Huntsville’s biggest stage for food trucks is doubling down this year.
Traditionally, development nonprofit Downtown Huntsville Inc. holds their popular food truck rallies the third Friday of the month, May through October.
For 2021, the rallies will take place the first and third Fridays those months, at Big Spring Park, address 200 Church St. Also new for ’21, the rallies will be split into two categories, food trucks and food trailers, with the latter occurring first Fridays and the former on the third Fridays.
“It’s a creative way to give more exposure,” DHI CEO Chad Emerson tells AL.com. Logistics also influenced the change. Food trailers, which involve not only a trailer but also a separate vehicle to tow that trailer, take up more physical space than a true food truck, which is entirely contained in one vehicle.
“Some cities are just excluding trailers from their food truck events,” Emerson says. “That’s not an uncommon trend, just because of space limitations. We don’t want to be excluding people, we want to be including more small business entrepreneurs, and we can do that by separating the trucks and trailers.”
DHI is also tweaking a previous theme they used for their series, Battle of the Food Truck All Stars. This year, utilizing a title that sounds like a reality-TV competition show, it’s “Trucks vs. Trailers.” Emerson says, “Who wins and how you win, we don’t know yet. It’s just going to be some friendly competition – really, it’s tongue in cheek.”
The food trailer kickoff is scheduled for May 7, with food trucks set to roll May 21. All events are 5 – 9 p.m. As always, the DHI food truck rallies are free to attend.
The food trailer lineup includes: 2 Chicks on a Roll, Delicious, Forever Grateful, Grumpy’s, Highway Kabobery, Hippea Camper, Level Up, New South Hot Dog & Sushi, O Taste & See BBQ, Southerland Sno Depot and Triple L BBQ.
Participating food trucks include: Badd Newz BBQ, Beast Mode, Betty Jo’s, Fast Frankies, Fire & Spice, Get Loaded, Golden Years Ice Cream Parlor, Happi Pappi Beignets, Ice Works, Mac & Snacks, Manic, Sno Boss and What’s Popp’N. Some tent vendors, like Nothing Bundt Cakes, Piper & Leaf, Regale Cupcakery and Suzy’s Pops, will also be involved.
Fire & Spice co-owner LeAndra Poux’s truck specializes in smokehouse-tinged Tex-Mex. She says DHI rallies are a “big, big deal” for these small businesses on wheels. “How many people moved into Huntsville in 2020 and haven’t been able to kind of venture out?” Poux says. “This is a huge opportunity for food trucks to get new customers, and to show that we have fun here in Huntsville when everything isn’t shut down.”
DHI began hosting food-truck events in October 2013, in the nascent days of Huntsville’s food truck scene. After starting around the courthouse square, as the events grew they moved to Church Street in front of Big Spring Park, with the street blocked off.
The events basically became monthly festivals, with live music and other entertainment components added. Because the events are free and not ticketed, DHI never got an exact count of how many people attended each of the rallies at their height, but Emerson feels comfortable saying “several thousands.” Crowds tended to be the biggest during months school was out, as the rallies are family friendly.
In a normal year, DHI holds six full-on food truck rallies. The organization also does some smaller, weekend breakfast/brunch events. Amazingly, amid the pandemic they still managed to hold five rallies in 2020, after the May opener was canceled – even if estimated attendance was about 20 to 50 percent of what it would be during “normal” years.
In 2020, instead of blocking Church Street off, DHI had participating food trucks and trailers line around Big Spring Park, on Williams Avenue and Church Street. The idea was to create COVID-conscious social distance.
“But we also got a lot of feedback that people really liked it,” Emerson says. “They spent more time waiting in line or eating in the park than standing in Church Street. So we said, why don’t we bring that back this year? And really pivot towards an event that encircles the park, without us having to shut down these roads and use barricades and this kind of, for some, disruptive setup.”
A sponsorship from realtor Amanda Howard made it possible for the rallies to again offer live music and onsite games/activities, Emerson says. Such a sponsorship is also why DHI doesn’t need to add a “VIP layer” to keep these kinds of events viable.
During most of 2020 and early 2021, the pandemic caused many local events, food trucks’ lifeblood, to cancel or hold virtual substitutes. But you can’t really eat a burrito off a Facebook livestream. So Huntsville food trucks got creative. They increased corporate lunches and catering. They booked gigs at subdivisions, swimming pools and church functions.
This is Fast Frankies owner Frank Arnold’s fourth year of operating his food truck, which focuses on barbecue and specialty hotdogs. Formerly working in construction, Arnold says DHI is a huge asset to the city’s mobile food vendors.
“Even when the times were bad, they was there for us,” Arnold says. “Chad, he’s bent over backwards to make a lot of things happen. Words can’t explain how much appreciation that I could give to them for what they’ve done.” Poux adds, “Without DHI and without Chad, there would be no successful food trucks out there.”