Northeastern University Dining Services Blog

Friday, November 9, 2012

Tales From The Truck: Food Trucks 101

Friday, November 9, 2012 | 4:29 PM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , No comments


As chef/manager of the Hungry Hungry Husky food truck that roams the Northeastern campus, my responsibilities include ensuring the quality of food and service, creating menus, and overseeing all the details that come along with operating a food service business. Before I dive into a history of mobile eateries, I want to tell you about myself.

I grew up just west of Boston in Lexington and currently live in Somerville. Along with operating H3, I am a student at Newbury College in Brookline. I've been working for Chartwells here at Northeastern for about six years, both in the front of the house (where you - the customer - orders, sits, and enjoys food) and the back of the house (in the kitchen). Previously, I also worked in the catering department in Speare Hall, the Northeastern Faculty Club on Columbus Avenue, and International Village. I've been to many schools on both coasts over the years and have never seen such detail and thought put into student dining and nutrition than here at Northeastern.

Now to the fun stuff: you may be lying awake at night wondering to yourself, "I'm seeing food trucks everywhere, how did they become so popular?" That's a great question – here’s some background:

The food truck trend first started hundreds of years ago in urban and rural areas throughout the United States. The first resemblance to today's modern food trucks were American "chuck wagons." These were wooden carts (think Oregon Trail) designed to feed cattle hands as they were traveling along trails in Texas. The owner of a cattle trail needed a way to feed his cowboys on the long ride and as a result the "mobile kitchen" was created. Now, these trucks weren't serving foie gras or gourmet sandwiches, but they were, without knowing it, the originators of a trend that would sweep the nation in years to come.

The next wave of mobile food forward thinkers came in the early 1900s, when there was a demand for lunch by the thousands of construction workers building New York City and other major urban areas. These were considered "mobile vendors" and along with driving to and from construction sites they also began operating at night in larger cities such as Boston to accommodate the theater crowd. Just think, 100 years ago along Huntington Avenue, as the theatre goers were leaving Symphony Hall, the food truck trend was beginning. Along with advances in technology, mobile vendors eventually turned into food trucks. In New York City these trucks were subject to many regulations yet they were not typically enforced in the immigrant-saturated areas of the city. The association with immigrant culture and unsanitary conditions coined the term "roach coach" and thus began a decline in popularity for food trucks.

Fast forward more than a century to 2008 and we can see the rise of the modern food truck! As a result of the recession in 2007 we saw a decline in construction projects and therefore a decline in customers for the mobile vendors. At the same time many high-end chefs were out of work and looking for new ways to use their skills in an efficient way that didn't require renting space. Thus emerged the "high end" or "gourmet" food trucks we see around today.

In my next post, I will discuss the daily operations of managing a food truck and where we at Northeastern see the evolution of food trucks headed. I have had numerous students come up to me on the truck very curious about the costs and planning associated with opening a food truck, and it's great to see people so interested. I encourage everybody from students to faculty and staff to come to the truck for lunch or just to ask me a question about the truck.

Until next time...

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