With cheap, tasty treats such as soft shell crab BLTs, strawberry cheesecake egg rolls and fish tacos, the country’s 15,000-plus food trucks are rolling into many large cities as well as small towns across the U.S., including the Delmarva Peninsula.
Chef Daniel Meers was born and raised in Salisbury, Md., working in large restaurants up and down the East Coast. He even had a stop in North Carolina as food preparer for the NFL’s Carolina Panthers football team.
His food truck dream brought him back home.
“This is my dream, here on the CI Fries food truck, which stands for Chincoteague Island,” Meers said. “We sell Thrasher’s-style French fries, lemonade and hot dogs. Basically we sell refined Eastern Shore food — crab cakes, soft shell BLTs, that sort of thing.”
This is my dream, here on the CI Fries food truck. Chef Daniel Meers
Meers is working hand-in-hand with former high school classmates Grace and Mac Malone.
The team wants to put a fleet of food trucks on the road, Meers said. The CI Fries truck is the team’s first and it is up and rolling in Salisbury.
“My wife asked me a couple years ago to build her a food truck; we started the journey and looked around,” said Mac Malone, who is also the owner of Lucky’s Garage in Delmar, Md. “We saw a couple of trucks and they were not up to par with what we really wanted.”
At Lucky’s Garage, Malone builds hot rods for a living.
“I asked my guys to pull a team together to build a food truck for my wife,” he said. “This all exploded into the idea of building six trucks within six months.”
The team plans to open a taco truck and call it Grande Gringo. Meers said there are also plans for a deli truck, pizza truck, donut truck and a truck with organic products.
“We are thinking about putting together a food truck park for Salisbury University,” Meers said. “We have some plans to be out there after the bars close down – and we have a place where all of our food trucks can park to be able to facilitate all the college foot traffic near Milford Street.”
The sixth truck is the team’s organic venture, with organic, vegan dishes to support local farmers, Meers said.
“At that point I think with six trucks we are either going to have to franchise or go to other areas where people are going to be,” he said.
Malone is building a fleet of food trucks for his own team and other interested food truck operators.
His latest is Taco Reho in Rehoboth Beach.
Billy Lucas is co-owner of Taco Reho, which is the first food truck to make its way to coastal Delaware.
Lucas wanted to bring traditional Mexican fare with some southern California-inspired nuances to his truck. His favorite food is tacos and the food truck industry is a long-awaited dream come true for him.
“I think Mexican food right now is the hottest food trend out there,” he said. “I use a natural corn; it tastes better, it’s a little earthy, the structure of the tortilla holds up.”
He and his assistant make about 150 tortillas by hand per day. The flavors and meats vary.
“We sell out fast,” Lucas said. “My plan is to open up earlier once business starts rolling in the right direction.”
Who Created the Food Truck?
According to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, in 1872 food vendor Walter Scott cut windows into a small, covered, horse-drawn wagon and parked it in downtown Providence, Rhode Island. He sold sandwiches and coffee to night shift workers.
Lunch carts, or “lunch wagons” as food trucks were known, soon spread from Providence to other locales. In 1877, Thomas H. Buckley, a former lunch-counter boy in Worcester, Mass., started manufacturing his own mobile food carts, and as time went on, stationary dining cars.
Tri Townsend from Salisbury turned his former cozy coffee shop Common Grounds into a mobile one, now called Common Grounds Mobile Cafe.
“It happened in about 2012; we originally owned a coffee shop on East Naylor Mill Road,” said Townsend, whose specialty is organic coffees and teas. “We did a lot of outside events, which involved setting up and breaking down tents. I decided it was time to invest in a trailer and go mobile.”
For Townsend, it was more economical to work from a food trailer.
“It was…less rent, less employees and bills,” he said. “We had the truck built in Georgia… Our first event was the Chicken Festival here in Salisbury.”
Slow to Grow Trend
Is it safe to grab a bite from a truck that cooks for hundreds in a space that’s a fraction of the size of your kitchen? The answer, for the most part, is yes, according to those who inspect these trucks.
