Awhile back I threw a question out there, Boston- when it comes to food, who are we? An intense appetite for innovative, fresh, accessible, seasonal, or plain good seems to have taken our city by storm. While the dust hasn’t settled yet one thing is clear: we have more options than ever before. One woman is working to ensure one of those options, food trucks, becomes a new New England staple. She’s kind of my hero.
Anne Marie Aigner, a seasoned marketing and PR guru, is the founder of Food Truck Festivals of New England. Unless you’ve been living under a rock you know that there are a number of food truck festivals planned around the region this summer (eleven to be exact). Thanks in part to Aigner and her team, 2012 will be the Summer of the Food Truck not only for Boston but also for places like Lowell, Falmouth, Framingham, and even Newport, Rhode Island and Salem, New Hampshire. Given the struggles food trucks are facing the festivals are not only a kind of relief for men and women in the industry, but an opportunity for customers new and old to experience the awesomeness that is food in truck form.
So how did this whole festival thing get started in New England? To find out I spoke with Anne Marie as well as Meaghan Barron, the Festival’s Event Manager. “Anne Marie is a visionary,” Meaghan said. “My job has been to spot trends and I was able to do that here,” Anne Marie explained. She first realized the extent of the demand for mobile food last summer after putting on The Fabulous Food Truck Fesitval at The Pine Hills in Plymouth. The event was free and attendees purchased individual items from whichever trucks they pleased while supplies lasted. My husband and I were two of the 4,500 people in attendance; I remember the awe and disappointment we experienced after showing up two hours after the eight hour event started to find that many trucks were already sold out. Their next event at Suffolk Downs drew an even more staggering amount of people: 10,000. Anne Marie knew they were onto something and so Food Truck Festivals of New England was born.
This year “the big idea is to introduce this industry to different communities,” Meaghan explained. “Clustering is another part of it since they aren’t allowed to do that on a daily basis.” Food truck locations are heavily regulated so the Festivals offer a rare opportunity to find multiple trucks in one place.
News of the Festivals has spread like wildfire across local media and residents seem to be into it, but what about the operators and entrepreneurs of the mobile food industry? “At first it was scary for some of the trucks because the industry is so new. They just needed a little time to see the response,” she explains. Now Meaghan gets five to ten calls a day from operators who want to participate. Unfortunately, the cut off dates for inclusion in the festivals has already passed.
It is mind-blowing that there are even that many trucks in our region, so how might the break down go for each individual event? “They vary by festival,” Meaghan explained. “We try to give the local trucks as much opportunity as possible. For each of the eleven festivals there will be twenty to thirty trucks. Boston festivals will be very Boston-centric with more than half local trucks.” Places like Rhode Island or New Hampshire will have less local options, understandably, but each festival will “cover all the bases” with options ranging from hot dogs to unique gourmet items and desserts. A local radio station will DJ each event.
When asked about her hopes for the future of food trucks in our region Meaghan didn’t hesitate: “I hope this gives them an opportunity for a sustainable business model. New England is a food centric area and we care about supporting local food. Everyone is really open to it but it’s so new. That’s why we have to introduce them to the gourmet aspect of food trucks.” In some places “it’s hard to overcome the stigma of ‘roach coaches’” and Meaghan hopes the festivals will build a community for “the lone soldiers in places across New England.”
For these “lone soldiers” and the rest of the passionate people behind New England truck counters the future looks bright. “I’m a bit overwhelmed by the public response,” Anne Marie says. “Communities are begging me to bring a festival to their towns! We have a waiting list for next year. In my thirty years of running a marketing agency I’ve never seen anything like this. People are delighted, surprised, intrigued, and attracted to this food. I don’t know what the future is going to be but if the present is any indication this is going to be a way to eat in New England for a long time.”
For locations of a Food Truck Festival of New England near you, or one you’d like to pilgrimage to, and tickets visit their website site: http://foodtruckfestivalsofne.com. Use code promo FOODTRUCK for $5 off.
Photo credit goes to me, but food credit goes to Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, whose Green Muenster rocks my world.