From left, Elizabeth Eacholes, Veronica Hudson and Kayla Gilmore enjoy their meals during Starkville's first Food Truck Friday. The event at Cadence Plaza drew food trucks from Eupora, Kosciusko, Winona and Jackson, as well as many downtown customers. Photo by: Tess Vrbin/Dispatch Staff
November 23, 2019 10:02:53 PM
STARKVILLE -- Friday's rainy weather did not stop a swarm of people from stopping by the Cadence Bank Plaza downtown and visiting the four food trucks that served a variety of cuisine from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Customers could choose from chili dogs, Italian meatball sliders, pulled pork nachos, pizza and more.
The trucks came from Eupora, Kosciusko, Winona and Jackson, and three of them sold out of one of their menu items by the end of the second hour. Some customers took shelter from the rain under the overhang of the Cadence building while they ate.
The crowd was at its largest around noon, most likely a result of people's lunch breaks at work, said Paige Watson, the Greater Starkville Development Partnership's special events and projects coordinator.
"The cool thing about food trucks is that they're really accessible," Watson said. "I feel like the majority of this crowd are those who work in the downtown district. They can just walk out and it's right here."
Stephanie Gary, owner of the Eupora-based multicultural food truck Schmidt's and Jiggle's, said the attendance despite the bad weather was impressive.
"They hung out here like champs," Gary said.
The Starkville Main Street Association, within the Partnership, coordinated Starkville's first food truck event as a way to bring people downtown during Mississippi State University's homecoming weekend, Watson said. The event was also a test of public interest in having food trucks in Starkville, she said.
Mayor Lynn Spruill said the turnout was "wonderful" and she hopes to see more Food Truck Fridays in the future, possibly on a monthly basis.
"This is one of those fun things that has an atmosphere that goes with it that I'm really excited about," she said.
The market for food trucks
Spruill said the city has been trying to bring in food trucks for about two years.
"It was just a matter of getting enough interest in the community, people who would be interested in investing in a food truck and see that there's an adequate market for it," Spruill said.
Mississippi State University has played a key role in building that market, she said. The second-to-last Thursday of every month is Food Truck Thursday on campus, between the Colvard Student Union and the YMCA building on Lee Boulevard, as of Sept. 19.
MSU wanted a food truck at the College View mixed-use development, currently under construction on the northwest edge of campus, said Cameron Parker, owner of the Starkville branch of the Southern restaurant chain Chicken Salad Chick.
The university contacted him in July and asked him to start a food truck at College View, and the idea "didn't seem viable" to him, but opening one downtown seemed like a possibility.
Parker got in touch with Watson and Marc McGee, director of MSU's Research and Technology Corporation, to discuss opening a food truck at the Cadence Bank Plaza, since MSU bought the Cadence building earlier this year.
The result was Parker's new taco truck, Riley J. StrEATery, named after Parker's daughter, Riley. The truck first opened at the end of October and temporarily closed due to staffing changes, Parker said, and it will be open again Dec. 2 and will park at the Cadence Bank Plaza every weekday.
Parker said he appreciates that MSU made the taco truck a viable option.
"They wanted me to help feed (the Cadence building employees), and I needed people to feed, so it's a good relationship," he said.
Food trucks are becoming popular not just for public events but for catering private events as well, Parker said, because a food truck leaves a host with no dirty dishes to clean afterward.
Food truck owners must have a transient business license from the Starkville city clerk's office and renew it every three months. Spruill said the city will add a section about food trucks to its fire safety code by the end of the year. The board of aldermen on Tuesday called for a public hearing on the addition to the code at its Dec. 3 meeting.
Friday's food selection
The menu at Schmidt's and Jiggle's, already a weekly visitor to Starkville, ranges from street tacos to Middle Eastern butter chicken to Japanese-style potstickers.
Although the truck has a regular customer base in Starkville, Gary said the truck gets three times the business in smaller cities like Houston, Calhoun City and Mathiston. Those areas have fewer restaurants, so the public is more excited to see something new arrive, Gary said.
"Starkville is where we intend to be full-time, but (it seems) they don't know we're here yet," she said.
Even so, on Friday the truck sold out of one of its specials, the chicken tikka masala, Gary said. The Small Time Hot Dogs food truck sold out of its crawfish sauce-covered fried green tomatoes, owner Gary Howard said, and the Swine's Behind barbeque truck from Kosciusko sold out of rib tips, owner Steve Clark said.
Small Time Hot Dogs serves not only hot dogs with a variety of toppings, including crawfish sauce, but also loaded fries, nachos and three different flavors of lemonade. Howard lives in Winona but brings the truck to events all over the state and to Memphis, he said.
He was already considering opening a location in Starkville since the Partnership had been asking him to bring the truck to town, and he looks forward to coming back in the future, he said.
Jarrod Gillespie has a Jackson-based catering business, Smoked with Soul Catering, that specializes in smoked meats. His Southern Streats food truck, the fourth option on Friday, includes pulled pork nachos but also serves pizza and chili.
Food trucks lining the streets are a more common sight in larger cities, Spruill and local business owner Kayla Gilmore both said.
"Here, it's a great opportunity that we can experience something different, and we have a 'big small town' (atmosphere)," Gilmore said over her Southern Streats nachos.
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