Food truck throw down successful despite long lines
Des Moines foodies have been waiting for months (OK, maybe even years) for the food truck scene to takeoff.
In many ways, last Saturday night could mark the moment that food trucks arrived.
And, boy, did they make an entrance.
About 10,000 people attended Saturday's Iowa Beverage Food Truck Throw Down, a free, outdoor event spotlighting 12 food trucks with cuisine ranging from tacos to burgers to ice cream to Belgian fries.
Held at the Social Club, the throw down also featured music from local bands like The Maytags and Canby, and food truck-themed art from Michelle Holley, John Huffman and Van Holmgren. (Holmgren's depiction of rapper Ol' Dirty Bastard inside a sushi food truck was shared on Facebook by his former group, the WuTang Clan, and had more than 13,000 likes as of Monday afternoon.)
While the throw down was well-attended and the trucks did steady business, according to owners, there were some complaints from attendees about the overwhelming crowd and long lines to get food.
"I waited in those lines myself," said Zachary Mannheimer, executive director of the Social Club. "But I really don't see the amount of people that came as a negative. I see it as a positive that so many people wanted to come. Yes, it was packed, but people still had fun. The alternative would be limiting the amount of people who could come and that was something we didn't want to do."
When 10,000 people show up to an event, there will be a wait, said Mickey Davis, program director at the DMSC. "It's unavoidable," he said.
"You don't go into a restaurant and expect your food right away," Davis added.
The mission of the throw down, which also acted as a celebration of the Social Club's first year in their building on Ninth and Mulberry streets, was to expose residents to the wide variety of food trucks in Des Moines, said Davis.
"The intention was to raise awareness that food trucks can serve in Des Moines not just on private properties, but also on public streets," said Davis. "Having food trucks is on every list of what 20-somethings want to see in the city they live in, so we wanted to capitalize on the momentum that spurred the changing of the laws surrounding food trucks and hold an event that showcased local trucks."
And, to Davis, that mission was met — about 10,000 times over: "I don't know how many people knew all of those trucks existed, but I would venture to say very few did. Now, they do."
Due to high demand, trucks were running out of menu items throughout the evening and many sold out completely right around 9:30 or 10 p.m., when the event was scheduled to end.
"As far as the demand for food trucks, the people have spoken," Davis said. "This shows that the city is ready for food trucks."
The event was a "huge success" for Ben Norris, co-owner of The Spot, a truck specializing in gourmet sandwiches. Overall, Norris' truck sold 400 sandwiches Saturday night, which amounts to about 80 sandwiches an hour, Norris said.
"We were putting out food as fast as we could," Norris said. "At some point there is a maximum, you know, there's only so much food we can put out at one time.
"This was a success for us for sure, just based on the sheer number of people we served," Norris continued. "If the issue was that too many people came, that's an awesome problem to have, that just means there is a wealth of demand from the city."
While the social media response to the event was split with comments falling equally into the "I loved it" and "I hated it" camp (but what else is new with Facebook comments), Norris didn't experience any upset customers.
"Our wait time reached about 45 minutes at its height," Norris said. "Whenever our wait time reaches more than 20 minutes, I always give people a heads up. When I told the people in line at the Social Club event, they were like that's fine, they were just hanging out, listening to live music. They weren't in a hurry like if it was a lunch rush or something."
Given the throw down's attendance, paired with some other administrative concerns, the city of Des Moines' food truck festival has been moved back to "sometime in July," said Kandi Reindl, assistant city manager.
"We wanted to step back after the food truck throw down because it was overwhelming and we make sure that doesn't happen to us," Reindl said. "We want to make sure we have a large enough area."
The Social Club hopes to put on another truck-focused event in the fall and spring. The team behind the throw down will meet soon to go over what they can improve for next time, Mannheimer said.
But for Mannheimer, the night was less about long lines are more about what he called "a shift in how people view what they can do in their city." If Des Moines residents want to get something accomplished, Mannheimer said, all they have to do is turn out and lend their support.
Norris, who has relied on regular customers for three years, certainly felt the food truck love on Saturday, he said. And he was happy to see the evolution of the food truck scene from almost nonexistent a couple years ago to 10,000 people strong today.
"We were the only food truck at the Social Club's grand opening (in 2014)," Norris said, "so to come back a year later for an event specifically designed to showcase food trucks and the culture we helped create over the last three years, it feels great. It feels like we've come full circle."