If food service at meetings and events was anything like the social hierarchy of a high school cafeteria, then food trucks would definitely be the cool kids’ table. While the humble box lunch or the ho-hum plated meal stand by on the sidelines, food trucks have been soaking up plenty of attention—and lots of positive buzz. Increasingly, this urban-hipster meal choice is making an appearance at meetings and events of every shape and size, right here in the North Star State. Why are Minnesota meetings and events so gung-ho for these restaurants on wheels?
“We’re on planners’ radar because our industry is super hot right now, and it’s only getting hotter,” says John Levy, president of the Minnesota Food Truck Association. Levy’s association includes more than 60 food trucks, with more than 80 percent of total active food trucks in the state. The association builds awareness, advocates for rights, and, as its website states, “promotes the general awesomeness of the blossoming Minnesota food truck scene.”
Since they were first introduced to the area more than four years ago, food trucks have captured the imagination of downtown lunchtime crowds, taproom regulars and festivalgoers. Now they’re becoming part of the wow factor for meeting and event planners looking to add a fun new twist to traditional food and beverage components.
What’s For Lunch?
Hot Indian Foods, home of the Indurrito, has been working steadily at corporate meetings since it opened. “I spent 15 years at General Mills in marketing, corporate strategy and corporate venture capital, so I’m fortunate that I came into this business with some terrific contacts who plan corporate events,” says owner Amol Dixit, who also opened a brick-andmortar location in Midtown Global Market in May 2014. “For large-scale events, we simplify our menu to serve a large number of people in an efficient amount of time.”
The truck was recently a menu option at the conclusion of General Mills’ annual Brand to Win marketing meeting held at the Guthrie Theater. “Attendees were asked to indicate during registration whether they wanted a standard box lunch or a meal from the food truck, which was parked right outside the theater at the conclusion of the meeting,” Dixit says. “That advance notice helped us gauge the volume we’d need well in advance of service.”
Cupcake on the Go is the distinctive orange truck run by the four-location local bakery. Owner Kevin VanDeraa says he’s been focusing the truck exclusively on events these days. “People love coming up to the window, placing an order and being handed their own choice of cupcake,” he says. “When the weather is nice, it’s a chance to get outside and chat with fellow employees. It’s a hipper and trendier way to say ‘thank you’ than just bringing baked goods into the lunchroom.”
The MidNord Empanada Truck has also experienced an uptick in corporate bookings. The truck, which serves traditional Spanish empanadas and nontraditional choices like mac and cheese and the Juicy Lucita, sells in downtown Minneapolis during the lunch hour and at local taprooms, including 612Brew, Fulton and Harriet Brewing in the evenings. “It’s a great employee benefit to have a food truck show up, either as a break from the corporate cafeteria, or to supplement employees’ choices if there isn’t a cafeteria,” says Megan Gaffney, co owner. The truck has made appearances at The Nerdery, the Ford Center in Minneapolis’ North Loop and the Sportsman’s Guide in St. Paul.
Speed is Key
Roaming Hunger, based in Los Angeles, is a turnkey service that offers event planners a one-stop shop for access to multiple food trucks. “These kinds of events can be tumultuous and complicated, and we make it easy for planners,” says founder Ross Resnick. His site lists 4,500 vendors, located in every state. Locally, he’s booked events that feature Simply Steve’s, Fork in the Road, Wicked Palette, AZ Canteen, Hola Arepa and Dandelion Kitchen. His group recently booked a seven-truck, 1,000-person event for the Deluxe Corporation in St. Paul. Resnick suggests that planners make sure they include a wide variety of cuisines when planning a multi-truck event. “You want to have some traditional fare, but also some choice for more adventurous eaters,” he says.
Another important consideration for any food truck event is speedy service. Long lines may be part of the treasure-hunt thrill of the sidewalk food truck experience, but they’re a big no-no at events. Michael Clark, managing director of The Depot Complex, has held several events that feature food trucks in the outdoor Depot space. “There’s a trick to planning these events, so there are enough hungry people to make it economically beneficial for the food trucks, but with service that’s quick enough to keep people happy,” he says.
