By Samantha Suarez | photography by David Specht
Why do people love food trucks? Food truck rallies and festivals often draw enormous crowds. Travelers often visit cities just to check out their mobile food scene, but what’s all the fuss about?
Food trucks come in many shapes and sizes, cover all types of food and cultures, and provide a dining experience like no other. Little plates of restaurant-quality food are served at street prices with no reservations or dress code required. Customers have the opportunity to meet the chefs as they order their food through an open window. Food truck owners enjoy more freedom to be experimental with their concepts, leading to one-of-a-kind menus. Did you know there are food trucks that focus entirely on different kinds of bacon, mac and cheese, and even butter? From the streets of Brooklyn, Austin, London and more, food trucks have shaped the culinary cultures of cities all over the world.
Most folks probably imagine food truck owners spontaneously hitting the road, hanging out at music festivals, making delicious food, and being their own bosses. While it can involve those things, it also means figuring out health permits, mechanical repairs and the best place to park your truck.
That’s what Abigail Sterling has learned on the road. She has operated her truck, Gettin’ Fresh since 2015, making bacon burgers and breakfast burritos on-the-go. She gave us an inside look at what it’s like to run a food truck.
Women’s LifeStyle Magazine: How would you describe your food, for those who haven’t had a chance to check out Gettin’ Fresh yet?
Abigail Sterling: The sign on the side of our truck says it all: “Hand-crafted.” We make all our sauces from scratch, and “brazenly delicious,” because we bring together a lot of tasty flavors. I focus more on savory food and have lots of vegan and vegetarian options. My biggest seller though is, not surprisingly, the bacon burger, which is made of Bob’s Butcher Block ground beef and bacon patty, topped with sharp cheddar, garlic aioli, and spinach on an Ida’s Pastry Shoppe bun. The whole concept is about making sure everything is fresh.
WLM: What are some misconceptions about running a food truck that you want to debunk?
AS: People romanticize the idea of running a food truck, but it’s tough work! I always crack up when I park, and someone immediately asks, “Are you open now?” When you cook at home, the food isn’t magically ready right away! We still have to prepare everything, and it takes time. Some people think we just roll around with all our food piping hot and ready-to-go.
Others assume that running a food truck is easier than running a brick and mortar restaurant. I don’t think it’s easier; it just has different challenges. When I have big events, for example, where am I going to store everything? Restaurants have large freezers and coolers to store everything safely. With a food truck, we need to figure out how to carry as much product as possible in a safe way with less refrigeration.
WLM: What’s a day in the life of running a food
AS: The minute I open my eyes, I think about all the stuff I forgot to do the day before. I text myself reminders all day long. I get the truck ready and make sure that I have everything I need in the refrigerators. I pick up products like burgers and buns. I drive the truck and have my staff meet me at the location. We scramble to get ready as fast as possible so we can start
Every time we do an event, something always malfunctions with the truck. One day, the window won’t open. Another day, someone didn’t plug the cord in well enough. There was one event where we didn’t have enough propane. It’s all about figuring out how to keep operating when those things happen. I don’t even get phased by it anymore.
Then when the event is over, you just clean everything up! At the end of the day, I’m guaranteed to have a burn, a bruise or a broken nail.
WLM: What do movies like “Chef” get wrong about
AS: I wish that two hundred people lined up around the block every time I Tweeted my location! It’s hard to draw a crowd. You also go through a lot in terms of licensing and permits, but that stuff is too boring to put in a movie. It wouldn’t even work in a montage.
“There’s a great network of woman-owned food trucks, and businesses in general, in Grand Rapids. We look out for one another and provide support. t makes me feel empowered.”
WLM: Can you tell us what the differences are between running a food truck and a restaurant?
AS: I love that we get to bring these big trucks around that act as art pieces. I also like being in a different location all the time. It makes for a unique and exciting experience, and it’s also more flexible. One time on a rainy day, I drove an hour north and pulled into the garage of an office building and served a bunch of employees all day long. You can’t do that if you’re a brick and mortar. Both are difficult to run, though. You still have to train your staff and make sure your food is consistent.
WLM: What’s it like being a woman in this industry?
AS: There’s a great network of woman-owned food trucks, and businesses in general, in Grand Rapids.
We look out for one another and provide support. It makes me feel empowered. It’s also great to be able to ask each other questions and offer answers without hesitation or fear that we are helping our competition. It’s not like that.
Last season, I mentioned to Stephanie Verhage from Crepes by the Lakes that I hadn’t changed the oil in my generator yet. She told me how easy it was to do and that it was important to do it right away. I watched a YouTube video and realized it was super easy, and instead of putting off a task that I wasn’t comfortable doing, I just did it. It felt great when I was done, and all I needed was that encouragement and a little bit of a warning of what could happen if I didn’t. Generators are expensive!
In Grand Rapids, I would say the food truck community as a whole bands together, both female and male. We all know what hard work it is, so offering encouragement or tips to one another that ends up saving someone time and money is pretty cool.
WLM: What are your thoughts on Grand Rapids’ food truck scene?
AS: When I first started in 2015, there were just a handful of trucks, and now there are trucks where I haven’t met the owners yet! It’s really a growing industry. If anyone is thinking of pursuing this business, I’m happy to give advice. I’m not keeping any of the things I learned a secret. I would have been forever grateful to have someone advise me when I started out.