Thanksgiving is a time when we express what we’re grateful for. For many of us that’s family and friends, while for others, its food and football. If you’re reading this you might find yourself saying what about that ’69 Camaro Z28, or a new sports car like the ’19 Mustang. Or maybe you prefer function over form and have your eyes peeking over the 4-wheel drive Hemi sitting outside your garage. For me, I like food as much as any car, and that got me thinking about how grateful I am for the new American staple, the food truck.
Every city has a place where you can find a vehicle serving out your food favorites and literally every type of food imaginable. Savory foods dominate the landscape and today, but that wasn’t always the case. I imagine every American kid has at least once scrambled for loose change on a hot summer’s day once the tinkling tune of the ice cream truck could be heard.
When I think of my childhood in the Midwest, I think Mr. Softee. Something about the clean white trucks with the painted logo and that iconic jingle always got me moving for a treat. The Mr. Softee brand has the history of being the longest-running ice cream truck franchise in the U.S., Good Humor was up there but Mr. Softee has a longer running story.
Good Humor started in 1920 in Youngstown, Ohio, when owner Harry Burt made a chocolate coating that worked with the freezing process of ice cream without being too hard. Soon after the Good Humor bar was created, Burt outfitted a fleet of 12 street vending trucks with freezers from which to sell his creation and bells. The first set of bells came from his son’s bobsled. Good Humor bars have since been sold out of everything from tricycles, to push carts, to trucks. Eventually, after 56 years Good Humor sold its fleet to redirect its business and product from localized distribution to selling in grocery stores. The trucks and vehicles were sold. They ended up being purchased by ice cream distributors, individuals, and private collectors. The trucks sold for about $1,000-$3,000 each. While Good Humor may have been the first to make the ice cream (and food) truck, Mr. Softee has over 62 years of service.
Now there are tons of choices when it comes to ice cream trucks across the country. CoolHaus is now native to several states and made the trend of building your own ice cream sandwiches. In Nashville, one of the aforementioned Good Humor Trucks became the “Mean Green Ice Cream Machine.” In Los Angeles “The Sweet Lucie’s” truck, is a 1959 International Harvester Metro that was in serious disrepair before it was saved and made their business frontwoman in 2009.
Food trucks come in all shapes and sizes. Many start their lives as something other than something meant to process delicious food for huddled masses. If it was a trailer or had a hitch it’s become someone’s kitchen for burgers or coffee. Some iconic trucks have even been school buses! (Shout out to The Detention in Texas.) It seems that with enough tinkering, adding a kitchen isn’t as hard a task to many custom auto shops out there.
Like many cars, trucks or businesses, there’s a healthy number of people wanting to buy into a food truck or are looking to sell their truck, keeping the new tradition alive. Blog and books fill the internet with people looking to get into a streamlined food operation either on wheels or without the commitment of owning a storefront. People are finding their passion and starting an empire of trucks to carve their way into the food industry.
New operators will have to deal with unexpected complications that can include specialized regulations permits and fees that wouldn’t occur with a storefront restaurant. In addition to the vehicle, considerations must be made for weight, space, gas or diesel, and power and torque. These are all concerns business owners need to weigh in on when investing or planning out a new source of livelihood. Some cities prohibit food trucks as initiatives to promote, or prefer their established business. Weather is also a major factor in certain areas as certain foods on the menu or the desire to get a taco or an ice cream in a thunderstorm can ruin the experience.
With the inclusion of many food trucks to popular events, many cities across the U.S. and Canada are reaching out to include food options at events and more urban activities. One of the ways it’s trying to keep people interested in going downtown is including full-time fixtures of food trucks, trailers and carts in major cities with regular frequency. Portland is one of the major cities to include sections of the city as these bohemian meccas to street food. The sights and smells of every type of cuisine persist and makes people feel like they belong to tighter more personal communities.
This Thanksgiving, while we’re all in a rush and facing the stress of the upcoming holidays, we can head into a store to satisfy our immediate needs. Instead, while we bustle along our busy lives, we should look to those people dedicated to serving us whenever, whatever, in any weather and what we’re craving for. I suggest we all take a moment to breathe, enjoy a quick and quality meal, prepared by those who are passionate and committed to the craft. This commitment deserves gratitude which is all part of the American Thanksgiving spirit.