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Outlook 2013: Cooperation is key to mobile kitchen growth in Oklahoma

by Dave Cathey Modified: April 23, 2013 at 10:35 pm •  Published: April 28, 2013

The future of dining in Oklahoma City is dependent on a lot of teamwork, cooperation and focus on excellence, but one faction of the industry has perhaps more work ahead of it than the rest — the food trucks.

Part of that work is due to demand. When the H & 8{+t}{+h} Night Market returned in March, the 2,500-plus in attendance when the dinner bell rang at 7 p.m. was evidence of the appetite for gourmet street food. It also showed Oklahoma City residents are ready to participate in the advancement of local culture. But you can be sure that the presence of half a dozen local food trucks was a major enticement and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

The organized street party out front of Elemental Coffee and Ludivine, between Sixth and Eighth Street on Hudson Avenue, was hung up by a surprise visit from city enforcement teams in its first attempt in 2011. Painful as that night was, it helped build a stronger event.

At this year’s opening, the only major problem was old as the study of economics: too much demand and not enough supply.

Lines ran long and, in the case of the Moto Chef truck, the service sprang a leak that burst into a full-fledged meltdown. That unfortunate turn of events was well handled by both vendor and customer, and the movement to press forward local culture will be better for the experience.

Obviously, the weather will not always be as perfect as it was for the first food truck congregation of 2013, the large turnout indicates growth is a real and attainable goal.

To achieve that growth, the first and most obvious fix is more trucks. The second and no less important development is on the side of city and local property owners: a consistent place to convene and some forward-thinking from city planners to improve prospects.

But that’s easier said than done. Some ordinances in place that mobile operators see as obstacles are protections for taxpaying operations bound by bricks and mortar to sell wares from a fixed position. As usual, vision is key and cooperation commensurate to creating avenues ensuring vendors can operate on an equal playing field and pave the way for growth and respect in the local dining scene.

Historical origins

Why are food trucks so important that they might need an adjustment to city ordinances that form the boundaries of their operation?

The concept of mobile food vending dates back to chuck wagons that rolled in the wake of cattle drives across the prairies along the Chisholm Trail and countless others in cahoots along points east and west.

Some of the earliest editions of The Oklahoman describe chili and tamale wagons roaming the pre-statehood Oklahoma byways. Taco trucks and wagons have crowded the streets, parking lots and corners of south Oklahoma City for years.

But just because the idea of mobile kitchens isn’t new, it doesn’t mean it’s not better than ever and a piece of the puzzle in the growth of Oklahoma City dining.

The goal for Oklahoma City’s hospitality industry is to offer guests an interesting and excellent dining experience regardless of the price point or hour of the day or night. This is the mark of the country’s finest dining scenes like New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

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by Dave Cathey
Food Editor
The Oklahoman's food editor, Dave Cathey, keeps his eye on culinary arts and serves up news and reviews from Oklahoma’s booming food scene.
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