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VOL. 127 | NO. 83 | Friday, April 27, 2012

Berger Working on Food Truck Alliance

By Sarah Baker

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As if owning and operating the city’s fastest growing self-serve frozen yogurt business isn’t enough, Taylor Berger is about to add two more hospitality titles to his resume.

The 32-year-old attorney turned restaurateur is behind two big Memphis food industry projects – organizing a food truck alliance and filling the old Chicago Pizza Factory in Midtown with a new gourmet hotdog and Mexican eatery called Chiwawa.

This time last year, Memphis City Council passed the food truck ordinance drafted by Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn, allowing self-contained mobile food preparation vehicles to operate in the city of Memphis. Yet a year later, there’s still no formal trade group to represent those food truck vendors.

Berger, partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato who added the sixth Memphis and 11th regional location to his portfolio in March, has a YoLo Mobile food truck available for catering events, outdoor functions and festivals.

YoLo is one of 45 operating food trucks in the city that have been authorized by the Shelby County Health Department, with more than 30 pending applications. While the 38103 and 38104 ZIP codes are familiar with food trucks like YoLo, Revival Southern Food Co., Fuel Café and Central BBQ, there’s an entire market of operators across the city, and the total amount even surprised Berger.

“There are a lot of us and none of us are really in communication with each other,” Berger said. “There’s no way for our average customer to know where we are all operating and where we plan to be operating.”

That’s why he’s helping form the Memphis Food Truck Association, similar to the Memphis Restaurant Association or the way the Greater Memphis Chamber represents small businesses. It’s similar to the alliance taking shape in Nashville, and “basically every other city that has food trucks,” Berger said.

Taylor Berger, partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato, is working to create a food truck alliance.

“It’s kind of like a little mini chamber of commerce for the food trucks,” Berger said. “While each of us has our own little following, this whole group of us could reach a whole lot more people, really create a destination and ultimately be all much better by coordinating events.”

Also, as new rules and regulations come up – such as the county looking into adopting an ordinance similar to the city’s – interested parties would be able to contact the association and get broader answers to its interests and concerns regarding proposed legislation.

Other member benefits would be sharing best practices, such as how to market themselves on sites like Twitter and Facebook.

“Some of these guys might be awesome cooks, but might not be up to speed on social media,” Berger said.

The first meeting of the Memphis Food Truck Association is slated for May 7 at a location to be determined in the Broad Avenue Arts District at 6 p.m. The group hopes to formally form the association and plan its goals for the year.

The inaugural meeting is timely, considering the group’s first “food truck rodeo” is set for May 10 at Downtown’s Court Square. It’s similar to what was organized last year on the day of the City Council’s food truck ordinance vote, yet on a bigger scale.

“One thing that’s really been successful in other cities is to organize 10 to 20 trucks to go to one spot and on, say, a Saturday afternoon and all vend,” Berger said. “What does that is create a fun destination for all of our individual customers to come to.”

Follow Memphis Food Truck Association on Facebook at Facebook.com/MemphisFoodTruckers and on Twitter at Twitter.com/MemFoodTruckers.

Meanwhile, Berger, along with six other partners, is preparing to open a new concept called Chiwawa in the old Chicago Pizza Factory space near Overton Square at 2059 Madison Ave. Those other partners are J.D. Sledd, Frank Adcock, Daniel Flanagan, his sister Katherine Flanagan, and Michael and Rachel Hasselle.

The concept is to have two separate cuisines under one roof. The first is gourmet hotdogs of different varieties like Chicago style and a Memphis style, which will be topped with in-house smoked pork and “special barbecue sauce.”

The second part of the cuisine will be “simple, fresh,” a la carte Mexican dishes such as tacos, tostadas, appetizers and salads.

“There are great places to go in Midtown to get enchiladas with rice and beans and stuff, but that’s not really our approach,” Berger said. “My goal here is to really to keep our price point low and to really have a range on the menu of $2 to $6 items.”

Chiwawa’s partners signed the lease last week with landlord Taylor Caruthers, who was represented by Alex Turley of CB Richard Ellis Memphis. The restaurant is 3,000 square feet, and the adjoining patio is 1,800 square feet.

They’re shooting for a late summer/early fall opening.

Chicago Pizza Factory closed its doors in the late-1980s and has been vacant since. It’s just a few blocks west of Berger’s highest performing YoLo location at 6 S. Cooper St.

As for Berger – who previously practiced estate planning, taxation and probate administration and litigation law – the food industry is certainly a different animal, but it has its parallels.

“It’s a world of difference, but I really enjoy this work,” he said. “It certainly comes in handy to have legal training.”

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