Make us your home page

Food trucks rolling into the suburbs


Nick Tzoumas grew up in Chicago, where food trucks are so popular, the City Council recently banned vendors from doing business within 200 feet of a restaurant. Tzoumas' dad, who owned a sub shop for many years, once appeared on a local Chicago television station denouncing the trucks. So why was Tzoumas standing in the middle of the suburbs last Friday night eating a gourmet hot dog from a food truck called Americanwiener? "This reminds me of home," Tzoumas said. "The food is cheap and really, really good. And there's nothing like it around here." The food truck craze, which hit Tampa almost a year ago, has seeped into the suburbs.

From Westchase to Lutz, Odessa to Brandon, food trucks are attracting fans outside of downtown.

Customers known more for their manicured lawns and expansive community centers are proving that food trucks aren't just an urban concept anymore. It appears America's fixation with food trucks doesn't stop at the city limits —- suburbanites like their food, too.

At the Odessa Food Truck Festival last week, several hundred people showed up during the four-hour event to sample foods from seven different food trucks, including a cupcake truck that quickly sold out.

From 3 Suns Organic Bistro's all-organic fare to Keepin' It Reel's fresh catch, it was the place to be on a Friday night in Odessa.

"It's something different," said Sue Nee, a Keystone Manors resident who went for the Portabella Burger from Burger Culture. "I like the idea."

It seems a lot of people like the idea, too. Thousands of locals have embraced the food truck concept.

A year ago, there were fewer than 10 gourmet, contemporary food trucks in Hillsborough County, said Todd Sturtz, owner of Tasting Tampa, a restaurant and food truck consulting business. Today, there are more than 50, said Sturtz, who organizes food truck rallies all over the Tampa Bay area.

Once the movement caught on, people who didn't have money to invest in a brick-and-mortar restaurant saw food trucks as an opportunity to share their food with the world.

The first rally Tasting Tampa organized featured 10 vendors and drew almost 5,000 people to South Tampa. A Fourth of July event at Idlewild Baptist Church in Lutz attracted more than 10,000 people. The first-ever rally in Lakeland last weekend featured 14 trucks and about 2,000 customers.

Food trucks work in the suburbs, Sturtz said, because residents have fewer choices in quality restaurants close to them. Also, social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter aid in the marketing campaign. Most followers subscribe to food trucks to track their suburban schedules.

"(Food truck rallies) present a variety of choices of cuisine at a variety of prices," said Sturtz, who is looking to host monthly events in the suburbs. "It's nice to have that many choices at one place at one time."

• • •

The food truck gathering in Odessa was organized by John Ciani, who owns the Odessa Organic Farmers Market.

His Green After Dark event, a nighttime farmer's market, proved so popular, he wanted to do more. 3 Suns Organic, the only food truck at Green After Dark, suggested the rally.

"The food trucks are owned by local business men and women who work very hard at what they do," Ciani said. "It's something that should go beyond city limits."

The farmer's market property, a parcel of land along Gunn Highway, served as a grassy parking lot for the trucks. A live band performed, artisans sold handmade crafts and locals mingled from truck to truck, mulling dinner options like sushi rolls and grouper sliders — all for under $10.

Residents, like 20-year-old Katie Dennison, appreciated the selection.

"There's a variety of foods to choose from, so everyone can find something that appeals to them," said Dennison, who was accompanied by her parents and boyfriend. "And we don't have to travel far."

Food truck vendor Shirley Quinones, owner of Unforgettable Cupcakes, said driving to the suburbs has been good for business.

Twice a month, Quinones and her Unforgettable Cupcakes truck roar into small communities where she sells specialty cupcakes for $2.50 each. In Odessa, hungry customers snatched up all 300 cupcakes in under two hours.

Deborah Ahlgren drove from Safety Harbor to Odessa to check out the rally. She once owned a hot dog cart and is contemplating operating a food truck offering Chicago-style hot dogs.

"With food trucks, you can offer a quality selection," said Ahlgren, who opted for a buffalo po' boy. "And if the food is good, people will come."

. If you go

Upcoming rallies

• Saturday: Tarpon Springs Hippie Fest & Food

Truck Rally, 4 to 9 p.m., Historic Downtown Tarpon Avenue

• Aug. 25: The Official South Tampa Food Truck Rally, 4 to 8 p.m., Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, 1309 W Swann Ave., Tampa

• Aug. 31: Food Truck Rally at MOSI, 7 to 11 p.m., 4801 E Fowler Ave., Tampa

Food trucks rolling into the suburbs 08/16/12 [Last modified: Thursday, August 16, 2012 4:30am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. One of the best places for investing in a rental house is in Tampa Bay

    Real Estate

    Two Tampa Bay ZIP Codes are drawing national attention.

    . If you're looking to invest in a house to rent out, few places are better than  ZIP Code 34607 in Hernando County's Spring Hill area, according to ATTOM Data Solutions.
 file photo]

  2. Tampa Chamber of Commerce announces small business winners


    TAMPA — The Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce selected the winners of the 2017 Small Business of the Year Awards at a ceremony Wednesday night at the David A. Straz, Jr. Center for the Performing Arts. More than 600 attendees celebrated the accomplishments of Tampa Bay's small business community.

    Vincent Cassidy, president and CEO of Majesty Title Services, was named Outstanding Small Business Leader of the Year by the Greater Tampa Chamber of Commerce.

  3. International array of artists chosen as finalists for pier project

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — A diverse group of six artists will compete for a chance to install their work at the city's multimillion-dollar Pier District, expected to open in early 2019.

  4. Gourmet food fight between top chefs raises $200,000


    ST. PETERSBURG — The chefs came armed with their secret ingredients — pork rinds, truffle butter, pork bellies.

    (From left to right) Chefs Ryan Mitchell, Michael Buttacavoli, Ted Dorsey and Matthew Brennan compete during Tampa Bay Food Fight at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg on Tuesday. The event features chefs from the Tampa Bay area and benefitted Metropolitan Ministries. EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times
  5. HSN star Joy Mangano promotes new book: Inventing Joy


    ST. PETERSBURG — After more than 30 years, Joy Mangano knows a thing or two about promoting products. Now she's promoting herself.

    Inventor and entrepreneur Joy Mangano is releasing her first new book, Inventing Joy on Nov. 7. [TIERRA SMITH | Times]