In 2011, the Memphis City Council passed a food truck ordinance drafted by council members Jim Strickland and Shea Flinn, which allowed self-contained mobile food preparation vehicles to operate in the city of Memphis.
A year later, attorney-turned-prominent restaurateur Taylor Berger led the organization of a food truck alliance, in addition to his duties as a partner in YoLo Frozen Yogurt & Gelato and the creation of the newly opened Chiwawa restaurant.
The alliance began to experiment with food truck rodeos in 2012, a move that was interrupted by the summer heat then resumed as the weather cooled. Now, the rodeos are coming back.
This weekend, the Memphis Food Truck Alliance will host a food truck rally as part of the “Heart of Memphis” celebration at Tiger Lane on Saturday. The following day, the Overton Park Conservancy and the alliance will present a food truck rodeo from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Overton Park.
That event will happen every Sunday this spring and summer, and trucks will be on the East Parkway side of the park.
A few weeks ago, meanwhile, another food truck rodeo presented by the alliance kicked off at Shelby Farms. Berger said that series started March 17 and is running through November on Sundays.
“We did events last year starting on Broad Avenue, and then we ended up out at Shelby Farms,” Berger said. “This is the beginning of the park rodeos for 2013.”
A so-called food truck rodeo is basically a gathering of two or more food trucks in one spot so that customers can have a choice of vendors to pick from. Berger said the Overton Park version likely will be the smaller one, with maybe two or three trucks, and the Shelby Farms version will have three or four.
The actual size will depend week-to-week on what the weather’s like and how the crowds respond. If people are showing up, he said, more trucks will come.
“Over time, the quality of the trucks has improved, so that’s made folks a lot more receptive to the idea of the rodeos,” Berger said. “We’ve also got some really interesting new concepts now, like the Stuffed Truck, the Stickem Truck and the one from Rock ‘n’ Dough Pizza.
“On the other side of things, the Mayor’s Innovation Team is working on a project to help not just food trucks but all kinds of mobile retail break down any barriers to entry that exist. They’re trying to find any rules that might need to be changed.”
Berger added that Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr.’s office is working to get better access to some of the other city parks that don’t have conservancies like Tom Lee Park and some of the smaller parks in neighborhoods.
Berger, who runs the Yolo Frozen Yogurt truck, estimates there are between six and 12 food trucks on streets on a daily basis.
“We’re still trying to help all our members get up to speed on social media,” Berger said. “The more of us using Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare, the more awareness the community is going to have of all food trucks. All the new ones coming online seem to be starting their own social media sites and then linking to our website, which we’re in the process of kind of ramping up over the next few weeks. Our goal is to try to help people find out when things are happening, where things are happening and which trucks are serving what.”