Second Tampa food truck rally draws thousands

TAMPA — By day three of unemployment, Todd Sturtz was bored.

The laid-off civil engineer with a penchant for unique food needed something to do.

So he started a food blog.

"I noticed we didn't have too strong of a food blogger community here," said Sturtz, 30.

He hoped his blog, Tasting Tampa, would shed light on the area's exciting food scene.

Four months later, his plan seems to have worked.

After Sturtz blogged about some mobile food vendors, "I kind of became the unofficial food truck ambassador," he said. "Or I accidentally appointed myself."

On Saturday, he helped organize Tampa's second food truck rally. More than 4,000 people crowded the area outside Christ Fellowship in Seminole Heights to try food from 30 vendors selling everything from gourmet Popsicles to barbecue.

The first rally, held last month at Hyde Park Presbyterian Church, drew about 3,000 people, some who waited more than an hour to buy from 10 vendors, who soon ran out of food.

Thanks to more vendors, lines at Saturday's event were much shorter.

"The weather is perfect, the lines are where we want them to be," Sturtz said midway through. "It's going great."

Things are going so well, Sturtz, who has since found a new engineering job, hopes to turn Tasting Tampa into a money-maker. So far he hasn't made money off the food truck rallies, but with his business partner, Mike Blasco, Sturtz recently incorporated and they are exploring ways to turn a profit.

They already have three events lined up. On Nov. 1, food trucks will be at Tampa's Museum of Science and Industry. The next day, the first Mayor's Food Truck Fiesta will be held at lunch time in downtown Tampa. And on Nov. 19 they are planning a rally in Largo.

The rallies have been a success for the food trucks, too.

"We've only been open six weeks, so this has been a great way to get people out here," said Heidi Nagle, owner of Fat Tortillas, a truck from Riverview selling Southwest-style food.

Mike Smith brought his sushi truck Fish Out of Water from Orlando for the event.

"I hear that the food truck scene in Tampa is about to explode," he said.

Food trucks have become common in Orlando, where rallies have been held for months, Smith said. "They are still a novelty in Tampa."

Krista Owen, 37, of FishHawk Ranch in Litihia liked having lots of options for her three children, ages 11, 6 and 5.

"It's the best way to get food," she said. "For us, it's much easier. We've got picky eaters who can find something they like."

They already had tried a lobster roll from Monsta Lobsta and were looking for their next find.

Roberto Coccia, 59, and his wife drove from their home in Clearwater to attend.

"It's fun to look for something other than the ordinary," Coccia said. "These people are creative, young and industrious. We like to support young entrepreneurs."

Judging by Saturday's turnout, the rallies are providing what people have been looking for, Sturtz said.

"It's the thrill of the chase, the al fresco dining," Sturtz said, "a whole new style of eating that's drawing people in."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at (813) 661-2442 or srossetter@sptimes.com.

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For more information, visit tastingtampa.com.

Second Tampa food truck rally draws thousands 10/22/11 [Last modified: Sunday, October 23, 2011 12:35am]

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