Chico, CA: Chico’s Mobile Tastes Expand Beyond Taco Trucks
By Ashley Gebb | ChicoER.com
CHICO — For residents looking to get their gourmet grub on, one need look no further than social media.
Upscale food trucks are rising in popularity in Chico, and they rely on Facebook and Twitter to convey daily changing locations to followers.
New businesses such as Mayhem Gourmet Grilled Cheese and The Hunter & The Farmer announce their streetside locations online, open their windows and take orders until food runs out. “I think every city needs to have a street food scene,” said Mayhem owner Jeremy Wolfe. “I feel like it helps bring the community together as well.”
It’s also fun, said his wife, Jennie Wolfe. “It’s the adventure of finding us, the adventure of being somewhere new every day,” she said.
Mobile vending is more affordable than a brick-and-mortar business and also gives freedom to follow demand, whether to a street festival, wedding or birthday. “With a mobile food truck, all we have to do is strap some stuff down and go to the next spot,” Jeremy Wolfe said.
When college students Kristen Warshaw and Jose Olivar had a recent hankering for grilled cheese, they used their cellphones to track down Mayhem.
“In San Francisco, they have trucks everywhere,” said Warshaw, who is from the Bay Area. “I like that they are trying to bring that to Chico.”
A popular profession
In the parking lot of Build.com last week, Jenna Hunter of The Hunter & The Farmer bobbed and weaved in her compact kitchen, boxing food andtaking orders. Whether parked near Enloe Medical Center or the food-starved airport, she serves about 100 meals a day and always sells out fast.
Cayle Hunter and Brianna Burwell were amongBuild.com employees eating lunch last week just steps from the food truck.
“You can drive places but it’s a lot more convenient to have them park right here,” Burwell said, noting her work team eats from the trucks every day.
Pop’s Wood-Fired Pizza and Ike’s Smoke House are among vendors that regularly post shop in their parking lot.
“We don’t look at it like a roach coach,” Hunter said. “It’s like a restaurant coming out here every day.”
Fancy food trucks are a growing phenomenon, popular in cities like Seattle and Portland, and customers said it makes sense they would thrive in Chico.
As of last week, 28 mobile vendors were permitted to operate in the city right-of-way, a spike above the usual 20 or 22, said Sam Harrison of the city’s building and development services. The vendors range from hot-dog carts to ice cream trucks to gourmet dinners.
Turnover is high and Harrison predicts half on this year’s list will be gone by next year. Still, she hands out application and information packets every few days.
“It’s pretty popular for people to check into it, whether it’s due to the economy and people wanting to go into business themselves or reading about it in other cities,” she said.
Requirements include a city of Chico business license, insurance and approval from Butte County Environmental Health.
An independent Facebook page, “Street Food, Chico,” tracks the mobile eateries, encourages people to check out newbies and keeps customers apprised of popular items.
Follow the food
Online, people plea for the food trucks to make a stop in their neighborhoods.
Since November, 2,700 people have fanned Mayhem online, clamoring for its bacon and maple-chipotle sandwich or applewood ham with jalepe o jelly.
“In terms of building a fan base, Facebook has been amazing,” Jeremy Wolfe said. “It’s like a pyramid. One person finds it, all their friends look at it, the next thing, they all are fans.”
In less than a month, more than 1,600 people have followed The Hunter & The Farmer to find its cauliflower rice and carnitas bowls.
Its gluten- and grain-free menu grew out of its founders’ switch to the Paleo diet and passion for good food. Hunter and her partner, Analise Farmer, decided to source all ingredients locally, from Durham kale to Hamilton City pork.
“I never said we are a gourmet food truck but I’m being told we are,” Hunter said. “I just feel we are bringing food from the farms and putting it on the plate.”
The vending is her favorite part of the business.
“It’s not like a restaurant where it’s behind four walls and you don’t get to see the customers,” she said. “Here is quite the opposite — we see them eat and they give us feedback.”
When asked about turf wars or competition, crews at both trucks said they would like collaboration. “We would love it if we could team up with another couple trucks and be a hub, make it a destination location,” Hunter said.
Dustin Jenks found Mayhem at the farmers market and has followed them since. Last week, the owner of Cathy’s Sew & Vac invited the truck to operate in his store parking lot, a win-win for both.
“I try to eat at all the food trucks,” he said. “It’s funny, two years ago my friend said, ‘If you wanna make money, you should open up a food truck.’ If only …”
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