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Food Truck Frenzy: Exploring the Culture of Mobile Vendors

People gather around the Waffle Lab

Fort Collins is known for its wide variety of delicious and unique culinary opportunities. What some people don’t know is that many of these eateries only operate on wheels.

Food trucks are a mobile alternative that complement the community-oriented atmosphere of Fort Collins.

“Food trucks encourage people to interact,” said Erik Rohman, one of the partners who owns The Waffle Lab food truck. “It forces people to engage in conversations about whether they’ve had a certain food item before — it fosters a community element just because you’re in proximity to everybody else, and I think that ties into the way that we approach everything in Fort Collins.”

The friendly atmosphere is one of the many factors that drew husband and wife team Doug and Nancy Van Reeth to Fort Collins. After experiencing economic difficulty living in Maine, the Van Reeths decided to pack everything and move to Colorado to start the Mile High Lobster Shack in August 2014.

Doug and Nancy Van Reeth sell authentic Maine lobster rolls from their food truck on the corner of N College Avenue and Oak Street. Photo by Jenna Fischer
Doug and Nancy Van Reeth sell authentic Maine lobster rolls from their food truck on the corner of North College Avenue and Oak Street. (Photo by Jenna Fischer.)

“It’s a fun twist on a normal sit-down restaurant,” Nancy Van Reeth said. “I think Fort Collins lends itself to that because the people of Fort Collins are progressive thinkers — they’re adventurers.”

The businesses within the food truck industry also prioritize community in their relationships with one another.

“The people in the industry are super friendly and right here in Fort Collins everybody supports each other a lot,” Rohman said. “Even though we are separate businesses and we all need to be successful, everybody is always willing to help everybody else out.”

All of the food trucks in Fort Collins came together to form The Food Truck Alliance, which enables vendors to communicate about upcoming events and opportunities. One such event is the Food Truck Rally held regularly in City Park during the summer months.

Cesar and Berenice Lopez are another husband and wife duo who founded The Taco Stop food truck in August 2012. The Lopezes have participated in the Rallies every year since the first Rally in 2013.

“The Food Truck Rally has been growing a lot,” Cesar Lopez said. “It started with only five trucks, the next year was eight or nine and now we are allowed to have 12 to 13 trucks.”

The Waffle Lab is one of many food trucks that vend at the Food Truck Rallies at City Park. The Waffle Lab will be opening a full restaurant at the end of April. Photo courtesy of The Waffle Lab
The Waffle Lab is one of many food trucks that vend at the Food Truck Rallies at City Park. The Waffle Lab will be opening a full restaurant at the end of April. (Photo courtesy of The Waffle Lab.)

Rohman said the Alliance is going to attempt to hold a rally every Tuesday evening during summer of 2016.

“It’s like a community picnic,” Rohman said. “We have face painting, we have music, we’ve done some things where we’ve partnered with nonprofits and it’s an awesome environment.”

“It’s like a community picnic.”— Erik Rohman, co-owner of The Waffle Lab

The Rallies are a great opportunity for citizens to try new food and support the various mobile food vendors based in Fort Collins.

“They really support local business and we really like that about the people of Fort Collins,” Cesar Lopez said.

Several food trucks also partner with local breweries such as Odell Brewering Company, New Belgium Brewery and Equinox Brewery.

“We depend a lot on the breweries and the places where we usually set up,” Cesar Lopez said. “We really hope for them to be busy, too, to help us get more business.”

The support within the food truck community can offset some of the challenges that mobile vendors face.

“The weather is huge,” Rohman said. “The weather can determine whether you have enough money to pay yourself.”

Rohman said the income swings due to weather can be as much as 40 percent.

“We get half of the business when the weather is bad,” Cesar Lopez said. “If it’s snowing really bad, raining really bad or windy we don’t go out because it’s not good for business and not good for our equipment.”

Cesar Lopez serves from The Taco Stop parked at Odell's Brewery. Photo by Jenna Fischer
Cesar Lopez serves from The Taco Stop parked at Odell’s Brewery. Photo by Jenna Fischer

Another obstacle for mobile food vendors is city and county regulations.

“There is a process that you have to go through with the city to get your mobile vendor license,” Rohman said. “The city has done a really great job at defining the process for becoming a mobile vendor in Fort Collins.”

“I think the departments within the city are very positive,” Nancy Van Reeth said. “Fort Collins gets a lot of support from the government agencies.”

According to Rohman, there are specific zoning ordinances that govern where a food vendor is able to park. He said The Waffle Lab currently leases private property on the corner of North College Avenue and LaPorte Avenue.

“Our corner is a very unique situation,” Rohman said. “We lease that property, so right now we can set up pretty much whenever we want and we can operate however much we want.”

The city of Fort Collins is currently considering a proposal that would change the parking regulations for food trucks. The proposal seeks to place restrictions on the length of time a mobile vendor can operate in a singe location, even if that property is privately owned.

“The city is proposing that mobile vendors shouldn’t be able to park continuously in the same spot,” Rohman said. “It’s a very very tough business, so any limitations that the put on permanent parking is a challenge.”

Additionally, mobile food vendors are required to work with a licensed commissary kitchen.

“We cannot prep anything in the trailer,” Cesar Lopez said. “We need to have a commissary kitchen where we do all of our cold prep, hot prep and cleaning.”

Working with the commissary kitchen also helps to keep food trucks in line with health department regulations.

“You have to work with both your commissary and the health department to make sure that everything is going to be good from a food-safety side of things,” Rohman said.

“The weather can determine whether you have enough money to pay yourself.” — Erik Rohman, co-owner of The Waffle Lab

Finally, providing consistency for customers creates another challenge for mobile food vendors.

“It’s a tough situation because, as a mobile food vendor, one of your biggest challenges is that consistency to make sure that your audience can find you on a regular basis,” Rohman said.

Lack of consistency can prevent customers from eating at food trucks.

“They’re not going to try your food and see how good you are if you’re not there all the time,” Cesar Lopez said. “I would say consistency is the most important thing.”

“People get frustrated that we’re not here all the time, and that’s mostly due to the weather,” Doug Van Reeth said.

Luckily, Colorado receives an average of almost 250 sunny days out of the year, making it the ideal location to own a food truck.

Nancy Van Reeth said she uses social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to inform customers when and where The Mile High Lobster Shack will be vending on any given day. A frequent location for food trucks is on the corner of North College Avenue and Oak Street in Old Town Fort Collins.

Whether they are vending at a rally, a brewery or just on the street corner, the food truck culture in Fort Collins continues to thrive.

“Food trucks offer something out of the ordinary,” Nancy Van Reeth said. “It’s just going to keep growing because it’s going really well for everybody.”

The following list is a compilation of several notable food truck vendors in Fort Collins:

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