The food truck revolution continues to bring quality eats to a sidewalk near you, and this short documentary focused on four past and present purveyors on a ride through the unique business model’s many ups and downs.
How did you find this perfect mix of characters? Did you try to get Roy Choi?
I was mostly looking for characters that brought something different to the table, who came from different walks of life, and who had unique experiences and levels of success within the mobile food industry. I used my excuse of “research” to dine at over 100 food trucks (and gained literally 15 pounds in the process — all in the name of filmmaking!).
Interestingly enough, social media was vital to finding my subjects — which is fascinating considering the role that the internet plays in marketing most trucks in their regular operations. I found Lawrence Fama (of Tapa Boy Truck) on Reddit — he had posted an AMA entitled “I am a former food truck operator.”
I used Kickstarter to fund my project and actually met Briggidy and Charlie through their own Kickstarter campaign on the site. I found Dave (Trailer Park Truck) through an interview (that was cut from the film) with an employee of Wrap One— a company that specializes in wrapping food trucks with colorful designs, among other things. He mentioned that Dave had one of the most innovative “truck concepts” that he had ever seen, so I reached out to him after my interview with that Wrap One employee. Finally—I met Taylor (of Steel City Sandwich) the old-fashioned, foodie way. I was just grabbing some food during my lunch break when I saw that her truck, which I had never heard of, was nearby. The sandwich was honestly just really good (Fries on a sandwich! Of course I was instantly seduced!) and I knew that if I filmed her, I would probably get to eat more of her sandwiches. There were several other food truck owners that we actually interviewed for the film, but the four that we selected as our focus each epitomized different concepts that I thought would best help convey my impressions of the mobile food industry as a whole.
I initially tried to get Roy Choi for the film, but as the project progressed I found myself less interested in telling a Horatio Alger tale and more interested in highlighting the experiences of the everyman. A Roy Choi-like trajectory for my subjects is a dream within sight yet not quite achievable. The Kogi truck serves as their green light across Gatsby’s harbor. While Roy Choi’s tale is certainly a fascinating one — the perfect “American Dream Story” of one ordinary man’s rise to success on his own merits — it’s not a reality for most. It’s an exciting, optimistic, delicious story — but it’s one that’s already been told, and we know the ending. I saw more potential for dramatic tension in the stories of underdogs whose futures were unclear than someone who has already achieved unambiguous success.
How are all the trucks doing now?
With the obvious exception of the Tapa Boy Truck (which — spoiler alert — was closed down prior to the start of this film), all the main trucks that I focused on are still doing well and out on the road, which is pretty unusual/incredible given the relatively low success rate of most trucks and the food industry as a whole. I see The Farmer’s Belly the most, as they sometimes park at USC.
Where do you see the trend going into the future?
I asked that question of almost everyone I interviewed, and everyone had a different answer. At this point I personally don’t see food trucks going away anytime soon. I see the most potential for their growth in gentrifying neighborhoods — areas where “hip coffee shops” have yet to move in but the demand for “foodie foods” is there.
Food trucks have been great, for example, for the area surrounding the USC campus — which has always been a bit of a culinary wasteland of fast-food restaurants. Within the past year or so, there have been five or six trucks parked just outside the campus for lunch every day, and they’ve really caught on. I think people would be super upset if the trucks went away and we had to go back to eating our feelings at Panda Express. I definitely think food trucks are here to stay. There’s obviously a saturation point. There can’t be a 1:1 ratio between food trucks and people, for example. At some point the market is going to limit the number of trucks that can realistically be out there. But I don’t think that mobile food is just a trend. Individual trucks and concepts may die out but I think the idea of alternative ways of selling and purchasing food is growing and innovating each year.