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Food trucks wheel their way into WV

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Island Teriyaki’s Eric Beaver serves up a chicken teriyaki wrap to Brian Lake during an event at Gritt’s Farm. Island Teriyaki’s Eric Beaver serves up a chicken teriyaki wrap to Brian Lake during an event at Gritt’s Farm.
Photo courtesy of Rollin’ Smoke Roadside BBQ Photo courtesy of Rollin’ Smoke Roadside BBQ
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The food truck craze has rolled into West Virginia.

The phenomenon has already taken hold in large cities throughout the United States.

But even in areas that have embraced the idea of serving food from a mobile kitchen — mostly through a window — there's still an ever-changing learning curve in dealing with health codes, permitted locations and such. 

One thing is sure, food fans don't mind lining up for fresh food packaged for folks on the run — whether it's at an event or during a quick lunch break.

... Being your own boss

Jumping headfirst into the food truck fray recently was Cory Coulter, a New Martinsville-area chef and restaurant veteran who looked at it as a way to own and operate his own food business.

Coulter's business is called Rollin' Smoke Roadside BBQ.

"Being mobile and being your own boss, that's part of the attraction of owning and operating a food truck," he said. "It's been great from day one. It's nice to run and operate your own business. I can do my own recipes and food and get the perks from it.

"The overhead for one person (working) the food truck is minimal, versus having a restaurant." 

His vast experience and award-winning recipes are helping his business flourish in the Northern Panhandle.

"I've been a chef for over 25 years," Coulter said. "I've worked everywhere, from Seattle to Louisiana and done everything from flipping eggs to extreme fine dining. I've won first place in a BBQ contest, first place in a soup contest and won first place in the chili cook-off for the past three years. Any competition I've entered, I've won."

A little friendly competition

There's at least two ways to look at competition among food vendors — if there's another one close by, there's potential that they'll "steal" away some customers.

But on the other hand, the more vendors there are — the more people are drawn to the area, thus bringing in a higher number of hungry foodies. 

"In New Martinsville, my food doesn't compare with any others," Coulter said. "There are not too many restaurants around here; I don't consider myself a threat to them. 

"We serve a completely different genre of food. And I have no fear of others taking my business either."

Sandy Call of Bridge Road Bistro added a food truck to the company's growing empire of fine food in the Charleston area in April. 

"I love it that other people want to have a food truck," she said. "Bring it on. The more the merrier. We go to Live on the Levee every weekend in the summer. We're sometimes the only food truck there. I'd love to see other independents with food trucks." 

Call said she'd love for more people to get involved in the food truck business in Charleston.

"We go to the state capitol complex, Northgate (Business Park), we go to Capitol Street and Hale Street," Call explained. "A lot of people love leaving their office, popping outside, getting something from the food truck and getting some sunshine. They love it. And I love it, because it's something you see in other cities and finally we're getting it here.

"Our food truck is a strong segment of our business and gives us another dynamic," she added. "It's a huge tool in our catering, too. We can adapt to everything with it."

Still warming up

Some existing brick and mortar businesses throughout the state haven't warmed up to the idea of street vendors dishing out food, however.

Morgantown Taco Truck owner/operator Ray Glymph says that's been the case on High Street.

"Some of the local businesses went to city council complaining in March," said Glymph. "We're still fighting that. But I feel that we're filling a void in the city. We do special events and late nights — 11 p.m. to 4 a.m. on the top of High Street. 

"By our permit, we're allowed to be out on the street from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m., unless we set up on private property. It's a college town with a lot of restaurants."

Glymph serves up tacos, burritos, nachos and his popular "taco in a bag."

He has had to deal with vandalism and theft as well, he added.

"My first month, we lost a $4,000 generator. We've had our front window smashed. I've seen some hardships," he said. "We're just trying to make a living."

The process of dealing with the legalities of the industry is different from each county or city. Bridge Road Bistro is helping shape Charleston's process for food vending in the capital city.

Call has depended on her food truck manager for vital input.

"Lisa Coche is really helping us design a platform for the future of food trucks (in Charleston)," Call said. "I've talked with the mayor and city council and we've developed a plan for loading zones. Typically you can only park in one for 30 minutes, but now they're allowing us 15 minutes to set up, 30 minutes to sell and 15 minutes to break it down. So they've extended the 30 minutes to one hour. Of course, you have to have a loading zone permit. 

"But we're still developing, and hopefully by the year's end we'll have a nice foundation for future food trucks to go by. It's really an honor for the city to use us as a guideline."

With its base being a popular restaurant itself, Call said Bridge Road Bistro is careful not to infringe upon anyone's space.

"We respect other eateries," she said. "I've recommended to the city, strongly, that we should guard the sanctity of other eateries. We respect that. 

"We don't want to make anyone angry or make enemies. We want everyone to enjoy seeing us coming down the street and add to the vitality of the city.

Sandwich boards go digital

If you have a smartphone or computer, you're one step closer to finding lunch — or even breakfast or dinner.

Checking your favorite social media site — or receiving a push notification from a nearby food truck, could potentially lead you to food nirvana.

"We have a huge following of regular customers, and we advertise where we're going to be on Facebook," said Coulter. "We post it there and that's how people find out where I am and what we're serving."

Additional business often comes from a presence on the Internet, Coulter revealed.

"We did a wedding reception for a lady that found us on Google," he recalled. "We consulted with her about six months before the event and she picked out her menu. She had jerk chicken, stir fry, grilled shrimp and red beans and rice. 

"My wife and kids helped me out that day, and we put on an awesome event."

A smartphone app aids the social media outreach for Bridge Road Bistro, getting the word out on a daily basis.

"You can get the app from your Android or iPhone smartphone," Call explained. "We send out a push notification (to subscribers) to let everyone know where we are. That's our communication to the public. 

"Through that, over the past few months, we've had people requesting us to come out to certain areas. We get a lot of requests from our Facebook and Twitter accounts."

Daily specials keep things fresh

Some food trucks serve up the old standbys — sandwiches, chips, drinks and the like.

But still others mix it up, giving customers something new with each visit.

"We typically sell steak or shrimp empanadas and fresh baked cookies," Call said of the Bridge Road Bistro fare. "But we did a biker's bash this summer and decided we wanted to go along with the theme. So we did ‘devil dogs.' They were hot dogs, stuffed with bacon and wrapped with jalapenos. They were really, really spicy and good. And they were topped with whatever toppings they wanted on it. 

"We don't want to sell the kind of food that food trucks normally sell, like regular hot dogs and corn dogs, burgers and things like that," Call continued. "We want to go outside the box. We want to shake things up, and let people know that along with the fine dining (found at the namesake restaurant) we can also do quick, hand food at an affordable price.

"It keeps things fresh and new, and people don't get tired of the menu."