In Flagstaff’s restaurant scene, there are new faces on the block, and some of those new faces are changing their blocks from week to week. They’re joining some of the seasoned favorites, like the Hot Dog Guy, whose colorful umbrella is as much a part of downtown Flagstaff as the tables at Late for the Train coffeehouse. And there’s Big John’s Texas BBQ at 1740 E. Route 66, where many return customers enjoy the smoky flavored pulled pork, brisket, ribs and cowboy beans.
“I love it,” said Big John Crim, referring to working out of a trailer. “You have the freedom of being able to go and do what you what to when you want to. This thing is on wheels for a reason,” he said. Last month, Crim catered the Babbitt, Verkamp and Riordan family reunion, feeding 400 descendants of Flagstaff’s pioneer families. Crim’s mobile platform also took a recent trip to the set of Disney and Pixar’s movie John Carter. The 350-person cast and crew enjoyed Big John’s Texas BBQ against the magnificent backdrop of Arizona’s desert.
Jason Bullard is learning about life on the road as a mobile food truck vendor. The co-owner of Eat Local Be Happy has a varied menu that features local products, with meals made to order. A recent week saw Bullard in Bellemont Tuesday and Wednesday, Friday in Tuba City, Saturday in Munds Park, and Sunday morning in Flagstaff at the downtown Farmer’s Market.
In addition to being a chef, you also need to be a mechanic, jokes Bullard. But not having a brick and mortar storefront has benefits. “We can charge lower prices for things that are being sold at a higher rate at other establishments that are paying rent,” he added.
At Eat Local Be Happy, Bullard and his business partner, Daryle Dutton, are committed to purchasing local ingredients and supporting other merchants. “A dollar spent here on a small business is great because 49 cents out of every dollar stays here, compared to the big boxes where 13 cents out of every dollar stays in the local economy,” Bullard explained.
“You can get a breakfast burrito with Flying M Ranch beef breakfast sausage, or Hopi style sweet potato chips with wild Northern Arizona rosemary,” said Bullard, describing ways local produce is used on the seasonal menu. “We’re also doing Camp Verde sweet onion rings with wasabi tempura and an Asian ginger soy dipping sauce. The BLT has bacon from the Meat Shop, tomatoes from Wong’s Farm, lettuce from Downey Farm, and bread from the Village Baker,” he added. The vegan and gluten free crispy tofu is also a big hit, along with the peach and blueberry fruit crumbles with fresh whipped cream.
While customers of some mobile food businesses don’t always know where to find them, Bullard uses Facebook and Twitter to communicate his whereabouts.
Dozens of businesses are emerging from this trend of mobile platforms. One of them is Textingly, a New York City-based text messaging marketing company. Marketing Director Greg Reitman tells Flagstaff Business News the company is working with more local food truck vendors, helping them reach more customers through text messaging.
It’s an idea working for many, but Tim Sidoti is using good old-fashioned word of mouth. The former Flagstaff resident recently returned to the region, bringing his trailer with him. With the words Tim’s Famous Tri Tip painted on four sides, Sidoti sets up his temporary structure in the Farmer’s Market parking lot on North Fourth Street. The setup gives him more freedom than the convenience store and deli he owned near Yosemite.
With his privilege tax license, county health permit and sales tax permits in hand, Sidoti is ready to please the palate. “I’m Sicilian. I was raised in restaurants. I’ve done a lot of things in my life but going back to food and making something exceptional, that is what I like,” Sidoti said.
He believes people who enjoy a really good sandwich will tell their friends about it. And while Sidoti has been doing business in Flagstaff for less than a month, he is developing a following. Eric Schofield, who works at the nearby Anderson General Tire, was enthusiastic when he watched Sidoti pull up and park his trailer. “He’s got the good stuff,” said Schofield, describing the tri tip. “He smokes it for a long time and it’s so good.”
So far, Flagstaff’s food truck vending scene is mostly comprised of mom and pop operations, but if the region follows the trend in more metropolitan areas, Northern Arizona could see mobile restaurant franchisees in the future.
These mobile business models are a part of the Flagstaff restaurant landscape and will likely persevere. A poll by Technomic, a food industry consulting and research firm, shows 91 percent of respondents believe mobile food trucks have staying power, as opposed to being a part of a passing trend. FBN