Food trucks come in nearly as many varieties as there are taste buds. And for the past five years they’ve become a mainstay in Northfield.
The mobility of a food truck makes it an attractive option for venues that don't serve food, but want to add it, and they’re an easy way for vendors to build a business.
Maria Estrada has operated a food truck since before they became the "in-thing" to do. She started Maria’s Taco Hut back in 2005 and has experienced the highs and lows of the business. She’s also gone from cooking food in a trailer to a frying up food in a brick and mortar restaurant in downtown Northfield.
When Estrada started in the food truck business, she had a hard time even finding an insurance carrier since the business model was something insurers didn’t know how to cover. Eventually she found an insurance carrier in Northfield for her food truck, and now she operates Kahlo on Division Street.
“We learned a lot before opening a restaurant,” Estrada said. “I learned who my customers were, how to estimate quantities, how to solve problems.”
Back in the early days, Estrada traveled to county fairs and festivals around southern Minnesota, hoping for good weather on those days because poor weather meant poor sales and a truck full of unused, perishable product.
Estrada found enough success and built a presence through relentlessness that led to her traditional restaurant space. Her taco hut became visible at most Northfield community events -- from soccer games at Spring Creek Park to The Defeat of Jesse James Days. In-between, she held pop-up dinner events and became a regular at the popular Food Truck Tuesdays at First United Church of Christ during the summer.
When Imminent Brewing opened in Northfield in 2017, it welcomed food trucks, too. In fact, the brewery opened with the intention of hosting food trucks by incorporating a space on the patio for the trucks to park. Now, there’s a rotation of food trucks that appear nearly every weekend. Chapel Brewing in Dundas also hosts food trucks.
It’s been a win-win for the brewery and food trucks. Breweries can offer food without the additional cost of an industrial kitchen, and food trucks have another venue to sell. Food trucks at Imminent Brewing have included Russell’s Traveling Kitchen, The Local Plate, Noris Cuisine, Med Box Grill, Smashed Potatoes and More, Potter’s Pasties and El Jibarito Puerto Rican Food Truck.
The food truck craze in Minnesota took shape about four years ago when licensing became easier. In 2010, Minnesota licensed just 10 food trucks, but now that number has grown more than 10-fold. The Minnesota Food Truck Association lists 128 food trucks alone.
That doesn’t mean it’s all that simple to open a food truck. Finding a spot to put a food truck remains a bone of contention for food truck operators. Last year, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study ranked Minneapolis as the fourth-toughest city to get a food truck running.
Locally, it’s still tough to find a spot to park a food truck. Downtown Northfield has long faced parking issues, and trying to get a food truck into two or three spots is just about impossible unless there’s cooperation from a business.
Mandi Overman and Robin Billet run Burrito Barista, a food truck dedicated to breakfast burritos and coffee. They’ve found a regular spot from 6 to 10 a.m. Fridays outside of Cenex along Highway 3 because they established a relationship with the business and Cannon Valley Co-op. They’ve established a regular crowd there, Billet said. They also bring the truck to the Riverwalk Market Fair on Saturdays and appear at other venues like Golden Oak Farm in Webster.
Billet and Overman opened their truck last summer and had plans to operate it in the winter, but like a lot of food truck owners, found it’s pretty tough to keep a truck going during a Minnesota winter. One, the weather presents a set of problems, especially for food trucks, where things can freeze, and two, it’s hard to find events to sell food.
Food Truck Tuesdays
Food Truck Tuesdays at First UCC helped jumpstart the food truck movement in Northfield by providing vendors a space. The lineup included a mix of local trucks as well as trucks from the Twin Cities. In short time it became a hit, especially with students from nearby Carleton College.
Gastrotruck, one of the first trucks at Food Truck Tuesdays, served about 150 meals the first day and had to turn away another 50. Gastrotruck came from Northeast Minneapolis. Other vendors included Estrada, Natedogs, Moral Omnivore and Potter’s Pasties & Pies.
First UCC envisioned Food Truck Tuesdays as a way to connect with the community. The church brought out chairs and tables for foodies and even enticed food trucks with gas cards or a guaranteed minimum in sales to make the drive to Northfield. It brought exciting food options to Northfield that weren’t always available and it brought community members out.
While the food trucks will remain on the move, it appears the trend isn't fading anytime soon, and that's a good thing for local foodies.