As one positive effect of Fort Worth's stay-at-home order, local food trucks are experiencing a revival in a big way. Somewhat of a dying trend the last 10 years, many mobile kitchen operators are now revving up their engines and hitting the streets to feed stir-crazy residents who’ve been hunkered inside their homes for weeks to curb the spread of coronavirus.
For some, the requests for neighborhood visits — and resulting onslaught of orders — have been overwhelming.
“The demand is so crazy at this point,” says Melvin Robertson, owner of Dough Boy Donuts. “It’s a lot more than I ever imagined it would be. I’m a little overwhelmed about how I can feed all of these people without running out so quickly."
While Robertson is still operating his Camp Bowie Boulevard storefront for curbside pickup, he’s trying to fulfill the numerous requests he’s received for neighborhood stops, having recently visited Aledo, Benbrook, Ridglea, and Burleson. Armed with a trailer full of prepared sausage rolls, cinnamon rolls, and doughnuts, he continues to run through his product quickly.
“In Burleson, we sold out in about half an hour,” he says. “It’s really hard turning people away. We’re stepping up on our prepping. Everything is made from scratch, which is both a blessing and a curse. When you’re making five or six hundred sausage rolls and cinnamon rolls over a four-day span, not to mention the thousands of doughnuts, it’s kind of a pain. We’re trying, but we don’t want to cut any corners.”
The neighborhood business has helped Robertson bring back his staff, some of which had to be cut during the early days of the pandemic. He first tried home deliveries based on pre-orders, but that proved cumbersome and not cost efficient.
“I said, ‘No more of the door-to-door stuff. Let’s just park in one spot and have them come to us,” he says, adding that he’s looking to revamp the interior of his food truck to hold more product.
Salsa Limon owner Ramiro Ramirez, a pioneer in the Fort Worth food truck scene before opening multiple brick-and-mortar locations, says he has seen a “massive increase” in his food truck demand.
“We are establishing our routes now, staying close to Fort Worth at this point but considering going farther due to requests,” he says. “The key is social media support from the neighborhoods we visit.”
Social media support is what has helped keep some of the local restaurant industry afloat during the pandemic, as establishments rely on Facebook and Instagram to plead for business and post weekly menu specials for curbside pickup.
But as many residents are taking advantage of the opportunity to take a walk — not a drive — to pick up dinner, they are turning to social media platforms like the Nextdoor app to ask for or share the news of a nearby food truck visit.
“I personally have seen a great increase in general for actual neighborhood visits versus booking the normal events that are usually so abundant in the spring,” says Jenny Powell-Castor, owner of Luckybee Kitchen, known for its sophisticated street food. “As people began to see my efforts to find a safe and legal way to run Luckybee, slowly the idea of having me roll up to their neighborhoods seemed novel and efficient.”
Powell-Castor initially experienced a significant number of cancellations for gigs at the onset of the stay-at-home order, she says.
“It was a scary 48 hours of not wanting to open my email to see what was postponed or canceled next,” she says. “I knew immediately I needed to adapt and figure out a way to stay relevant.”
While Powell-Castor is busy, she says her cost of business has increased by about 20 percent due to product availability, food cost, increased employee safety measures and to-go packaging.
“Having a custom, seasonal menu is wonderful and keeps everyone from getting bored, but it can also be a costly business model if I do not have enough patrons,” she says.
Neighborhoods that have called on her to visit lately include Tanglewood, Lake Country Estates, Stonegate Manor, Colonial Country Club, and Live Oak Creek — to name a few.
“I am so blessed to say that the inquiries just keep coming in," she says, "and I am obliged to accommodate.”