With more flexibility in service, local food trucks resist the pandemic | New
As soon as Karen Wille, co-owner of the Smokin ‘Wille barbecue food truck, took an order from a customer on a recent weekday while parked in the Home Depot parking lot, Lisa Leikam, an employee and friend of longtime Karen, worked at the side, putting together a pulled pork sandwich and putting macaroni and baked beans in a container.
In just a minute, Wille placed the order, the tasty and warm aroma of simmering meats lingering in the air.
For some owners, food trucks appealed to those who wanted to enter the food industry without the intimidating expenses and start-up costs of traditional traditional establishments while still being able to meet customers where they are.
In the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic, it seemed food trucks were slightly better positioned to cope with restrictions imposed by local health departments. Truck owners didn’t have to worry about managing seating, which was limited for months in Riley County, and for the most part their concept revolves around the idea that customers can pick up their orders. and leave.
For the most part, adding masks, bottling individual sauce containers, or handing out drinks instead of putting in a cooler have been some of the simpler and rarer changes these trucks have made.
Even so, these kitchens on wheels have not been completely removed from the impacts of COVID-19.
Wille said Smokin ‘Wille’s truck, as well as Wamego’s storefront, had closed for a few weeks at the start of the pandemic due to the uncertainty of the situation, fewer people eating at restaurants and to keep her daughter from d ‘potentially catch the virus. They reopened in May, but they are still not functioning as they were before last March.
“A lot of the places we’ve been to have been completely closed, and some of them we still haven’t come back,” Wille said.
Although serving lunch throughout the week was a constant feature of her truck’s schedule, Katie VanVleet, owner of Tasty Traveler, said major events and festivals work made up about 80% of her business. After those were called off without the situation ending, VanVleet took on another job, dropping truck operations on Fridays and usually dealing with events on weekends. In the near future, at least, VanVleet has said it plans to continue this model.
“I think people felt comfortable (patronizing the food trucks) because it was outside, and we had that layer of distance between us, so I feel like even though we made the change to go from every day of the week to Friday, people came out and supported us very well and continued to follow us, ”said VanVleet. “We have great days now that we’re only one day a week. Our overheads are pretty much all in the truck. We didn’t have a dining room or an entire patio that we had to close so we were very lucky.
Melissa Asper, co-owner of The DoughBro, which went fully operational in August, echoed similar thoughts. Asper said she and her husband, Steven, had discussed opening up a physical space for the business, but the pandemic has made them think about the volatility of doing so at this time.
“You think of situations like this that come up and it’s like, ‘God, look what it would’ve done to us if we’d been in a storefront,’” Asper said. “Companies are closing their doors or their capacity is reduced by a third of what it was before or whatever the instance. But the good thing about having a food truck is that customers expect it not to hang around. It’s just the wait for the way the business is set up, just stop and get what you need, then take it with you. “
While The DoughBro, whose name is a riff on Dobro guitars and serves bierocks, cinnamon buns, and other salty and sweet products, is typically in the community Wednesday through Friday and some Saturdays, it also has integrated delivery of orders to customers on occasion and taking pre-orders. The truck is still fairly new, Asper said, but as the growth grows, she hopes she can expand her delivery options and be opened more often.
Wille said that over the past year their truck has been focusing on small events instead of festivals, which are slowly starting to come back, but nowadays they’re in the area often throughout the week. She said they have been able to navigate the pandemic so far, but one of the issues they have faced recently is quality issues in their food supply chain.
“The production is down, but the quality that comes out of it is definitely down,” said Wille.
She said that with a low number of workers returning to warehouses, the product is not turned as often, resulting in the truck having a shorter window for using items like meat or even receiving expired products. , as well as products arriving with inconsistent quality. The lack of workers has also led to price spikes for some foods as it becomes more difficult to process them to the same level and at one point Smokin ‘Wille’s had to take the brisket off the menu to avoid raising prices. of his meals.
VanVleet said she was certainly feeling the impact of people who scrambled to support small businesses and local businesses at the start of the pandemic, which has remained constant ever since.
“They had compassion for what all the restaurants and food services were going through,” she said. “I feel like now it’s like they’re just dedicated and loyal. Now they’re like, ‘OK, where are you going to be? OK, I’ll make my plans and make sure we get there next Friday. We’ve had a good following from the start, but I just feel like it’s grown and grown.