Nearly a year after the Northeast Texas Public Health District loosened regulations on food trucks, the number of permitted mobile food vendors has doubled and there are signs of a healthy market emerging.
In October, NET Health’s board of directors approved a loosened set of regulations for food trucks. The move came after frustration in the community, and in city of Tyler leadership, over the lack of trucks roaming the streets.
At that time, the health department had 14 active mobile food vendor permits, including ice cream carts and snow cone trucks. The first food full-service truck, Curbside Taco, was approved with the new regulations.
As of August, the health department had 30 permitted food vendors, and 10 of those were full-service trucks.
Three were permitted in August: Rotolo’s Pizzeria, which serves as an extension of the brick and mortar shop; Café 1948, which serves specialty coffee, teas and Hawaiian shaved ice; and Say Cheese, which serves gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Those trucks join the market with Curbside Taco, which serves street tacos; Lupita’s Restaurant, serving Mexican favorites; Pokey O’s, which serves ice cream sandwiches made with cookies; Eloy’s Catering, which focuses on the construction site market; Crawdaddy’s Boil-n-go, which serves crawfish and boiled shrimp during the season; Weinerland, which is an extension of its restaurant and serves hot dogs; and Katie’s Old Fashioned BBQ.
“It’s increasing at a healthy rate, but it’s probably not as fast as the community would like it,” said Ginger Wood, environmental health director for NET Health. “It requires more than having the trucks in the street. We have had growth in the support. We have had people interested in opening commissaries and other things that will help the industry grow. Tyler also has a builder that is interested in building food trucks.”
This month the health department also permitted its first commercial commissary kitchen, where potential food truck vendors can rent space for a monthly fee.
By state law, all food trucks have to have a commissary kitchen as a home base. That’s where the truck is cleaned and sanitized, graywater dumped and refilled with fresh water. It’s also where food can be prepped and stored.
The county’s first permitted space was done by the owners of the Pokey O’s truck and is housed in a former event center off Old Henderson Highway, Ms. Wood said.
The space is getting off the ground, and can’t accommodate all types of food trucks, just yet. Ms. Wood said right now, the space can safely handle simple foods that primarily need refrigeration or require minor prep work, but the owners plan to grow in the space to allow more complex foods.
Having the permitted commissary is a big step for the community.
“It’s astronomically great - it’s a beautiful thing,” Ms. Wood said. “I think that one thing that people underestimate and don’t plan for (is finding commercial kitchen space). It’s a hurdle to figure out where you can create a servicing area. … There are various ways it can happen, but it’s an expense that people don’t plan for, and it’s an important piece to get the market going.”
The health department also has protocols for permitting trucks housed in other jurisdictions, but there hasn’t been too much interest in that group getting Smith County permits, Ms. Wood said.
There has been activity in groups getting temporary permits, which are primarily used for events and not for day-to-day sales.
“We’ve seen (event planners) picking our mobile vendors that we have permitted,” she said. “That is increasing. It’s easy. You don’t have to worry about bringing in food vendors and electricity to service them. Food trucks can roll in and sell.”
So, what’s new to the market?
Chris Bostick moved to Tyler about a month ago from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He immediately started the process of getting a food truck permitted, and had his permit after three weeks.
It was permitted last week.
His truck, “Say Cheese,” sells gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches paired with kettle chips. There’s a mac n’ cheese grilled cheese, one with chicken, bacon and ranch, as well as a buffalo chicken dip, among other items.
Bostick said the idea started in a conversation with friends.
“The one thing I hate the most in restaurants is poor customer service,” he said. “We believe in making good food, at not expensive price and having good service.”
Real estate around the University of Alabama was too steep, so the idea of a truck was born.
Bostick said he came to Tyler as part of a team to help open a church, Church of the Pines. The food truck idea came with him.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we try starting the food truck game here and be at the front of (the industry) instead of the back of it like we are in Tuscaloosa?’”
Bostick wants his truck to be a part of the community.
Employees don’t take tips. Any “tip” is written down on a sticky note and attached to the truck. If someone is short on cash, the note can be taken off the truck and redeemed as cash.
He said for every 15 sandwiches that are purchased, he gives one away. Those are tallied and given away at random once a month.
“It’s a plain grilled cheese,” Bostick said. “It’s not the best of the best, but we make a grilled cheese and deliver it, and it’s on us. Our values are love God, love people, excellence and generosity.”
Samuel and Amber Richmann put excellence at the forefront of their business.
Their truck, Café 1948, looks like a throwback to another time.
The ’40s-era trailer sells specialty coffee, teas and proper Hawaiian shaved ice.
“It’s a vintage trailer from 1948 that we ended up restoring,” Samuel Richmann said. “We found it in a yard in Arizona, and we spent a month and a half restoring it. It had a rusty frame when we got it. We welded it and put in mahogany countertops. We put our hands on every part of it.”
Richmann is from Arizona, where his family owns a coffee roasting company, Single Speed Coffee Roasters. Café 1948 roasts its own coffee blends, creating a one-of-a kind cup of joe for its customers.
“We are surprised at how well this has been received and the feedback we’ve gotten,” Richmann said. “We’ve not had one person say they didn’t like the coffee. It’s a huge compliment and we are glad people are excited to see something new and something that has soul in it.”
The Richmanns are artists as well, who travel frequently with their work at Lightbox Collective.
“Through media, photography and a passion for travel we got this awesome worldview, visiting over 30 countries in the last two years,” he said. “We developed this love for cafés, the art behind it and the culture behind the cafés.
The Rotolo’s truck is unique in that it won’t be seen around town all the time.
The truck is owned by the corporate office, but shared between three franchise owners - in Dallas, Longview and Tyler.
Meg Matus, owner of Tyler’s location, said she would have it until November, after which it will venture up to Dallas.
It can still be called on for special events, even if another store is using it, she said.
The truck can serve anything on Rotolo’s menu, but Ms. Matus said she picks the options based on the event.
Generally, the truck would sell either personal pizzas or slices, as well as salads.
Ms. Matus said she worked in the corporate office for 14 years before deciding to purchase the store in Tyler from a franchisee.
“I believe if I own a restaurant, I will be there everyday and be in the neighborhood.
Tyler’s Full-Service Food Truck options:
Café 1948 – Specialty coffee, teas and Hawaiian Shaved Ice
Curbside Taco – Street tacos
Katie’s Old Fashioned BBQ – Barbecue
Lupita’s - Mexican favorites
Pokey O’s – Ice Cream Sandwiches, using cookies
Rotolo’s Pizzeria – Pizza and salads
Say Cheese, Gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches
Wienerland – Hot dog
Crawdaddys Boil-n’-Go – Crawfish and boiled shrimp, seasonal truck
Eloy’s Catering – Typically scheduled at construction job sites
*check each businesses’ Facebook or Instagram pages for schedules