Story By Amy Geiszler-Jones - Photography By Whitney Pulen
It’s been five years since Wichita got its first sampling of specialty food prepared and sold by food trucks.
While the food truck concept itself wasn’t totally new to Wichita – static taco trucks have dotted Wichita’s Nomar district and concession trailers have served laborers outside manufacturing plants over the years – The Flying Stove brought two new concepts when that food truck rolled onto the dining scene in December 2011. It served up gourmet culinary options created by a trained chef and used social media to announce its menus and movements.
The success that brothers Jeff and Rob Schauf achieved with The Flying Stove has paved the way for a smorgasbord of food trucks in Wichita and has city leaders working with owners to revamp outdated regulations governing food trucks.
Initially when The Flying Stove started, the Schaufs felt some pressure to constantly create new menu items to keep customers coming back, so they changed the menu every two weeks. With more food trucks offering a variety of choices – from Hawaiian plate specials (Noble House) to German cuisine (Let’m Eat Brats) to organic options (The Garden of Eatin’) – The Flying Stove now rotates its menu offerings less frequently, about once a month or so.
During last month’s A Night at the Fountains rally on a Friday at WaterWalk downtown, Nathan Payne was ordering from the Flying Stove.
“I always bring me and my two kids to these and try different trucks,” said Payne. The Flying Stove remains a favorite, he said. He also had high praise for LoLo’s Crepes, a new food truck specializing in both savory and sweet crepes that hit the streets this summer. “The crepes are great,” he declared.
Earlier this year, the Wichita Food Trucks coalition launched a website to provide customers an easier way to locate their favorite truck – or trucks if customers like grabbing a morning coffee from Sunflower Expresso and a vegan, non-GMO lunch from Kind Kravings followed by a dessert from Brown Box Bakery, for example. The coalition, which started about six months ago, grew out of the informal, networking meetings the food truck operators had been having.
Pull up the site wichitafoodtrucks.com and you’ll easily see which food truck is serving where and when for the day. Schedules for the next week and social media links to the more than 20 coalition member trucks are just one click away, too. The site lists the serving locations of coalition members only, although Wichita is home to probably more than 30 food trucks. Food trucks can also be booked for events or private parties.
“We’ve honest-to-goodness been an unofficial coalition from the beginning,” said Jodi Buchanan, co-owner of BS Sandwich Press, which started up a few months after The Flying Stove.
In April 2012, after a tornado hit the Oaklawn area of Haysville, she contacted the Schaufs to see about serving responders and residents together. Buchanan, vice president of the Wichita Food Trucks coalition, likes to think of that as the first food truck rally.
Since then, food truck rallies and spaces for food trucks to come together – like Wichita State University’s food truck plaza and the Pop-Up Park downtown – have become more commonplace. Some bricks-and-mortar stores, like Songbird Juice Co. and Sweet Willy’s BBQ, have expanded their businesses with the addition of trucks.
The food trucks, Jeff Schauf said, are just one example of how Wichitans are rallying to support local businesses, particularly those that provide creative and hand-crafted endeavors, like craft breweries, coffee roasters and other small industries.
“The mentality that all capitalism is 100 percent competition seems old school,” said Schauf, noting that a cooperative nature can be effective in creating success.
“There’s much more of a feeling of being a community and that’s why people like to come out to support us, too,” Schauf said.
Even the city has taken note of the popularity of food trucks and is working to provide a better atmosphere for doing business. According to a late September Wichita Eagle article, the city is considering doing away with a current ban on food truck operations on downtown city streets. A city planner noted that when the city held a meeting in 2012 to discuss regulations, only one food truck operator showed up. This year, more than 20 showed up.
“The dialogue has been great,” said Schauf.