Well, well. It looks like the quirkiest little city in Texas might have to have a showdown with its big brother. (Cue tumbleweed and some Western whistling.) Austin has long been the food truck king in this state, but Houston is quickly gaining ground. Last week I sampled some amazingly creative créme brulée; this week, there’s too many trucks to try, because Houston is having its very first food truck festival.
Called Haute Wheels Houston, the event will “roll into town” this weekend at the Houston Community College Southwest, West Loop Campus, on Saturday from noon–7 and Sunday from noon–5. Twenty-three trucks total, including heavy-hitters like Zilla Street Eats, Frosted Betty Bake Shop, Green Seed Vegan, Phamily Bites, No Borders, and Bullbutter Bros. Barbecue. Also, did I mention live music? Drinks? A live roller derby demonstration? This list just keeps getting better.
I sat down with the brains behind this operation, Food & Vine Time Production’s Co-producers and Founders Constance and Clifton McDerby and Haute Wheels Event Coordinator Debra Ford, to find out the skinny before it’s time to get food-truck fat. Here’s what they had to say.
Who is the average Houston food truck customer? The customer base is really quite diverse. The early-adopters were foodies who wanted gourmet on the fly. They are young professionals, typically single or married with no children who are out and about and enjoy a varied nightclub and music scene. The trucks cater to that crowd which is concentrated in the Washington Avenue strip. But here in Houston, with the expansion into farmers’ markets, like the one at City Hall, there are more and more professionals who can grab a quick bite and support local artisans and farmers at the same time.
How did so many trucks pop up in the past year or so? Some of it appears to be expense-related and some of it just pure entrepreneurial spirit. Many of the food trucks want their own restaurant, but the expense and time is too great. Food trucks offer them the opportunity to enter the industry quicker and for a more reasonable investment. But it also gives them a real connection to their customer, which is different than the restaurant business. The customer is right in front of them, eating the food and offering immediate feedback.
Tell me about the Haute Wheels festival. Haute Wheels brings Houston’s most cutting-edge, popular, and innovative food trucks to one place and surrounds the grounds with two full days of musical entertainment, engaging activities, a beer and wine garden, as well as a vendor village where guests can immerse themselves in experiential displays with companies like Bertolli Olive Oil and Old Navy.
How did Food & Vine Time get the idea for a Houston food truck festival? Not sure, we love a challenge. We were coming off producing the first large-scale craft beer festival in Texas, BrewMasters Beer Festival, in Galveston. People told us it could not be done in Texas. We heard the same thing about a food truck festival in Houston. There was the challenge and we knew there was a growing tide of food truck popularity. So we decided to do it. As organizers of many food events, we wanted a chance to help support an up-and-coming group of food entrepreneurs who share our love of good food.
The Austin food truck festival was overcrowded, and most people had to wait in line for over an hour just to try one truck. How will the Houston festival be different? Our biggest challenge is making sure we do everything possible for people not to wait in lines. We spent a lot of time researching festivals around the country. We have secured as many trucks as are allowed to comply with ordinances pertaining to the distance that trucks can operate. With 23 trucks, a beer and wine garden, and other vendors on site like Bertolli Olive Oil, plus a music stage with nonstop music, there is plenty to do to keep festival guests moving around the site. We have also arranged the trucks in such a way that we have ample queuing just in case a lot of people line up at once for a popular truck. There are also interactive demonstrations, like the Northside Fury Roller Derby team—an all female group that will surely be a crowd-pleaser. Haute Wheels is two days, so we are able to stretch the attendance out over two days rather than so many on one day.
$16 is a pretty steep price for a ticket. What do people get for that price? A donation goes straight off the top to support culinary scholarships for Houston Community College Foundation. So just entering the festival, they are supporting the culinary cause. The festival also benefits the Houston Metropolitan Chamber. In addition there is free parking and one drink is included in the admission, which can either be a full beer or full-size glass of wine, or festivalgoers can get a tasting card and try a wide variety of craft beer or wine selections.
I heard that some of the food trucks will be offering smaller tastes from their menu. What can we look forward to? The Lunch Bag will be having samples of sweet potato balls—sweet potatoes drenched in cinnamon sugar, then rolled into a flour crust and deep fried, then sprinkled with sugar. Bite-size sweet potato pies! Katfish Kitchen is doing $3 samplers, with a choice of 2 pieces of fish or 2 shrimp or 1 of each with fries and a hushpuppy. Bullbutter Bros is offering a small pulled pork or brisket sandwich with a choice of 1 side potato salad/cole slaw/pintos for $5.25. Fusion Taco is doing Asian Pulled Pork Tacos, served on warm corn tortillas with caramelized onions, red & green cabbage, baby cucumbers, avocado, and a ginger soy vinaigrette for $3, or a large signature taco with curry shortrib on grilled naan with a spicy riatta sauce for $6.
Mmmm. So, dear readers, what food truck are you most excited about trying this weekend?
Haute Wheels Festival at Houston Community College Southwest, West Loop Campus. Saturday from noon–7 and Sunday from noon–5.
Posted by Megan Giller