Many of the health inspectors in our office buy lunch from food trucks. Robert H. Pearre Jr., Baltimore, MD Inspector General
A study conducted by the Virginia-based Institute for Justice reviewed more than 260,000 food inspection reports in seven cities — including Washington, D.C. — and found food trucks in those cities had fewer sanitation violations than restaurants.
“Many of the health inspectors in our office buy lunch from food trucks,” says Robert H. Pearre Jr., inspector general for Baltimore. “Trucks are required to follow strict guidelines and they are inspected as often as restaurants.”
“I’m still leery about eating from food trucks,” said Casey Smith of Delmar, Md. “What happens to the meat and supplies when the truck closes? Does it go into a freezer in someone’s home or something?”
By law, food trucks need a license to operate so the local health department can track them for inspections, Pearre said, adding illegal operators tend to not worry as much about temperature and proper food storage.
Each food truck operator must apply for a license within each county they operate.
Food trucks have spread across the country in the last few years as a quick, affordable alternative for everything from lobster to bacon. Concerns about the safety of food trucks popped up last year after a salmonella outbreak sickened more than two dozen people who ate at Clover food trucks and restaurants.
“There is red tape; you have to be persistent to open a business in Wicomico County,” said Daniel Meers. “You have to have the drive.”
Townsend agreed, saying the State of Maryland is not very business-friendly either.
“It’s a nightmare; it takes a lot of work. I have a Maryland state license, health department license, but it’s only good for Wicomico County,” he said. “If I go into Worcester County, there is separate fee and paper work.”
Wicomico County has the strictest guidelines of any other county Mac Malone has worked in, he said.
“The first truck I built, they came in and gave me a courtesy check and three or four things were wrong; we fixed them,” Malone said. “I have this down to a science… It’s important that these trucks are built by their guidelines.”
Fred Rosenbloom, from Wicomico County, frequents food trucks in the area.
I often eat from food trucks because it's cheap and good. Fred Rosenbloom, Wicomico County Resident
“I often eat from food trucks because it’s cheap and good,” he said. “Coming from Philly you can pretty much look at a food truck and the person cooking in it and tell if your stomach will be OK or not.”
More than 3,000 state and local agencies across the U.S. are responsible for inspecting retail food establishments, including food trucks, according to the Food and Drug Administration. That means safety standards vary widely across the country. Regulators, for the most part, require mobile food vendors to have hot and cold running water, a refrigerator, and to dispose of waste properly. But some specific rules can differ.
Future for Food Trucks on Delmarva
Mac Malone is working to form a food truck association for Delmarva.
The National Food Truck Association was organized by a group of regional food truck association representatives. Their goal is to provide resources and support to food truck owners and associations nationwide.
“We support businesses, but there is definitely more room for more food truck operators,” said Daniel Meers.” They are more productive when there is more of them located in the same spot.”
One advantage food trucks will always have over traditional brick and mortar restaurants is very low overhead. And with a lower cost to operate, food truck vendors can survive off fewer profits. Mobile food sellers can also take their supply to the demand.
While food trucks continue to be a hot trend with no signs of slowing down, what patrons of food trucks miss out on are ambiance, table-side service … and, simply, the ability to sit down.
Food Trucks on Delmarva
Common Grounds Mobile Cafe
Tri Townsend, 410-603-9598
Big Al’s Grill & BBQ Facebook Page
Sherri’s Crab Cakes
Mr. Bar-B-Que Pit Stop
Rehoboth Blvd and SE 2nd Street- Milford, DE
Bunyan’s Lunchbox at Milton Brewery
6 Cannery Village Center, Milton, DE
Camden Avenue, Fruitland, MD
Fat Boy’s Catering on Google Plus
31278 Old Ocean City Rd
Big Thunder Kitchen
1111 Route One, Bethany Beach, DE
About the Author
Cleo Greene joined the WBOC/Fox21 news team in November 2011 as a video journalist. Prior to WBOC, she worked as a multimedia journalist at WRDW CBS News12 in North Augusta, SC. She graduated from Rowan University in 2008, where she earned a BA in Broadcast Journalism- radio, television and film. Her most memorable college days stem from hosting and producing her own campus talk show called “On the Couch.” Email Cleo at email@example.com.