Treats From A Truck

The local food truck industry is flourishing by helping each other and the community.

by Kurt Dusterberg
Banner photo by Jennifer Heinser

photo courtesy of Cocoa forte

photo courtesy of Cocoa forte

Nicole and Freddie McIntyre dabbled in the food truck business, almost before it became an industry.

On weekends, they would load two commercial freezers and a tent into a U-Haul and travel to festivals around North Carolina where they could sell sweet treats.

Today, their dabbling days are done. The McIntyres are all-in with Cocoa Forte, a food truck that specializes in chocolate-dipped cheesecake.

“It’s been better than I thought,” Nicole says. “The food truck family has been
very supportive.”

The growing industry has gained a reputation not only for its innovative and tasty cuisine, but also for being a close-knit community. The RDU Mobile Food Association (RDUMFA) is a not-for-profit organization that advocates for its members, most of whom are learning a business model that barely existed five years ago.

Today, food trucks have a presence wherever people gather, from office parks to apartment complexes to public events. Many have loyal customers who meet the trucks after learning their daily whereabouts on social media. But gaining traction in the new era of mobile food is not as easy as it looks.

“It’s a huge task. It looks easy from outside, but there are so many regulations and processes,” says Art Sheppard, executive director of the RDUMFA. “It’s not just operating the restaurant – you have to move the restaurant. You have to schedule where you’re going to be on a daily basis.”

Sheppard does not operate a food truck, but he joined the cause after starting a food truck blog a few years ago. A full-time accountant, he helps the business owners navigate some of the behind-the-scenes concerns that come with the job. By bringing them together in an association, he helps them foster a spirit of cooperation that benefits all the mobile businesses, even when they are set up side-by-side at events.

“Other food truck owners have offered generators or even cooked rice for their competitors, because they knew without that they wouldn’t make money that day,” Sheppard says. “It’s something unique that I’ve never seen in another industry before.”

Courtney Caley and Heladio Hernandez are the owners of Qspresso, a truck that specializes in Cuban cuisine. With almost three years under their belts, they have experienced many of the ups and downs of the emergent industry.

photo courtesy of The RDU Mobile Food Association

photo courtesy of The RDU Mobile Food Association

“It’s been a fun experience. You learn a lot on the go,” Caley says. “Nothing is the same every day. There’s something to take out of each experience and place you go. It’s a great opportunity to showcase your passion. The only downfall is that it’s mobile, and you’re running on a truck. If your tire blows out or your transmission goes, you’re kind of stuck.”

Both Hernandez, a chef, and Caley have a lot of experience in the restaurant industry, as well as a passion for Cuban food. So choosing a menu theme was easy. But the logistics were more of a challenge. Like most food trucks, they don’t have the space to prepare meals on the truck, so they work out of a full-service commissary. All that prep work comes first, before the truck ever hits the road.

“You don’t necessarily get a lot of sleep and you don’t have much of an outside life, but you get the opportunity to serve others and teach others who work with you,” Caley says. “It’s all about building relationships.”

That’s what the McIntyres have done with their cheesecake business. While most food trucks have success with lunch and dinner shifts, Nicole discovered that her sweets go over well as an afternoon snack between two and three o’clock. So she seeks out a commercial property where her followers can grab a cocoa-chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.

“Employees have already had their lunch and they’re working on that last leg of their day,” McIntyre says. “I can do as many sales as I can do for lunch, so I’ve spread the word to our other sweet trucks, and they’re doing this as well. It’s really enriching the dessert trucks.”

Not only do the truck owners look out for each other, but they take an active interest in the community. The RDUMFA holds an annual truck event in Knightdale to raise money for Wake County Meals on Wheels, which provides hot meals to the elderly and homebound. Last year, the event raised $2,500. Fundraising is part of the organization’s core values of quality, safety and community.

“We want to make sure that people know food trucks are out there to give back to the community,” Sheppard says.

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