While it is no secret that Baton Rouge has a dynamic food truck scene, local restaurants on wheels have recently been expanding rapidly.
For students unfamiliar with food trucks, an average ice cream truck might come to mind. But these meals on wheels are real restaurants run by young professionals.
The trend took off locally when local entrepreneur Jared Loftus and his business partners launched Ninja Snowballs in 2009.
The project was innovative in that it used social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter to alert followers to its location, as it would change daily.
“It’s not much different than what you see at carnivals or festivals,” Loftus explained. “But it is what it is today because of social media.”
Loftus said he chose a snowball business because he knew selling snowballs in Louisiana was not much of a risk.
After he found that the idea of a social media-fueled mobile restaurant would work, Loftus started Taco de Paco, a Mexican eatery that has become the poster child of what Loftus calls the “Baton Rouge food truck revolution.”
While Loftus has been part of the trend since it began, FRESH Salads and Wraps, which operates as a traditional restaurant in the Main Street Market downtown since 2007, just became the newest addition to the food truck scene this month.
Owner Pat Fellows said he felt it was the next logical step for his business.
“It only took getting the truck set up and opening for business,” Fellows said. “We already knew how to make everything. There wasn’t much of a learning curve.”
Fellows, whose mobile business launched at the beginning of August, wants the truck to recreate and advertise the high energy of his downtown store, rather than act as a standalone business.
He found it’s working well so far.
“We were ready to do it because it was an easy step, and we knew it would be a good marketing piece for us,” Fellows said. “It serves me to market my brand, not just salads.”
Loftus said food trucks have seen a huge growth in popularity in just the past year. He attributes the popularity of the food trucks to one simple fact — it’s fun.
“We can roll up anywhere. You’ve got a group of people, and it’s an instant party,” he said.
Loftus also believes the trucks have the ability to be more creative than an average restaurant, which adds a new dimension to the experience.
Fellows plans to implement activities around his truck to make waiting in line more fun for his customers.
“We’ve talked about getting a washer-toss game going, or having a magnetic dartboard on the side of the truck, just small things that are cool and different,” Fellows said.
That’s not to say it is always easy.
“Take everything that could go wrong with a business and then put it on wheels,” Loftus said, recalling times when a truck’s engine wouldn’t start or a truck broke down and had to be towed.
Fellows said he anticipates his biggest obstacle will be that his business goes against the grain of typical food served from a truck.
“I think we may fight an upward battle with a perception of what food from a food truck is,” Fellows said. “So far it’s just been burgers, barbecue and fried foods, obviously very different from what we do.”
But students seem enthusiastic about trying the food.
“I’ve never even heard of them before, but it sounds pretty good,” said Federico Gonzalez, economics freshman.
Theatre sophomore Josh Allred hasn’t tried any of Baton Rouge’s food trucks, but he hails from what many consider to be the food truck capital of the world — Austin, Texas. Allred said “trailer park food,” or food trucks that don’t change location, are a staple of the city.
“It’s almost like a tourist attraction, and I’d recommend it to anyone,” he said.
Fellows and Loftus have a bright vision for the future of the food truck industry, but Fellows said he prefers to put his brick-and-mortar restaurants first.
“We’re looking at multiple locations for restaurants right now,” he said. “We may launch a truck in New Orleans or on the Northshore, testing those markets, spreading our brand and then making the natural step to put a brick-and-mortar in those locations.”
Loftus, on the other hand, remains focused on the trucks, insisting its no overnight fad.
“I think they’re here to stay,” he said. “Unless we see a time where people stop eating or liking good food, I think we’ve only just begun to see the impact of food trucks in the Baton Rouge area.”