A FOOD TRUCK NATION

EAT | DRINK
2016
November/December

Food trucks ... they are everywhere! The popular (or shall I say hip) way to grab a quick bite to eat is by walking up to a moving vehicle, and ordering something that can be whipped up right there on the spot. Isn’t that something? But did you know, this American tradition is nothing new? The history of food trucks dates back to the 1800s, and that was after push carts (food carts and not the grocery store carts) were introduced in the 1600s. You must be thinking how a food truck even existed back then, right? Let’s take a stroll back in time.

In 1691, New York started regulating street vendors to be able to sell food from push carts. This made the lives of immigrants much simpler, seeing as they were able to gain employment whilst still trying to blend into their new homeland. Think the traditional hot dog or ice cream stand today, and that is a push cart. Rumor has it that by the end of that century, Manhattan alone was home to 25,000 vendors! One can only imagine what that total is today. So what do you do when there is no more room on the sidewalks? Take it to the streets, or shall we say the plains and prairies.

Charles Goodnight saw the need to feed hardworking men traveling on the job, so he invented the next best thing called a chuck wagon. Goodnight, a former Texas Ranger/cattleman, converted an old army-surplus Studebaker wagon into a covered wagon that carried food and cooking equipment, as part of a wagon train. He opened up shop in 1866, and thus began the chuck wagon scene for hungry cowboys and loggers being fed while crossing the old west. Historical research claims that the owners and cooks for the wagons would be up and running at 3am, and would last through dinner. Boy did those cattleman enjoy hearing the wagon bell go off when food was ready to be served.

Between then and now, the chuck wagon hasn’t only gotten upgrades, like an engine and real tires, to make tugging the food around a lot more easier, but various names. For example, there was the mobile canteen and the Weiner Mobile, two of which our ancestors were available in the early 1900s. Then we have our generations who grew up on musical tunes of the ice cream truck rolling around our neighborhoods. If you’re lucky, you can still hear them driving around Tyler and Longview. Lastly, the first food truck that we know today popped up in 1974 as a taco truck. The rest of the story is where we are at now.

Today, food trucks are found all over America (and the world), taking over in big cities such as Los Angeles, Seattle and our very own Austin. According to the NRA, the food truck industry is expected to be valued at 2.7 billion by 2017. Lucky East Texas, because we too are a part of that number. The food truck scene is progressing and growing quickly in our smaller East Texas towns and cities. If you haven’t had a chance to eat from one, then this must be shocking news to you. 

Just this summer the final zoning permit was approved for the Tyler Food Truck Park (TFTP), the first of its kind in Tyler. The space will be located in Downtown Tyler, and will accommodate five food trucks. “The location of Tyler Food Truck Park is ideal for a food truck concept,” Joseph Filippazzo, of Filippazzo Hospitality Group, said. The park is hoping to be open by spring of 2017, but fingers crossed that it will be sooner than that! In the meantime, you may be lucky enough to try Pietro’s 2 Go, a new food truck developed by the Filippazzo Hospitality Group.

Part of an already established group, including Pietro’s, Pazzeria by Pietro’s and Pazzo Vino, in the Longview and Marshall areas, Pietro’s 2 Go hopes to bring their flavorful pizzas to the Tyler market. “We are constantly looking at ways to improve our brand and reach. … We’ve been around since 1979 and have a very large customer base from Tyler,” Filippazzo said. “We are known for, and specialize in, New York style pizza, and the truck will create New York style pizza in a 9 inch size. We will have five pizza varieties to offer that will be custom-made, on the truck, between a five to seven minute bake time. It will be made to order. And we are strictly focusing on our pizza, but will have bottled beverages and mini conolis as well.”

Just within the month that Pietro’s 2 Go has been open, they have been booked for two events. “We already did an event at East Texas Baptist University. It was for their homecoming. We’ve also done an event in Marshall,” Filippazzo shared. The food truck will travel the Longview, Tyler and Marshall areas, but be based, for the most part, in Tyler when the TFTP opens. “We have been selected as the official pizza of  the Tyler Food Truck Park. So we will be part of that development. “We are going to do a truck rally here in the next month with some trucks from the [Tyler] area. Tyler Food Truck Park is predominantly why we made this investment, because we want to support what’s going on in the Tyler market,” Filippazzo added.

 

Both Filippazzo and Eric Dean, owner of the Mi Casita restaurant in Longview, agree that the food truck scene is a great addition to the area. “I think there is good potential for the market throughout East Texas. We’re really looking forward to the next year [because] food trucks are an excellent way to grow a local restaurant scene,” Dean shared.

Similarly to a food truck park establishment is one that is not too far from Longview and Tyler. 

Charcoal Alley, located in Downtown Jacksonville, is the official, first food truck park in East Texas. Hungry folks from all over the area visit the park to dine, mingle and relax on picnic benches.  The area is currently home to a couple of local food trucks, and at times food trucks from afar stop by as well. If you choose the right night to visit, you’ll be lucky to enjoy tunes from local bands.

If Jacksonville is too far for you Longview locals, and you are looking for an area to sit back and relax close by, how about the lawn next to the Bar-K Ranch store. It is currently home to Shivers Shaved Ice, which is closed for the season. The lawn is a great location to lay out a blanket and enjoy some good food, whether it be a sno-cone or a food item from other food trucks parked there on weekends. Some weekends, local artists will play tunes under the lights and stars. It’s a little piece of the Austin food truck scene that will definitly make you feel hip and cool. The only problem is that the schedules for both the music and food is not annoounced much time in advance. So as far as an actual food truck park in Longview goes, unfortunatly the city hasn’t planned to have one yet. But don't fret because Longview sure does have their fair share of food trucks riding around town, if not the most!

Pietro’s 2 Go is only one of five food trucks making their rounds around the city. Popular restaurant Mi Casita has also decided to take some of their food items to the streets, with their newly opened Mi Casita Plus food truck. “We are at the moment availble for caterings and private events. ... We will run anywhere that will have us,” Dean exclaimed!

Dean, who has been looking into food trucks for the last few years, decided to add a food truck addition to his restaurant after seeing that they aren’t just a fad, and something that can last for the long run. Mi Casita Plus opened up last month and has been trying out various food items on different nights, parked at their restaurant location. “We’re starting with a smaller version of our base taco menu from Mi Casita, and we are experimenting with the rest of it. We’re not really sure where that will go. We started trying out some different sliders and hamburgers, philly cheese steaks and french dips, and some onion rings. When it gets colder, we will hrun some soups and seasonal items,” Dean added.

After being permitted in both the Longview and Tyler areas, in the future, Mi Casita Plus’ schedule hopes to be at six to seven days a week. As far as hours go, they want to be on the road serving up bites for breakfast, lunch, dinner and catering.

Tex-mex, pizza and even gourmet items like truffle fries, the options are endless just in Longview alone. None of the food trucks stay parked at a single location, but are still accessible either at various businesses or community events. And with the opening of the TFTP, Longview, Tyler and Jacksonville will be home to multiple food trucks in each town.

Some of the local food trucks have been around for a few years, but this feels like only the beginning of the food truck scene here. The more eating from food trucks becomes convenient and trusting, and at times inexpensive, the more the locals will rally for more. Not to mention, there are still many cuisines yet to venture out to the streets. For example, Japanese, Thai and Indian are the least-themed food trucks found out there. What about a baked goods and sweets food truck to the area? Now that’s one every local would welcome.

In the meantime, choose from what we already have … which apparently is alot! Some are parked and some are rolling around town, so follow your favorites on social media to find location details as to where they park around East Texas.

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