Food truck popularity is growing, fueled by variety and mobility in Midland, nation

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Food trucks are commonplace in the Midland area, including farmers markets and community events. Their popularity has grown in recent years across the country. Most recently, a caravan of mobile food vendors ranging from trucks to carts and stalls were present at Midland County Crime Stoppers’ inaugural fundraiser.

Midland County Crime Stoppers held their inaugural food truck-centric event this weekend to raise money for the organization’s tip payment fund. Crime Stoppers offers monetary rewards for anonymous tips up to $2,500 that lead to arrests.

“We’re just trying to rejuvenate (Midland County Crime Stoppers),” said Kim Guest-Marcotte, Treasurer of Crime Stoppers.

According to Guest, Midland County Crime Stoppers has been unable to hold fundraising events for the past two years due to the pandemic. While brainstorming ideas for possible events, the team decided to organize a food truck rally with food trucks from the area rotating over the three days, in addition to a car show and bike fairs. They hope to hold a similar event next year.

“Food trucks have taken off since COVID,” Guest-Marcotte said. “We wanted to try a food truck event because everyone loves food trucks.”

Mariah Moncado of Saginaw helped serve Maria’s Food Truck Mexican specialties

Maria’s started as Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in Saginaw 27 years ago and continues to operate today. The owners started serving the restaurant 12 years ago and added the food truck three years ago as demand for their food grew.

“We’re going to Caro, we’re going to Bay City and here in Midland,” Moncado said. “Everywhere we go, people always ask for authentic Mexican food.”

Moncado started working at Maria’s restaurant before gradually starting to work with the food truck. She loves working in the food truck because it takes her to new places, allows her to interact with other vendors, and connect with customers.

“Here (at the food truck), I have a more personal experience with customers,” Moncado said. “It’s usually just me and one other person working at the food truck. I’ll make sure you get what you want. I try to keep customers happy as much as possible.

Further down the line, Midland’s Lee Johnson was tending to his food cart, ‘The Coney Guys’, which he operates with his wife, Sondra. Since its full opening in June, Johnson has taken its cart across Michigan and is starting to attend more events in Midland.

Johnson started The Coney Guys with a 70-year-old coney sauce recipe passed down from his grandfather. He said the business started in a “perfect storm”, after traveling to Portland, Oregon, where he saw how many food trucks there were. After conducting research, Johnson started with a food cart, which came with fewer responsibilities and fewer investments.

“It seemed like after COVID people were staying away from restaurants,” Johnson said. “I was looking forward to showing off the excellence and making it a real experience for them.”

According to United States Census Bureauthe number of food truck businesses across the country nearly doubled from 3,281 in 2013 to 5,970 in 2018. Oregon was among the top five states with the most food trucks in 2018, with 241 food truck establishments.

Johnson attributes their success to the variety of cuisines, their mobility and the atmosphere they provide. He said his own experience with other food trucks at events has been positive, with the companies supporting each other. He thinks the more types of food trucks at an event, the better.

“If you get too competitive, everybody suffers,” Johnson said. “I think there’s a lot of variety to do. People like variety.

The challenges of operating a mobile food business include keeping equipment running. Johnson said he had become a handyman for his cart. He cited a time when the sinks came loose in transit and the wiring to the cart’s tow lights was nearly cut. He is grateful to have started with a food cart instead of a bigger truck and encourages those who want to start a similar business to do the same.

“Do your homework, start small,” Johnson said.

Sunsational Smoothies owner Brandi Desmarteaux of Midland started her business six years ago with the aim of re-entering the part-time workforce after being a stay-at-home mom. She didn’t want to offer hot foods, as cooking would add to the summer heat, and opted for smoothies as an alternative.

“Midland is a pretty healthy community,” Desmarteaux said. “It’s good to provide healthy options and accommodate them.”

There are several options for food truck vendors as the weather gets colder. Desmarteaux closes Sunsational Smoothies and takes up other odd jobs. According to Moncado, the owners of Maria’s Food Truck used to shut down food truck operations in the winter; now they plan to continue operations this winter, selling favorites like tamales and menudo – a type of soup. Likewise, Johnson plans to either repurpose his cart to sell soups during the winter or work at another job.

Moncado encourages other food truck owners and those looking to get into the business not to give up on slow days as well as busy days.

“If you stay dedicated to what you do, Moncado said, “then it’s always going to be a good day,”

For more information on Midland County Crime Stoppers, visit https://www.co.midland.mi.us/Sheriff/DivisionsandServices/CrimeStoppers.aspx

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