Keep on Truckin’
The unique challenges of operating a food truck
By Eric Castillo
I talked to some of Albuquerque’s food truck owners to discuss the difficulties that come with the job. Amy Black, the grits-slinging owner of the Supper Truck, puts one particular challenge on the top of her list: winter. For a number of truck owners, this last winter was their first time operating during Albuquerque’s coldest months. They learned the hard way just what kind of havoc freezing temps can wreak on pipes and faucets. Black remembers waking up each morning to unfreeze pipes with whatever tools she could find, usually her hair dryer, and working for hours so she could get her truck operational for the day.
Black remembers waking up each morning to unfreeze pipes with whatever tools she could find, usually her hair dryer, and working for hours so she could get her truck operational for the day.
“That was the hardest for me,” says Black. “It just felt like every day, something broke.”
It’s not just cold weather that’ll put a damper on trucking. “We’re pretty vulnerable to any elements,” says Matt Fuemmeler, owner of the Boiler Monkey. His converted 1977 crêpe-producing bus might be the only one of its kind in Albuquerque, but it has plenty in common with other food trucks. It gets breezy when the wind blows, it’s hot when the sun beats down and cold when the temperature drops. Extremes in weather can also lower customer turnout.
Surprisingly, though, rain is the one element that al fresco diners don’t seem to mind. Amy Black has found that a little drizzle has less of an impact on their customers than, say, cold or wind.
“I’ve got to give a shout-out to Burqueños because they don’t care about rain at all.”
But even the bravest Burqueños have their limits with rainy weather. On July 26, Soo Bak Foods (who specialize in Korean “Seoul food”) was posted up at Hyder Park for dinner. Owner John Katrinak was serving his signature Korean fusion cuisine when an unexpected storm quickly rolled in. The storm caused major damage to the park, toppling trees and sending people running for safety. Katrinak described the scene as “insane.”
“Within like five minutes, the storm came out of nowhere. 15- to 20-foot limbs were falling off trees.”
Park visitors dashed to their cars and drove to safety. One customer even jumped into the food truck to get out of harm’s way. Even with orders left unfilled, Katrinak had no choice to but secure his truck and drive to safer ground. Luckily such occurrences are rare, and Albuquerque holds steady to its reputation of having at least 300 days of sunshine.
But even when the sun is shining and the winds are still, food truck owners have plenty to deal with. If you’ve ever forgotten to feed the meter downtown or parked in the wrong area at UNM, then you’ve probably run into a common hassle—a parking ticket. For most it’s a nuisance, but for Fuemmeler—who’s received at least one every single month he’s been operating—it has the potential to put a damper on business. Fuemmeler has been cited for the width of his bus, but says he feels singled out. He also says that the Boiler Monkey is about on par with other food trucks and delivery vans who are not subjected to quite the same strict scrutiny from parking enforcement.
Parking tickets aren’t the end of his hassles. He and Supper Truck owner Black started what was supposed to be a simple idea—movies in the park—that quickly turned into an unexpected battle. After successful turnouts for movie events in Bataan Park, the truck owners started getting complaints from neighbors. Questions over proper permits put their event in jeopardy. Fuemmeler was surprised to find out exactly how much bureaucracy would be involved to keep their event going.
“Some of the stuff with permitting is just so arduously redundant,” says Fuemmeler. “The amount of red tape that’s out there that we have to cut through is kind of bizarre.”
Black and Fuemmeler have worked with the proper City of Albuquerque departments to ensure they’re sticking to the rules, but both sides are dealing with unprecedented ground. Black says that many of their other event ideas have been neglected because their time and energy is spent on dealing with proper permits for movies in the park. On the plus side, they have made some headway and recently came to an agreement on the future of the event. You’ll have two more chances the rest of the year for movies and food trucks in Bataan Park on Sept. 15 and Oct. 6.
With all of the hassle involved, from rough weather to truck maintenance to event headaches, it might be hard to imagine why anyone would want to get in to this business. But for many, owning a food truck is the fulfillment of a dream and a chance to share their food with the masses. For Debra Taylor de Sanchez, owning a truck fulfills a dream she’s had since she was 18—back when “roach coach” was the more common term for mobile cuisine. Her truck, Hot Off the Press, is one of the newest trucks to hit the streets, having just opened in July. She recognizes that she’s the beneficiary of the collective experience of the trailblazers before her. She did her homework and due diligence by meeting with other truck owners and absorbing as much of their wisdom as she could.
"We learned from the veterans by watching them and asking questions.” Sanchez adds, “Most of the trucks have been very pleasant and very eager to share their experiences.”
It’s proven helpful as she works to bring her panini menu to the streets of Albuquerque.
The fact that food truck owners are willing to brave the elements and put up with permit and parking problems serves as a testament that they’re willing to do what it takes to bring out the best food possible. They work hard at making it easy to get gourmet food on the streets of Albuquerque.
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