By Roger Bull
The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville.
The first couple of structures are up, but what Bob Fleckenstein envisions is 58 carports big enough to hold food trucks. He’s calling it Food Truck City.
The food truck explosion, when it finally came to Jacksonville, has been obvious. A few years ago, there were only a handful, but now about 100 are licensed in Jacksonville.
Chunky Tomato, Chubby Burrito, Mother Truckin Pizza and Pie Daddy … they’re in office parks, vacant lots and just about everywhere else where someone might step up to the window looking for a bite to eat.
Fleckenstein said he simply started noticing how many of them they were and, to be honest, he was looking for something to do.
He’s 74 and sold his share of Summit Contracting Group, a company he founded in 1989.
“I didn’t do well with retirement,” he said. “I don’t like sitting at home, and I really enjoy being around all these young entrepreneurs. They really fascinate me, and they work so hard.”
So he’s leased a 2-acre vacant lot on Richard Street, just a block off Bowden Road on the Southside. He picked that lot because it’s close to Restaurant Depot, the wholesale store where many food truckies shop.
He’s not envisioning Food Truck City as a place where trucks would serve food, though if some of them want to from time to time, that’d be OK with him.
His plan is a place to park trucks when they’re not selling food, a secure place with roofed and fenced enclosures for each truck, with storage and room for freezers and refrigerators. He’s putting in ice machines and a propane refilling station.
There are two ways for food trucks to be licensed. Some are self-contained with their own storage, refrigeration, freezer and washing facilities. But others need to affiliate with a local kitchen or comissary for some of that.
All of them need approved places to get water and to dump water and grease. So Fleckenstein is putting that in, as well as a place to wash trucks and pots.
He’s not planning on a kitchen.
There already are a few places around town for truck owners who can’t or don’t want to park theirs at home.
Izzy Pahil has been operating his Blue Pacific Grill & Taco Bar truck for about two years. He parks it overnight at a self-storage center. That costs him $150 a month, but it’s just a place to park with no services.
Others offer the kinds of services Fleckenstein is talking about.
Chriss Brown opened her commissary in a nondescript building on Beaver Street about six years ago. Food manufacturers and caterers who didn’t have kitchens of their own leased space and time.
The food trucks then started showing up, and she took over the former Jacksonville Tractor site next door. She calls that The Lot with a commissary, water, grease trap, refrigeration and freezer.
About 10 trucks park there now, and there’s room for five more. She said there’s also room for a new lot like Fleckenstein’s.
“Competition builds commerce,” she said. “His competition is going to be price point. There seems to be a misconception that because these food trucks are everywhere, they must be making a lot of money. But they’re not, and price is important.”
Brown said she charges $100 to $300 a month, depending on the services.
Fleckenstein said he’s looking at more than that: $150 on up to $600 or so, again depending on the services.
As quickly as the food truck scene is growing, it’s changing. Trucks come and go, Brown said.
“There’s probably nine or 10 for sale at the moment,” she said.
Brown also said Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is pushing to require all trucks use a commissary, which is how it was up until a few year ago.
But the trucks are settling in. A year ago, Mary Anne Hashem opened Jax Food Truck Food Court on Beach Boulevard. Each day, four trucks set up there.
Hashem said she rotates the trucks, but usually keeps three lunch and one dessert truck at a time.
“Each truck has its followers,” she said. “If we have really popular trucks like Happy Grilled Cheese, the place is just buzzing. But it’s also a launching pad for those who are trying to break into the business.”
And more trucks keep coming.
Kevin McCann is fairly new to the food truck world. He put his Hit-N-Run Grill truck on the road in August, selling sandwiches and wraps. But he’s got a background in food: He managed fast-food restaurants and his father ran a deli in New York.
He’s hoping that his truck will lead to a permanent restaurant, the way it has for Corner Taco, Super Food and Brew and others.
He’s already been plenty busy. He spent all last week at Florida State College at Jacksonville’s North Campus, where the cafeteria is being renovated, and officials have invited food trucks.
Friday night, he was at Nocatee’s twice-a-month Food Truck Friday.
Monday, McCann had his truck at Fanatics off Philips Highway.
So he’s already working on a second truck, but he’s not sure if he’s going to sell barbecue or desserts.
“As long as you work and get your name out there, you’ll stay busy,” McCann said. “We’re getting calls right now asking us to go to Daytona Bike Week.”