Food truck meals have become standard fare at taprooms, farmers markets, and with the lunch crowds downtown Minneapolis and St. Paul.
But this summer, they are making more forays into communities further out, including those in Dakota County.
This summer, a church in Northfield launched Food Truck Tuesdays. Mendota Heights is looking at changing its city code to accommodate food trucks. And this year Eagan sees its first ever food truck festival, an event with two bands and 20 trucks.
Marty Richie of Lakeville started Motley Crews Heavy Metal Grill in 2012 and went full-time with the operation last year with his partner, Lisa Caulfield.
He prefers setting up shop in the south metro as much as possible. It’s close to home, and he doesn’t have to deal with the fierce competition for the few downtown spots, a situation he calls (and likens to) “The Hunger Games.”
“I wanted to stay away from Marquette as much as I could,” he said.
Burnsville recently reached out to him — he’s on the board of the Minnesota Food Truck Association — and asked how that city could be more food truck friendly, he said, and he helped draw up an ordinance.
In general, Dakota County communities have been receptive to food trucks. “Eagan has just opened up their doors,” he said. “Lakeville has been easy to work with.”
Richie, a former account executive who suffered a devastating job loss during the recession, said his job “beats working for The Man.”
He keeps a small Monster.com plush toy on the dashboard — reminder of a conventional job-finding website — as “a reminder of where I’m not going to go.”
He doesn’t see food trucks going away any time soon. “It’s a revolution,” he said.
Here are a few new food truck events in Dakota County:
Food Truck Tuesdays, Northfield
The First United Church of Christ in Northfield was looking for ways for the church to connect with the community.
Matt Eastvold, a member of the congregation, pitched an idea: Food Truck Tuesdays.
So, this summer, staff and volunteers started dragging chairs and tables out onto the lawn every week and setting them up in the shade of a couple of towering trees. Then they wait for the truck (or trucks) to arrive.
“We were just hoping that people would come and hang out here,” said Eastvold.
It took some work to test it out. “I think some trucks were dubious at first,” said associate pastor Abby Henderson.
“It was a tough sell,” said Eastvold. “It’s a drive for them. It puts stress on their vehicle.”
To sweeten the deal, he said, they offered gas cards or a guaranteed minimum in sales.
According to Reverend Todd Smith Lippert, it has been “an overwhelming success.”
During the first week, the truck ran out of food. They started booking two trucks some weeks, and decided to extend it into September.
Eastvold said while there are great restaurants in downtown Northfield, this offers different options each week.
“It’s essentially a pop-up restaurant,” he said. “It’s here, and it’s gone.”
“It’s a big food adventure for the town,” said regular patron Trish Ferrett, of Northfield.
Because the church is a couple blocks from downtown, it draws on the working crowd, who mingle with members of the congregation.
A pretty setting, on the lawn in front of the 1800s church, also helps. One week due to weather, it wound up in the parking lot and “that changed the whole vibe,” said Eastvold.
Lippert said he’s often tried to break down the tables at 1 p.m. but people tend to linger much longer.
The plan for next year? More of the same, and — hopefully — permanent picnic tables for the lawn.
Food truck Tuesdays take place at the First United Church of Christ from 11 a.m. to 1 (-ish) p.m. through September 16.
Eagan Food Truck Festival, September 6
Twenty food trucks will motor into Eagan for a first Food on 4 Wheels Festival.
Visitors will get to choose from 20 trucks, among them AZ Canteen, with bites based on Andrew Zimmern’s travels on the road, and The Moral Omnivore, which serves imaginative locally sourced treats such as beet sliders and fried tomato BLTs.
Motley Crews Heavy Metal Grill will be there, with items such as “Chubby Chick” (a chicken sandwich topped with Cheez Whiz, onions, and “Motley sauce”).
“Food is a great community connector,” said Eagan’s Recreation Supervisor Kerry Phillips. She said the city plans to gauge community feedback to see if it becomes an annual event.
The free event runs from 3 to 7:30 p.m. Entertainment includes Retro Soul and the Westside Horns (rhythm and blues, rock) from 3 to 5 p.m. and the Mill City Players (rock, funk) from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Online: www.cityofeagan.com/foodtruck
Food truck Fridays, Mendota Heights
Last year Melissa Goers, marketing manager at an information technology company in Mendota Heights, started scheduling a food truck once a month for her company’s parking lot on Fridays, when field techs are in the office. She also sent out word to the employees of nearby companies.
It went over so well that this year she started a Facebook page and lined up a different truck every week.
Attendance fluctuates, she said, but they tend to draw about 120 people on average. She has seen people come in from as far away as Lakeville and Woodbury.
Goers said that it adds some much needed diversity to the dining experience.
“There’s really not a whole lot around here,” she said.
While the current code for the city doesn’t allow transient merchants, Goers talked with City Council members and was able to acquire a temporary permit.
“They were actually kind of all for it,” she said.
“We’re looking at changing our code,” said Mendota Heights City Administrator Justin Miller.
This year in particular the city has started to hear anecdotally about food trucks at local businesses and wants to accommodate that trend.
Goers has been contacted by two other nearby communities wanting her to set up something similar for them, but had to decline.
“I just did this for something for our office,” she said.
The trucks pull up on Fridays through September 26 in the parking lot of 1333 Northland Drive, on the corner of Northland Drive and Enterprise Drive. Vendors generally sell food from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Liz Rolfsmeier is a Twin Cities freelance journalist.