The growing urban trend is starting to turn up at lunchtime in places like Burnsville.
One of the newest in the mobile food marketplace is R.A. MacSammy's, run by Kevin Huyck, a longtime chef from Apple Valley. He opened this year with a small customer base in St. Paul and recently made his first suburban foray into Burnsville.
Wicked Palate also plans to open this month in Burnsville, as soon as truck owner Dan Gustafson can land a mobile-vendor license from the state Health Department.
"I just got my truck up here" from a former vendor in Georgia, said Gustafson, whose other job is serving as a Burnsville City Council member. He has a city vendor license to park his lunch truck on Burnsville streets. He noted that more than 500,000 people live in Dakota and Scott counties, and 22,000 commute daily to work in Burnsville.
"There's a lot of food trucks in Minneapolis and St. Paul," Gustafson said, "but nobody has paid too much attention to the suburbs."
Huyck said he knows of a few food trucks working in Bloomington and other suburbs. One is Fork in the Road, which opened in July 2010 and has operated in St. Paul and sporadically in Eden Prairie, Brooklyn Center and starting last week at a Salvation Army parking lot in Roseville, said co-owner Amy Frechette. "We are one of the first trucks to go to the suburbs," she said.
Huyck said he decided to specialize in different styles of macaroni-and-cheese dishes because it was a comfort food for many people. His business name stems from his rotating selection of mac-and-cheese dishes and grilled cheese and other sandwiches. The first two letters allude to the first names of his kids: Randall, 13, and Avery, 16, who help out when not in school, he said. His wife also assists when she's off work.
He considers his main competition to be fast-food restaurants.
"We let people try out healthier, home-grown foods," he said. He said Fork in the Road and other food truck owners have offered him tips and invited him to joint lunch truck locations.
"There's a camaraderie among the food truck owners I have come across. We can all be successful," Huyck said last week while slicing and blending fresh pineapple in his truck in St. Paul's Energy Park business area. He poured the fruity puree over his red-cabbage cole slaw to top his Memphis-style barbecue pork sliders in onion rolls. The pineapple adds a tangy sweetness that compliments the spicy barbecue sauce on the three hot pork sliders, sold for $8. Mac and cheese ranges from $4 to $7.
"Don't you have your Greek mac-and-cheese today?" asked customer Debbie Vranyes, who works nearby. She opted for a build-your-own mac and cheese and asked Huyck to include sauteed onions, peppers and mushrooms.
"It's something different than the usual lunch," Vranyes said. "It tastes good and it's convenient."
Huyck passed out flyers to Energy Park businesses last Monday, alerting them that his truck would appear the next day. He said he has done some online advertising and also uses Facebook, other social media and his website, www.ramacsammys.com.
Huyck, who has cooked for 17 years at country clubs and restaurants, initially considered opening a regular restaurant. But after taking customer counts outside more than a dozen restaurants in the Apple Valley area, he decided it was much more feasible to buy a 2007 converted delivery truck, which cost about $65,000, and go with the food truck. He said his goal is to hit about $400 a day in weekday sales, mostly at Dakota County lunch sites.
The portability offers an advantage: "If I don't have the audience I want, I can move," he said.
He noted that restaurant chefs also are stuck in their kitchens, away from the people they serve.
"I love dealing with people and cooking their food for them and just being able to talk to them," Huyck said. "I wish I would have done this five years ago, because this is the best job I have ever had."
Jim Adams 952-746-3283