The increased presence of food trucks supports restaurateurs and the CNY community

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Between A La Mode in Syracuse and The Deli Downtown in Cortland, restaurant owner Jeanne Catalfano had plenty of events to plan. But every time she went to an event, she had to go through the tedious process of setting up tents, tables and chairs.

So she bought a trailer, packed it up and outfitted it to sell mobile meals.

“We basically found an easier way to do the events that we had already done,” Catalfano said.

In 2015, she opened her food truck The Bite Box. At the time, the Syracuse Food Truck Association had only three members. Catalfano joined, became a board member, and has since seen the SFTA grow to around 40 current members.

Thanks to legislation that allows food trucks to operate in more locations, partnerships with local breweries, and events hosted by the SFTA, the popularity of food trucks in Syracuse has grown significantly, Catalfano said.

On September 25, 2021, the SFTA held its biggest event yet, the first Food Truck Battle at the New York State Fair. The SFTA paired more than 35 downtown New York trucks with live music, a beer and wine zone, a kids’ zone, craft vendors and games.

Each food truck offered samples costing between $3 and $5, allowing customers to try a variety of different trucks. The event was a huge success and shows how powerful food trucks can be when they work together, said Nick Sanford, owner of Toss & Fire Wood-Fired Pizza and president of the SFTA.

“We have always believed that it is better to work together as a group than alone. Bringing more trucks to an event — different types of food — just brings more people,” Sanford said. “People are happy to come. They can come with friends, they can all get different things, and they can share and try different things… It’s almost like a food truck food court.

The SFTA also partners with breweries in the Syracuse area and has found the relationship to be mutually beneficial for both parties. The breweries attract customers with the presence of the food truck — and sometimes live music — and the food truck feeds the breweries’ hungry customers.

After the pandemic hit and indoor dining faced restrictions, restaurateurs looked for every possible way to get their food to their customers. After receiving a $10,000 loan from Syracuse in part to buy a food truck, Matt Godard used it to generate income in any way he could.

“I had a food truck and took it out every day I was allowed to sell coffee,” said Godard, the owner of Syracuse-based cafe Cafe Kubal.

StreetFoodFinder, an app that was initially a website designed to help food trucks post their schedules and locations, added online ordering to its platform about a year before the pandemic and helped food truck associations across the country, such as the SFTA, to serve their customers throughout the pandemic. .

“If we didn’t have StreetFoodFinder, I don’t think food trucks would have had such a successful season last year because it made people feel safe coming to food trucks,” Catalfano said.

Feedback from Syracuse food truck owners has driven critical improvements to StreetFoodFinder nationwide.

“We spoke directly to many trucks in Syracuse and across the country to get their feedback on what issues they were having, what we could facilitate, what they were facing with COVID, and then we basically customized it to food trucks and to specifically address COVID,” said Nik Gandhy, founder of StreetFoodFinder.

Jay Cartini and other food truck drivers hope to inform customers that food trucks are not “cockroach vans” as once thought.
Courtesy of Jay Cartini

The SFTA now uses StreetFoodFinder for everything from scheduling trucks to specific locations and events to applying for membership from the organization itself.

Although many food trucks operate alongside a physical restaurant, others are independent of any established restaurant. Although difficult without recognition, Sanford said food trucks are often the first step to a physical location.

When Sanford launched Toss & Fire Pizza in April 2015, it had no traditional restaurants. But in less than seven years, he’s transformed Toss & Fire Pizza from a singular pull-along trailer into two restaurants and multiple food trucks.

Many costs associated with restaurants such as rent, utilities and employee salaries are either significantly lower or non-existent for those who only own a food truck, said Carvel DeWitt owner and board member Jay Cartini. Board of Directors of the SFTA.

However, owners without a physical restaurant are likely to sell out their product faster than expected or be stuck with additional product, Cartini said. If a festival has lower-than-expected attendance or is canceled, a food truck without a restaurant can find itself stuck with hundreds of prepared meals that it cannot sell or store.

“If I have any ice cream left, I can just take it back to the store,” Cartini said. “If you have anything left and you don’t have a store to take it back to, what do you do with it? Are you constantly playing a guessing game about “how much food should I prepare?” »

Although running a food truck is less of a commitment than a restaurant, it still requires the administrative skills needed in any business, Cartini said. The SFTA helps assist new food truck owners on the administrative side of their operations, especially since many non-restaurant food truck owners are first-time business owners.

While the SFTA has had success holding events in suburban Syracuse, food trucks face additional hurdles in the city of Syracuse. Catalfano said most SFTA members do not sell on the street due to unreliability of operations and service costs on public property. Food truck owners must purchase a permit to do business in downtown Syracuse, but often the only parking spaces they’re allowed to park in are occupied by other vehicles, Cartini said.

Through its events, the SFTA attempts to dispel the stigma that food trucks are less clean and produce worse food than traditional restaurants. Food trucks are typically inspected five to 10 times more than restaurants, and many food truck chefs are professionally trained, Sanford said.

“We are also educating the consumer, that they are not ‘cockroach trainers’ as they were called decades ago. These are far from it,” Cartini said.


Although neighborhood food truck events have waned since the early stages of the pandemic, food trucks throughout the Syracuse area are available for private events, which have become especially popular during the pandemic. The SFTA is constantly looking for new ways to reach customers and has already planned its next food truck battle for May 2022.

“If you limit yourself to what you can do between the four walls, you really limit yourself,” Cartini said.

Contact Conor: [email protected]

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