That all adds up fast. And there’s no guarantee once you’ve built, staffed and opened your restaurant that anybody’s going to come in and eat.
So why not find the people, instead? That’s a big part of the mobile food revolution in Oklahoma City. Food trucks, once only the province of south-side taco vendors, are branching out with new flavors and new concepts.
When Alan Bouda decided to open Wild Al’s two years ago, it was the culmination of two decades in the food industry.
He was part-owner of a brick-andmortar establishment, but found lots of issues kept him from enjoying the job.
“Flexibility is the key thing,” he said. “On a food truck, you can reinvent yourself so much easier.”
Is a dish not selling? Take it off the menu. Something new is in season? Work out the recipe and start serving it.
“Being the person in charge, I won’t be serving items I don’t eat,” he said. That quality control means Bouda can ensure that everything he sells is something he’d gladly eat himself.
While much of it has a barbecue flair, Bouda is comfortable serving brisket burgers, cheese steaks and, if the season’s right, a spicy chicken salad. As for seasonings and sauces, guess what? He makes his own. (And you can buy those, too.)
For Tara Taylor, a former Big Truck Tacos manager, opening up a food truck meant getting a head start on her own business. Enter: Waffle Champion.
While it’s most often parked on N.W. 23rd Street near Walker Avenue, the Champ is a gypsy — it goes where the people are. And the people tend to go where Waffle Champion goes.
With a menu that changes monthly, Taylor offers a handful of options with big flavors. March has been a big St. Patrick’s love fest, with savory treats like the Dublin (carved ham and Havarti with cream cheese, tomato and Guinness mustard, topped with a fried egg) and sweeter options, including the Merryweather (peanut butter and Oreos, slathered in whipped Coop Ale Works’ DNR maple syrup).
Why waffles? Maybe because everybody loves waffles. And also, why not?
People also love Chinese food. Wok Stop OKC is aiming for a new demographic: crowd-pleasing Chinese food on the go.
With deep family ties to the Oklahoma City restaurant community, owners Shelby Lo and Thy Nguyen and culinary partner David Nguyen wanted to strike out on their own. But rather than be shackled down by a location and the expected hours that come along with it, they opted for a truck.
“We open when we want and we close when we want,” Thy Nguyen said.
When they’re open, they serve up the kind of Chinese food that foodies pretend to look down on but secretly crave. Fried chicken bites, tossed in sweet and spicy sauces, on a bed of expertly fried rice. Thinly sliced beef, flash-fried and topped with fresh green onions and tasty soy sauce.
It’s not about over-thinking the food. It’s about giving people the dishes they want, prepared at a level that puts the uninspired entrées being served by the Great Walls and Panda Expresses of the world to shame.
Oh, and get the egg rolls. Those are tremendous egg rolls.
The thrill of finding
The food truck business is, as noted food truck aficionado, author and TV personality Tim Gunn says, all about “making it work.” If nobody’s there, you move.
“You go to the masses instead of having them come to you,” Bouda said. “It’s less expensive. And I think it’s more fun.”
That’s a feeling customers get, too, from not only experiencing the ever-changing menus, but the thrill of finding the trucks, as well. That said, Twitter and Facebook have made that task much simpler.
Those looking for Bouda’s truck need only check out his website, wildals.com or find him on Twitter @ WildAls. Both Waffle Champion and Wok Stop OKC have homepages on Facebook, but you can also follow their movements (and ask questions) on Twitter: @WaffleChampion and @ WokStopOKC.
And if you’re worried that they only accept cash, allay those fears: The miracle of modern iPhones means everybody is equipped to swipe cards. They might be in trucks, but they’re not savages.