If the scene in Spenard on Thursday, June 6, was any indication, Anchorage residents are starved for two things: summer weather and lunch from the growing army of mobile kitchens working the streets. From the center of the ad hoc courtyard the trucks created in a parking lot, customers could also feel the growing pains of the food trend.
Seven truck-based lunch windows made up the Food Truck Carnival in the lot of Chilkoot Charlie’s at Spenard Road and 25th Avenue. The weekly gathering there is from 11am to 2pm. Though it started just a couple months ago, word has spread quickly.
Terry Gallagher sat on a curb and ate a pineapple pork skewer from the Urban Bamboo truck. She said it was good food, though a little salty. It was her first visit to the Food Truck Carnival. She was unimpressed with how long she had to wait.
By 12:15, two of four items listed on the chalkboard menu outside Good Wheel Foods were washed off. They had sold out. At that time, if customers stayed in line to order what was left -- fish tacos and tater tots -- they were warned of 30- to 40-minute wait times. (The actual wait time was more like 15 to 20 minutes, however.)
But long wait times and unavailable items didn’t seem to spoil the mood for many.
Matt Tocchini, who owns the Eat sandwich truck, says customers seem more accepting of the downside because the food and atmosphere are worth it. He prepared a top sirloin with pesto and red onion sandwich while Kameron Kowalski greeted the customers at the window. He said he regularly sells out of his offerings, but customers seem understanding of the limitations of a mobile business.
Tocchini says he enjoys his mobility. It allows him to connect with his customers better, he says. His overhead costs are lower than they would be at a traditional restaurant. “And you know what? It’s fun,” he said.
Kastle Sorensen, owner of the Kastle’s Kreations cupcake truck, has mixed feelings. She came to Spenard that day stocked to sell 1,000 cupcakes. To that end, she began baking at noon the day before and worked until 11pm, with just a few short breaks. She sold out in one hour.
It’s a good problem for a small-business owner to have. The problem is she regularly sells out everything no matter where she parks her bakery. Though she admits she prepares and sells a larger quantity at the Food Truck Carnival, her costs have also gone up.
Sorensen says the fee she pays to do business there has gone from $20 to $75 per Thursday in just a couple months. She’s concerned another hike could be coming soon if the property owner looks for a bigger slice of the pie. If that happens, she’ll have a difficult decision to make, she says.
For now she’s operating at capacity, at least until she can move her kitchen out of the vehicle and carry more product to locations like the Carnival. The crowds will just be getting bigger, she predicts.
“I think the summertime is going to be huge,” she says.
Max Walton, who juggled flaming devil sticks as part of the entertainment troupe Alaska Fire Circus, agrees. “A month ago there was a quarter as many people,” he said.
You can find the Food Truck Carnival on Facebook here.