By 2010, Austin’s food trailer scene had taken flight, with new additions appearing each month in bar yards and previously deserted lots.
Already home to family-run taco trucks and the occasional Sixth Street hot dog cart, the city started to garner national attention for a new wave of creative concepts on wheels. But the trend that started to bloom seemingly overnight began with a few brave pioneers who had a vision and the faith and perseverance to see it through. Five years later, several of these entrepreneurs are seeing their years of hard work pay off, as they become more permanent fixtures in Austin’s food scene.
Enjoy the Ride
Though many food trailer entrepreneurs chose Austin for its warmer climate, the weather is inevitably challenging for anyone in the food trailer business. “The weather will half your profit during the year because winter is cold and summer is hot,” Lucky says.
The temperature inside the trailer was a particularly huge challenge for Spartan because of the effect the ambient temperature had on the dough making process, in spite of their constant recipe-tweaking in an attempt to counteract the fluctuating thermometer.
“With a pizza oven burning for over twelve hours per day, there was no amount of air flow that could combat the heat in summer,” Jeremy says. “The highest temp we ever clocked was 118 degrees inside the trailer in the dead of summer. At some point each year, we just put tape over the temp reading on the clock inside because it was too depressing to look at.”
“Your wheels don’t fall off when you own a restaurant. You have different sets of problems but, to be honest, food trucking is one of the hardest things I could ever imagine anyone [doing].”
FOUNDER, THE PEACHED TORTILLA
And the weather is just one of many challenges, according to Silverstein. “Your wheels don’t fall off when you own a restaurant. You have different sets of problems but, to be honest, food trucking is one of the hardest things I could ever imagine anyone to do. You’re essentially putting a commercial kitchen onto a truck that has no business being a food truck. And so you run into all these problems— problems with the generator not having power. I’ve been on shifts where we lost power in the freezing cold and the pipes were frozen.”
“One of the main problems with the trailer, besides the weather, is how much can you sell,” says Lucky. “It’s a small trailer—limited space, limited stock, limited refrigeration space, so you can only do so much.”
The Portwoods, for example, could only store so much handmade dough, which needs to rise in the refrigerator overnight. “Many Friday and Saturday nights we’d have to shut down because we simply ran out,” Nicole says.
Kim admits that owning a food truck is not easy, but because there are so many unknowns, it’s best to roll with the punches. “You can do the best to your own ability but, outside of that, there’s no control of it, so why stress about it? Just enjoy the ride but work hard at it.”
Despite the many challenges involved, trailers allowed each business the opportunity to start from the ground up. “There’s something very manageable about a restaurant at that scale,” Nicole says. “Your overhead is smaller, your footprint is smaller; everything is just more reined in. With a building, the number of bills seems to have multiplied exponentially. It’s to be expected, but it’s certainly a more complicated venture.”
All four businesses will still own one or more trailers, even if (like in the case of Spartan) it will only be used for special events. We wanted to give people a reason to go to the trucks,” Kim says. “There’s absolutely a synergy there because we’re cross-marketing… It’s definitely beneficial to reach out to more of a customer base. We’re able to go north of Austin, south of Austin, west, east— and we’re reaching out to a lot of customers that just never would’ve come down to a physical location but we’re going to them.”
Having brick-and-mortars means these owners have been able to focus on expansion and, with that, the aesthetic and improvement of their customers’ overall experience. “There’s sexiness about eating on the streets at three in the morning,” Kim says, “But we get to really concentrate on our customers more (now) because they’re sitting here dining with us or drinking with us, and we want the whole experience to be here.”
“There’s sexiness about eating on the streets at three in the morning. But we get to really concentrate on our customers more (now) because they’re sitting here dining with us or drinking with us, and we want the whole experience to be here.”
The Peached Tortilla’s new space on Burnet Road is sunlit and modern, with clean lines, pops of color and street food photos Silverstein commissioned a British photographer to create. With limited capital, Kim says the creation of his South Lamar space was very much a DIY project. The team stayed up all night cleaning, painting, and rearranging and crafting components.
Now with a bigger kitchen and space for more storage and equipment, these four have been able to expand their menus. Though he kept classics like their JapaJam burger, tacos and Bacon Jam Fries, Silverstein says about 80 percent of The Peached Tortilla’s menu is new and will continue to fluctuate with the seasons. Lucky has expanded his menu to include not only puccias, but Southern Italian-style pizza, appetizers and desserts. Spartan is now selling salads, sandwiches and appetizers, including jalapeño dip—a secret family recipe). And Chi’lantro replaced their burritos and quesadillas for healthier, more lunch-friendly selections, such as rice bowls and bite-sized K-Pops (Korean-style chicken wings).
And it’s not just about the food, Silverstein says. “It’s about service, it’s about your atmosphere, it’s about whether the waiter came by to refill your water. And those details kinda get lost in the truck. The experience ends once you hand the food out the window.”
Read about each restaurant’s transition from
food trailer to brick-and-mortar:
Writing: Veronica Meewes – @wellfedlife
Photography: Chris Perez – @citygrammag
Jessie Neuendorff – @jessiekate9
Hannah Vickers – @vickershannah
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