An Event Mainstay
During festivities surrounding last year’s Major League Baseball All-Star Game, AZ Canteen, the Andrew Zimmern-branded truck, participated in an event at the Mill City Museum. While D’Amico Catering served guests inside the building, the canteen rolled right into the esplanade and served guests directly from the truck. “We have a flat-panel screen that’s revealed when our awning folds up,” says John Larson, one of the truck’s co-managing partners. “We played baseball highlights that night, but we can also show videos from executives, slide shows, or even messages from Andrew himself.” The truck, which plans to spend some time in Minnesota this winter, will also be doing an AZ to AZ series of events in Phoenix, in conjunction with the Super Bowl.
The Depot included food trucks at the annual Brew Love event, and Clark recently organized a food truck lunchtime gathering to benefit Ronald McDonald House, the signature charity of CMS, the Renaissance Hotel’s parent company. For that event, Clark booked The Red Pig & Truffle, Little G’s Mobile Pizzeria, The Moral Omnivore, Topolo Tacos, O’Cheeze Food Truck and Foxy Falafel. “We had great crowds, raised money for a worthy cause and everyone had a great time,” Clark says.
Many local trucks are increasingly being used for sponsored events, providing branding and promotional buzz for new food products or other services. AZ Canteen has served free samples of healthy gazpacho in conjunction with Health Partners’ Yum Power program, which has an “Eat With Your Mind Open” slogan.
Roaming Hunger was in town last summer with a custom truck promoting Beech Nut baby foods. Stationed downtown on Nicollet Mall, the truck offered free samples of adult options made with its product, including strawberry and apple tart made with Beech-Nut’s just apple & strawberry, green salad made with just Bartlett pears vinaigrette and just apple and pumpkin cheesecake. Resnick, the Roaming Hunger founder, is confident that food trucks will be a main attraction at many events for quite a while. “It’s a way for someone to experience freshly prepared food anywhere,” he says, “and that’s not going to slow down anytime soon.”
STAYING OPEN YEAR-ROUND
These trucks are among the brave ones that are planning to remain open part or all of the winter, especially for events.
AZ CANTEEN Known for signature dishes like the Cabrito Butter Burger and Crispy Pork Belly with Green Papaya Salad, the canteen will be open in Minnesota this winter—that is, when it’s not on the road for the AZ to AZ Series. @azcanteen; 612.615.1115
CRAFT CATERING AND MOBILE KITCHEN Natalie Smoliak, catering manager of what she calls “a traveling culinary experience,” says off-site catering will be up and running this winter, while the big yellow truck will close for the winter. @craftcateringmn; 612.345.1695
GASTROTRUCK Moe Regnier, catering director, reports that his truck’s “handcrafted modern Midwestern cuisine” will be available this season as well as catering. @gastrotruck; 763.607.6055
GRILL WORKS Will and Amy Cave will be dishing up their distinctive diner-style food this winter. @grill_works; 651.955.2539
HOT INDIAN FOODS Amol Dixit’s truck and booth at Midtown Global Market will be serving specialties including the Indurrito (Indian burrito) and Indi Frites (Indian seasoned fries) all season. @hotindianfoods; 612.508.1949
HOUSE OF HUNGER FOOD TRUCK AND CATERING Wesley Kaake operates year-round with food truck services and full-scale catering for private, corporate and film industry events. @houseofhunger; 612.275.4527
KABOMELETTE Husband and wife Greg and Chelsea Miller serve kabobs, omelettes and more from their little red trailer all year long and offer a full catering menu. @kabomelette; 612.644.7856
LULU’S STREET FOOD & THE RED PIG & TRUFFLE Chef Christian Orosz will be serving this winter, either directly from his two trucks or with a full modern buffet line and plated service. @lulusstreetfood; @TRP_Truffle; 651.233.8144
MOTLEY CREWS HEAVY METAL GRILL This food truck that serves up Philly-style sandwiches promises to make food that rocks through the harsh winter. @MotleyCrews
NATEDOGS Nathan Beck’s slogan is “Quality Wieners. Minnesota Farms.” He caters many events throughout the year. @nate_dogs
What are we eating?
Roaming Hunger reports that these are the top types of food truck cuisine in Minnesota:
Sandwiches: 24.1 percent
Tacos: 17.2 percent
Burgers: 11.5 percent
Hot dogs: 9.2 percent
American classics: 8 percent