Food Trucks Driving to Become Part of the Local Landscape

Originally Published August 2011 in The Daily Sound, a Santa Barbara, Calif. newspaper that was published from 2006-2012.

Competing with traditional Fiesta festivities is the hallmark of a highly optimistic — perhaps overly optimistic — bunch. But on August 6, when De La Guerra Plaza and El Mercado del Norte were elbow to elbow with families eating tacos and tamales and giving the gift of cracked cascarones, four of Santa Barbara’s local gourmet mobile food vendors, together with some local bands, decided that for three hours in the afternoon, the spirit of Fiesta could use a refresh.

While the crowds never came close to the average human density seen at the established Fiesta venues, the food trucks were all blessed with ample lines of people waiting for food, and a boisterous crowd gathered to hear the likes of False Puppet, a band comprising local high school students whose stage presence, musical competence, and ability to work the crowd were far beyond their age.

It’s another sign, beyond the still-increasing fleet of vehicles you’ll run into throughout the county, that the trend of mobile food is still growing — and that the trucks’ vendors, by and large, are dedicated to becoming part of the local community.

Including Saturday’s Food Truck Fiesta, there have been three such events to date, where local mobile food vendors gather at the lot at 111 State Street, former site of Be Bop Burgers. Participants included O Street Truck, Road Dogs, Green & Tasty, Culture Shock, and Thai on a Truck. Sean Comer was the organizer — or, as he joked, the “ringleader” — of this latest event.

“One of the things about having had three events is it’s giving us an opportunity to learn what works and what doesn’t work,” he said. One lesson learned, he shared, is the importance of bringing a beer vendor on board, something he’ll make a priority for future events.

“I was happy with the band,” Comer said. “I was very happy with the local support. We got a lot of feedback on how the locals want to keep this local.”

One of the newer mobile food vendors, Thai on a Truck, showcased its Fiesta spirit and culinary know-how with some Thai/Mexican fusion specials: a “Thaimale” and Thai-style empanadas. Hayden Dozier, owner and executive chef, says that the Thaimale dish was inspired by his wife, Sudathit.

“What they do in Thailand is use rice for a kind of a ‘rice tamale’ in a banana leaf,” he said. “So this was a similar dish.”

This was the time that Thai on a Truck, which has been in operation for about a month and a half, had participated in one of the food truck events at 111 State St.

“During Fiesta, there’s people selling food on every street corner,” Dozier said. Even so, business was good. “I’m personally pleased on how it worked out for us.”

Thai on a Truck was able to keep serving even after the Food Truck Fiesta at nearby Oreana Winery.

As popular as the food was, the largest gathering at the Food Truck Fiesta was around the first band to take the stage, False Puppet. Patrons and passersby were treated to covers of classic-through-modern rock an hour-long set by the local band, whose members comprise 16-year-old Tyler Benko (guitar/lead vocals); his brother, 15-year-old Brennan Benko (drums); and 16-year-old Channing Peake (bass/vocals)—all of whom attend Santa Barbara High School. The band has been playing together for about two years.

“It was really fun because most of the people walking by aren’t expecting to see a live band just set up on State Street,” said Tyler Benko about the event. “It’s fun to see their reactions and to try and build up a big crowd of people by putting on a good show!”

Peake mentioned that he enjoyed making a fan out of Pearl Bloom, who was working at the Road Dogs food cart.

“The little old lady from the Road Dogs truck was awesome!” he said. “She was totally getting into it and dancing and everything…it was really cool!”

False Puppet’s next performance will be August 11 at Chase Palm Park for the city’s “Concerts in the Park” series (the band’s full schedule can be found at its Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/falsepuppet). Liz Bradley, the proprietor of the O Street Truck (http://www.facebook.com/OStreetTruck), confirmed that False Puppet is scheduled to play at the next food truck event, which is being planned for Labor Day weekend (Sept. 4).

“We’ve already booked them,” said Bradley, “along with two other insanely good bands.”

Bradley, whose O Street Truck has been a fixture at all the 111 State St. events, said that the truck had a great day on Saturday, and is excited about future such events.

“Our opportunity in terms of food trucks is we have access to this wonderful real estate about a block off the beach,” she said. “Locals love the wine trail, love the Funk Zone, love the art that’s down there — we’re the next element we hope they love.”

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