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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
/articleid/3801497/1/pictures/2032513">Photo - People gather near Hudson Avenue and NW 8 for H & 8th in this 2011 file photo. The H & 8th Night Market returned in March.  Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman Archives
People gather near Hudson Avenue and NW 8 for H & 8th in this 2011 file photo. The H & 8th Night Market returned in March. Photo by Doug Hoke, The Oklahoman Archives

One area to attack the niches of time and price point is via mobile kitchens. Besides the aforementioned engineering advancements allowing trucks to better be outfitted for chefs, social media has become an invaluable tool for mobile food vendors.

Without social media, it’s difficult to imagine the success of Big Truck Tacos would be as profound. And Big Truck Tacos success was the catalyst to dozens of new competitors.

Keep in mind, before Big Truck Tacos took the city by storm in 2009, mobile food vendors were alive, well and easy to find in Oklahoma City’s south side. But those trucks operated in small quarters in specific target areas.

Bobo’s Hickory Smoked Chicken has been a local legend for years, setting up camp weekends at the corner of NE 23 Street and Hood to serve catfish and chicken that is first smoked then fried and served with French fries, the entire bounty dappled in honey.

Making a connection

Social media has allowed mobile kitchens to truly be mobile, dashing from spot to spot in a single night, sending out information about target locales via Facebook and Twitter. But announcing one’s movements on a given night isn’t as profound as the connection social media creates between vendor and customer.

The phenomenon of Big Truck Tacos was spawned via social media before the truck ever rolled down the street or the doors opened to their home base in July of 2009. But the model chefs Kathryn Mathis and Cally Johnson and partner Chris Lower envisioned has been turned on its ear.

The trip originally thought the trucks’ movements would be announced and crowds would come running.

But the reality is, demand for command performances has turned the mobile kitchens into mobile catering trucks.

“We’re booked for corporate events pretty much daily,” Lower said. “It’s not unusual to have both trucks at private bookings at the same time.”

Even if social media hasn’t created the model the mobile kitcheneers anticipated, that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been effective. And from a business sense, it’s more reliable.

For instance, Moto Chef’s devoted Facebook and Twitter customers know they can usually find a Moto Burger near Grandad’s at 317 NW 23 from 6 p.m. to late at night on weekends

Business also is finding its way from the street and into bricks and mortar. Raena and Shane man the Roxy’s Ice Cream Social truck, serving a variety of ice cream in cones and between cookies. Roxy’s salted caramel ice cream is the signature of the Grand Lake Monte Cristo at Plaza District stalwart The Mule.

Todd Woodruff’s Waffle Champion is one of the city’s top food trucks, serving sweet and savory gourmet waffles and will soon have a roof over its head.

Meanwhile, barbecue purveyors like the Smokin Okies, Larry and Nancy Starns, continue to pop up in parking lots and events around the state serving competition-friendly ribs, brisket and pulled pork.

Once some forward-thinking property owners and the city can find a way to allow food trucks to convene on common ground and create a natural destination, the food truck phenomenon will explode. And that will be a win for the city and its diners.

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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