Maybe a bit of drama at the very start of the H&8th Night Festival in Midtown was just what Oklahoma City needed to kick off what is becoming one of the most successful food truck gatherings in the country.
I was present in August 2011 when Laura Massenat, owner of Elemental Coffee, Jonathan Stranger, owner of Ludivine, and J.D. Merryweather, co-owner of Coop Ale Works, joined together to host the city’s first food truck festival. The event was pretty meager that first night — less than a handful of food truck operators who were doomed to sell out quickly as hundreds arrived at NW 8 and Hudson.
About 30 people were able to be served that night by the folks with Big Truck Tacos. The rest of the festival never even got underway as a force of 30 inspectors and agents with ABLE, the Oklahoma City/County Health Department and the city’s fire marshal and code enforcement offices swooped in unannounced and shut everything down. Those who showed up were outraged, especially at the sight of ABLE agents armed with guns and badges.
What the agents and inspectors didn’t know, at first, was that I was one of those showing up in the middle of this raid, and none other than City Manager Jim Couch was among the surprised customers that night.
Discussions ensued, and a lot of publicity that did not bode well for the raid party stirred a surge of interest and support for food trucks, and the next H&8th was a hit. At the opening of the 2013 season, an estimated 2,500 people showed up.
The number of participating food trucks, the variety of entertainment and influx of products added to the festival’s momentum. The budget for operations and marketing grew with the addition of Fowler Toyota of Norman as presenting sponsor.
When the 2014 season started last month, the surge in interest was shocking. An estimated 20,000 people showed up, inspiring organizers to extend the event’s northern boundary to NW 9 along Hudson Avenue.