Food Truck Festival Coming to Athens

By: Sarah Proctor

 

On most days, Walter Washington’s “Lafonda Dawgs” hotdog stand is the only food cart in sight around Athens.

But, come Saturday, that will change.

About 15 food carts and trucks will line the streets of downtown Athens, boasting their signature roadside specialty for the first ever Athens Food Cart Festival.

This festival is part of a national growing trend experts are calling the “mobile food industry.” Now tourists, commuters, or crunched-for-time business people can find a variety of gourmet and even organic meals on the streets of almost any metropolitan city.

In 2011 international food consultants Joseph Baum and Michael Whitman released a food and dining forecast which named mobile trucks the number 4 ‘trend,’ the Food Network created and aired two seasons of their show “The Great Food Truck Race,” an elimination challenge style show which followed some of the best food trucks in the nation cross country as they battled it out for the top prize, and many smartphones have developed apps to help customers locate the trucks via GPS and satellite signals.

Although this is only Athens’ first festival of this type, it is not uncommon to urban cities. During certain months of the year Tallahassee, Florida holds a food truck ‘rodeo,’ as it is sometimes called, featuring multiple food truck venues and live music every Thursday night.

For Athens’ upcoming festival, carts from both Athens and Atlanta will have set ups. Some of the Athens venues will include Farm 255’s FarmCart, King of Pops popsicles, an empanada truck and the Athens favorite- Washington’s Lafonda Dawgs hotdog stand. Some of the Atlanta trucks include Nana G’s chick-n-waffles, Pressed for Time Panini’s, and Honeysuckle Gelato. Many of these Atlanta trucks are members of the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, and send out their location constantly via Facebook and Twitter for their followers.

Washington expressed great excitement for the food truck festival. “I think it’s great because it gives the customers a chance to try a variety of food… and they don’t even have to cook it themselves,” he said.

One popular aspect of food trucks is their price and convenience. Natalie Gonzalez, a junior who worked in downtown Atlanta over the summer, said she was a frequent visitor to food trucks.

“I had a ton of options depending what type of food I wanted, and it was all so good,” said Gonzalez. “It was also a lot quicker and cheaper than going to a sit down place, which I liked.”

Another positive to the mobile food industry is the cost for the vendors. In a study done by PBS, the average cost of a brick-and-mortar restaurant averages $100,000-$300,000. However, a food truck can be started up for only $30,000 and usually no more than $80,000.

Some Colleges are even incorporating the industry into their classes. Culinary schools in Florida, Virginia and North Carolina have added courses in mobile food to their curriculum, according to the Atlantic Cities website. And some schools have recently begun to offer food from these trucks in their cafeterias.

The food cart festival was Eric MacDonald’s, an Assistant Professor in the UGA College of Environment and Design, idea. The idea came to him in the spring of 2011 and has been growing ever since.

“We are hoping to increase interest in mobile food vending, and get people to think about and discuss how these kinds of businesses could enliven downtown, underutilized public spaces,” said MacDonald. “Right now, very few permits for mobile food vendors are issued by ACC. However, mobile food vending could be used as a business or neighborhood development tool.”

Many city officials, such as ACC commissioner and Downtown Development Authority board member Mike Hamby, are also optimistic about the new business niche it can bring to Athens. “This Food Cart Festival will enhance the vibrant downtown culture that already exists here in Athens,” Hamby said in an interview with the Athens Food and Culture magazine. “This event will demonstrate the possibility for a new dimension of food and street culture in Athens. We are excited to support this event and wish it continued success into the future.”

Planners and cart owners are hopeful the festival will have an impact on more than just the business aspect to Athens, however. They hope it will bring the community together for an afternoon of good food and fun.

“It’s a great event for our community. It will just give Athens a small town atmosphere, even for the people coming from Atlanta,” Washington said.

 

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