and I shot the idea back and forth. This is a phenomenon that really blew up this year in Miami and Orlando."
Indeed, a recent Orlando rally drew more than 3,000 visitors, according to Sam Dudding, whose wife Cindy along with Tammy Ashby will launch a food truck called Fire Monkey in Pinellas County on Sept. 10. The first rally in Orange County, Calif., a year ago hosted more than 50 trucks and 8,500 diners. One in May in New York, sponsored by Zagat, brought together 26 of the city's food trucks.
Tampa's first food truck rally still has training wheels: Sturtz capped the number of trucks at 10 to fit on the grounds of the church. A second, larger rally is in the planning stages to accommodate the trucks turned away. In addition to Wicked 'Wiches and the new Fire Monkey truck, vendors at this first event will include Greek Bros., Michelle Faedo's On The Go (deviled crabs and Cuban sandwiches), a newcomer called the Killer Samich Truck, 3 Ballers Traveling Bistro, Cuppin' Cakes and possibly Da-Kine Hawaiian Cafe.
What explains this mobile trend?
Sturtz says that the appeal for vendors is getting the word out to potential customers, who can then track their favorites' locations via Facebook and Twitter. For customers, it's an opportunity to try different foods at a single destination, most dishes ringing in under $10, with some "tastes" in the $1 to $2 range. And with live music and a shaded parking lot, it's more street festival than simple sustenance.
Dudding says Fire Monkey has another motive for participating.
"We're hoping the rally in Tampa can bring awareness to the industry and showcase the area's trucks," he explains. But more importantly, "We're hoping it has some impact on the city of St. Petersburg to write more favorable code for food trucks. The city doesn't have a municipal code for us yet. So until then, most of Fire Monkey's stops will have to be in unincorporated areas of Pinellas in Largo, Clearwater and Carillon Business Park."
Big cities like Houston are said to boast more than 1,000 food trucks now; Miami has close to 70 by a recent count. Tampa Bay's numbers are more modest, but the growing appeal was articulated clearly by Dudding:
"It got rolling because of the recession, because it's a chance to enjoy gourmet food at street-food prices."
Laura Reiley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2293.