ILION — When Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race” premiered in 2010, food trucks were common in large urban areas, but still rare in the Mohawk Valley outside of fairs and festivals.
That has certainly changed in the years since, with the Mohawk Valley now boasting dozens of food trucks and regular food-truck events in communities across the valley. Those events — which include What the Truck? Utica, Town of Marcy Food Truck and Concert Series, the New Herkimer Downtown Chowdown, and the Ilion Food Truck Frenzy — have grown from informal gatherings of trucks to full-blown scheduled events complete with entertainment and sponsors.
For Jackie Moore, the idea to start the Ilion Food Truck Frenzy came from seeing how families would gather together on summer nights to enjoy food and music. The result of her idea is a regular Wednesday event held from 4-8 p.m. in the Ilion Fireman’s Field at 39 Pleasant Ave.
The event not only brings something to the area for people to enjoy, but also benefits the community and its businesses. “It brings in people from other towns who may stop and get gas in Ilion,” she notes. The trucks also patronize local businesses for things like ice and gas. “It brings revenue in,” Moore says, adding that some trucks have even hired local teens from the village to work on the truck during the event.
The food-truck rallies also provide large groups of people all in one place — something that can be challenging in the mostly suburban and rural Mohawk Valley.
According to Food Truck Nation, a 2017 study of food-truck regulations by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the modern food truck industry began in Los Angeles in 2008 with Kogi Korean BBQ, which used social-media marketing and cleared $2 million in sales by the end of its first year in business.
“Their clever dishes and savvy social media have jump-started a $2 billion-plus industry in cities across America,” the report read. “Food trucks are rapidly becoming fixtures of our communities.”
Food trucks typically have lower start-up costs, making them a viable option for those looking to get into the restaurant business.
Chris Woodbeck, owner of the Mangia Macrina’s Wood Fired Pizza truck, originally intended to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, but he just couldn’t find a suitable location at a decent price.
Driving past a trailer company one day, he decided to stop and see if it could make a trailer that could house a pizza oven. It could, and Woodbeck opened his first truck in 2012, setting up in business parking lots or even outside his house at times. It was all about getting his name and product out there.
By 2016, the demand for Woodbeck’s Neapolitan-style, wood-fired pizza grew enough that he finally got to open that brick-and-mortar restaurant in New Hartford. In the years since, Woodbeck opened a second restaurant in Little Falls and launched a second food truck this year.
For Michael Trunsio, his Michael T’s restaurant in New Hartford came first, followed by the food truck. His Italian restaurant opened in 1996, but he didn’t launch his food truck until 2017 after seeing the growing popularity of trucks and the events that host them.
“They’re fun to do,” he says of events like What the Truck? Utica. “People look forward to it.”
The truck is a way for Trunsio to reach out to potential new customers with the best kind of marketing when someone walks past with a plate of food from his truck.
“It’s getting better every year,” he says of the food-truck business. The truck has also become a handy catering facility for the restaurant, allowing Trunsio to cater company picnics and other events.
Melanie Osier had worked on a barbecue food truck in the past, but it wasn’t until she was laid off from her job as an outpatient surgical scheduler during the COVID-19 pandemic that she decided to take the plunge and open her own truck.
“I always wanted a waffle truck,” she says. After hearing someone was selling a truck, “I just kind of swooped in,” Osier quips.
By the time she opened Oh Crepe and Waffles Food Truck in 2020, food trucks were already an established industry in the Mohawk Valley and there were a bunch of food-truck nights in which she could participate.
“It paved the way for me,” Osier notes. The events definitely helped get the business name out there and expose people to her food. Within weeks, she was already getting inquiries about catering events, and she hasn’t looked back since.
While the idea of a restaurant is somewhere in the back of her mind, Osier is firmly focused on food trucks for now.
“I have plans for about six new trucks,” she says. The first will most likely be a funnel cake truck. Right now, she’s testing the waters with a funnel-cake stand next to her food truck at events.
Osier and William Balsamico of the Squeezer’s Lemonade food truck also launched the 315 Food Truck Finder group on Facebook to make it easy for everyone to find out where their favorite food truck will be or how to reach its operators to book an event.