The food truck industry is growing nationally, with cities like Orlando, Florida and Austin, Texas leading the charge.
But a new crop of mobile food vendors is popping up in an unlikely rural area: Elko. Reno Public Radio’s Noah Glick has more.
Ryan Oeschger shows off the inside of Guerrilla Craft Eats, a gourmet hamburger truck he co-owns and operates with his wife, Andrea.
It’s a brisk winter afternoon in downtown Elko, where the truck parks during the week. And there aren’t a lot of customers, which he says is typical this time of year.
“You might as well be outside; the elements are a big deal,” he says. “So if it’s cold outside, people aren’t coming because there’s nowhere to sit. And if it’s hot outside, people aren’t coming because it’s too hot to stand here on this lot.”
Before moving to Elko from Reno, the Oeschgers worked in professional kitchens: Ryan as a cook and Andrea as a server, bartender and manager. They opened Guerrilla Craft Eats, spelled like guerrilla warfare, as an organic, local farm-to-table option in a city that really doesn’t have that.
“We are the only gourmet food truck; we’re the only one doing that thing up here, that’s done in other cities,” Andrea says. “So we’re still building a following and cultivating a culture.”
Aside from weather, a big challenge she says, is trying to shift customer expectations.
“It’s really hard to explain why our burger is $14,” she says. “But when you get local meat, and it’s on a brioche bun, and it’s a half-pound, and everything that’s on there is made from scratch, and it’s raw-milk cheddar, and it’s organic greens on there, I mean when you do that it makes it more expensive.”
But even food trucks themselves are surprisingly expensive. The Oeschgers spent around $100,000 buying and renovating an old Frito-Lays delivery truck, which they equipped with commercial grade appliances, a bold orange and black exterior, and a bearded monkey logo.
They also spend $350 a month for the lot to park it in—and then there’s the actual food and supplies.
“We’re still paying off what it took to open—and we had a good amount going in,” Andrea says. “There is always something you didn’t think of, always.”
“One thing that people don’t think about when they get a food truck, is that they think they can just prep all the food in their house and then throw it in the back of the food truck, drive it downtown and wait for people to show up during lunch,” says Scott Burt with the health department in Elko.
Burt adds that many people don’t realize food trucks must meet the same requirements as restaurants, including equipment.
They also are required to have what’s called a depot, or a separate commercial kitchen, that’s used for storing and prepping food. But most importantly, Burt says, the depot is where trucks are required to get their water.
“If there was some type of bacterial outbreak or something, we can track it back to somewhere,” he says. “It’s not just somebody’s house.”
Alongside 75 restaurants, there are four food truck businesses in Elko.
One of them, covered with shiny aluminum panels, taped-on menus and a strip of rust across the top, sits outside the convention center. This is Las Brisas, the city’s oldest food truck.
Pedro Romero is the owner. He serves tacos and seafood—which he’s been doing since his parents first bought the truck 14 years ago.
“This is where I would do my homework,” Romero says. “I would get off of school, and then I would come in here and help my parents out. That’s all I’ve ever done.”
He now owns another truck across town and a catering wagon to boost event-based business. He says success in this industry is about getting out there.
“I mean it’s all local, it’s all community. I mean it’s just pushing it, just keep working and working—and that’s all it is.”
Romero say business is good and he expects it to grow.
And after two years, Guerrilla Craft Eats is also in the black. Co-owner Ryan Oeschger says although it can be hard running a food truck in Elko, it’s worth it.
“I don’t ever want to go back to working for anybody or anything like that,” he says.
There are only a handful of these mobile businesses now, but interest is growing, which means more competition could soon be rolling into town.