By Matt Wiley
A smorgasbord of scents fills the air, wafting in with the breeze over the parking lot oat Wesley Chapel High (WCH), where six food trucks gathered for a Mini Food Truck Rally, hoping to feed attendees of the WCH Open House and bring exposure to a phenomenon that has steadily grown in popularity locally in recent years.
The evening of September 4 was the first of what could be many food truck rallies in the Wesley Chapel area, says Shannon Sturtz, director of operations for Tasting Tampa, the organization responsible for making the event happen. Tasting Tampa has been setting up food truck rallies across the Tampa Bay area since 2011.
“For the first one in the area, there was a decent turnout,” she explains. “We tried to get a variety of (food) trucks out there. The idea was to hit as many taste buds as possible.”
And a variety there was, with the six trucks on hand cooking up a little bit of everything — from the cloud of smoke emanating from Just Smokin’ BBQ’s flame-adorned truck to Unforgettable Cupcakes, which offered decadent, delicious desserts next door.
As the sun set, the trucks lined the fence in front of the WCH football field’s locker rooms, facing the parking lot where parents and students were arriving for the school’s 2012-13 Open House. A small tent of WCH Band Booster volunteers sold beverages to raise money for the WCH band.
“We hope this event will help introduce the community to the food trucks idea,” says Diana Davis, treasurer of the WCH Band Boosters. “When you have a student group, you always have to be thinking about the ‘F-word’ — fundraising. We wanted to have an event that reached beyond the normal circle of relatives and neighbors for fund raising and invite the whole community to participate.”
Davis, who helped organize the event, says that having the trucks at the school before and after the WCH Open House made it convenient for parents and students to grab a quick, easy dinner from a variety of trucks and cuisines they may not have tried before.
Many attendees sampled something from each truck, such as Bobby and Kristal Heskett of San Antonio, who showed up just for the food trucks. The couple had already tried the Chicago-style “Capone” hot dog from AmericanWeiner and were sharing a curry dish from 3 Suns Organic Bistro.
The Hesketts own Pancho’s Villa, a popular Mexican-food restaurant in San Antonio, the tiny town located just north of Wesley Chapel.
“We wanted to see what (food trucks) are all about,” Bobby said.
Mike and Donna Waters of Wesley Chapel came out for the same reason. Their son, Weston, a Wiregrass Ranch High student, was “behind enemy lines” for the evening.
“I’m surprised there aren’t more people out here,” said Donna, sharing some of Mike’s chicken from 2 Asians & a Grill. “If more people knew about (the food trucks), I’m sure there would have been a bigger turnout.”
The WCH Mini Food Truck Rally was the Waters’ first time eating from a food truck. Donna was waiting on a turkey burger from Burger Culture before getting other items from the rest of the trucks.
Kevin Dunn, owner of AmericanWiener, has been serving up hot dogs across the Tampa Bay area for about a year now.
“This area is ripe for (food trucks),” he says. “People just aren’t familiar with the idea and they aren’t hearing about it. A lot of people in this (Wesley Chapel) area still aren’t ‘plugged in’ or even on Facebook.”
Hopefully, the WCH Mini Food Truck Rally was the first of many for the area.
Sturtz says that Tasting Tampa will most likely do another rally in Wesley Chapel, but may find a more visible location. Regardless, the event was a success, as the WCH Band Boosters raised more than $200 for the WCH band and more than 300 stomachs were filled throughout the evening.
For more info about food truck rallies and Tasting Tampa, including dates and locations of future rallies, please visit TastingTampa.com.