Food truck owners unite to build business, opportunities

With shows like the Food Network’s The Great Food Truck Race, food on wheels has evolved from trend to craze in big cities all across the country. Cincinnati is home to 28 food trucks and trailers, and 11 of them have recently joined the Cincinnati Food Truck Association, a nonprofit that aims to reinvent food truck vending.  
In 2010, Café de Wheels was one of the only food trucks in town; in 2011, Taco Azul popped on the scene. And last year, there was a huge boom in the local food truck business.
“Food trucks are the fastest growing sector of the food industry, and it’s growing here,” says Emily Frank, 38, of C’est Cheese. She also serves as CFTA’s president. “People are excited about food trucks.”
With so many trucks, there was a need for a unified voice to represent them. In June 2010, the Mobile Food Vendor Pilot Program, which was strongly supported by City Councilmember Laure Quinlivan, was born.
The Pilot Program allowed food trucks and trailers to serve street food in certain areas of downtown's Central Business District on a first-come, first-served basis, with proper permits. Food trucks were allowed one to two spaces in Sawyer Point, six spaces at Court Street Market and 12 spaces in a parking lot at Fifth and Race Streets.
Building off the Pilot Program, a group of UC urban planning students who were interested in food hubs held a meeting for food truck owners and operators in September. The students got everyone talking, but since they were only working on the project for a semester, it was up to the food truck owners to do something.
Frank, Elizabeth Romero of Sugarsnap! Truck and Tracy Sims of Taco Azul formed CFTA last fall. They held a meeting and extended an invitation to join the CFTA to the 25 other food trucks in town.
“We didn’t know what to expect from our peers, but it was very positive,” says Romero, 29, CFTA’s secretary. At the first meeting, two other trucks joined CFTA.
Currently with 11 members, CFTA hopes to see at least four other trucks join this spring. Right now, food trucks are part of the Night Owl Market downtown and are staples at Sawyer Point—CFTA is even part of Taste of Cincinnati this year. In the future, CFTA hopes to plan one or two food-related events throughout the year.
For example, Atlanta’s food trucks are in the suburban parks, says CFTA’s treasurer, Sims, 32. CFTA will soon be meeting with City Parks and discussing the possibility of having food trucks at park events.
“All of the money made during the event would be given back to the park to help build a strong relationship with them,” says Sims. “It would be very seasonal, but very profitable.”
One of CFTA’s immediate goals is to work with the city to increase the number of available mobile food vending spots that are outlined in the Pilot Program. “We want to represent Cincinnati and be part of the community,” says Romero. “We want the city to be proud of food trucks and show them off like the brick-and-mortar staples in the city.”
Members of CFTA are C’est Cheese, Café de Wheels, Catch-A-Fire, Eat! Mobile Dining, Eclectic Comfort Food, Goldstar Chili Mobile, Kaimelsky’s, Mr. Hanton's Handwiches, Queen City Cookies, Sugarsnap! and Taco Azul.
By Caitlin Koenig
Follow Caitlin on Twitter