In large metro areas across the country where rents are high, food trucks are a popular way for young chefs to become instant restaurateurs. A few years of cooking signature foods on a truck helps to develop a fan following. And the more success a chef sees on the road, the better his chances are for raising capital to open a permanent space.
That’s been the case in Baton Rouge, where food trucks emerged in 2010.
“For me, I used it as a platform to get me in a fixed location,” says Kevin Black, whose Go Ya Ya’s creperie in the Main Street Market operated as a food truck between 2010 and 2011. “It was never something where I was going to be a food truck forever. It’s a way to get your foot in the door for working a concept.”
Similarly, Curbside Burgers and Fries food truck founder Nick Hufft parlayed his mobile gourmet burgers into a permanent gig as an executive chef. Hufft was recruited to help open Barcadia in New Orleans, and in January he opened Barcadia Baton Rouge. On the menu are his signature Curbside burgers.
Moreover, some permanent eateries have opened food trucks as a way to establish a “second location” for a fraction of the cost. Cupcake Allie, Fresh Salads and Wraps and Cou-Yon’s Cajun Bar-B-Q all opened food trucks after they opened their storefronts to help their reach a broader weekday audience and to handle catering jobs.
“We’re still rocking both the truck and the storefront,” says Allison Offner, owner of Cupcake Allie. Offner says her food truck represents about 50% of overall profits and that it allows her to reach “10 different demographics in a week” for less than setting up a second location.
Hufft says he plans to eventually bring back the popular Curbside truck, which is in the process of being overhauled. “We’re redoing the piping now. We don’t have a date certain yet, because we want to focus on Barcadia,” he says.
Recruiting new operators to Baton Rouge’s food truck trend has been a challenge, due in part to a robust regional job market, says Louisiana Culinary Institute Director of Public Affairs Charlie Ruffolo. “We hear students talk about wanting to open a truck to get their concepts out there, but when they do their due diligence, and then weigh the idea of taking on more debt against a $14, $15 or $16 an hour job offer, they push the truck to the back burner,” Ruffolo says.
Hufft adds that the Capital Region lacks the infrastructure to support food trucks, including a permanent “park” where trucks could reliably run. While he still hasn’t signed a lease, he has been in negotiations for several months to open such a spot at 4158 Government St. next to Calandro’s.
“We’re trying to figure out how to make it work,” Hufft says. “It’s not there yet, but it’s shaping up to be something spectacular.”
Hufft is hoping to attract current chefs interested in experimenting, as well as new operators. One goal of the project would be to act as an incubator and lease vehicles and equipment to help operators get started.