In metro Detroit, food trucks are on a roll

Feb 8, 2012 at 3:54 pm
With its long winters and car-friendly layout, metro Detroit isn’t the most fertile ground for the nationwide trend of traveling food trucks to take root. But mobile eateries have recently started to take hold here, cropping up both downtown and in the suburbs. Today, from 5 to 9 p.m., seven of them will gather for a dinnertime rally at the Royal Oak Farmers’ Market.

“It’s just an opportunity for us to get out in the public eye and share our great food with people that like to try something different,” says Scott Steigerwald, co-founder of Ned’s TravelBurger. Ned’s is based out of Birmingham but uses Facebook and Twitter to update customers on its exact location, like many food trucks nationally.

Of course, it’s a challenge for these vendors to find business during the winter, when fewer people want to venture outside for a bite to eat. Tonight’s rally at the indoor farmers’ market is one way to combat the cold, but Detroit food trucks know how to get creative — Ned’s found success stationed outside a Christmas tree farm in December.

“This is actually our first winter,” says Dan Gearig of El Guapo Grill, a Detroit-based truck often found on the Wayne State campus. He cited El Guapo’s not-quite-Mexican menu as a lure during the colder months. “Our pork belly confit taco, or our Korean short rib taco, I think you’d be hard-pressed in Detroit to find either of those.

There’s a lot of foodies out there that are just craving something with some lovin’ in it, and I think that’s what we offer.”

El Guapo is the first food truck to be legally recognized by the city of Detroit — though not the first to do business there. City law has made it difficult for food trucks to obtain permits to operate within downtown Detroit, but now that El Guapo has its authorization, other truck owners are trying to follow in its footsteps.

Gearig and Steigerwald agree that the local feel of food trucks is what sets them off from traditional restaurants. Everything at El Guapo is prepared from scratch, and the burgers at Ned’s are Michigan-made through-and-through, from the pickles to the “grass-fed, Michigan, Fowlerville, 4-H, hand-raised beef that some young person took care of for a number of years,” as Steigerwald describes it.

At tonight’s rally, the truck owners hope to raise the profile of Detroit’s mobile food scene. Besides El Guapo and Ned’s TravelBurger, customers will be able to chow down on hot dogs from Frank’s Anatra, sandwiches and soup from Concrete Cuisine, and tacos from Taco Mama and Jacques’ Taco. Treat Dreams, a Ferndale microcreamery, will provide dessert, and Royal Oak cover band the Reefermen are slated to play live.

“[Food trucks are] new in Detroit, and it’s difficult to break through,” Gearig said. “We’re just showing unity with the other food trucks out there, pounding the pavement and trying to get the awareness out there.”

The Royal Oak Farmers Market is at 316 E. 11 Mile Rd., Royal Oak. The food truck rally goes from 5 to 9 p.m tonight, Feb. 8.