So here I am still trusting in Paella and wondering if the next dot has been reached. (If you’re thinking, “huh?,” scroll down and read my previous post. Please!).
I learned a long time ago that even the best-laid plans often result in an unexpected outcome. And for the most part, I’ve been ok with that. I’m not a perfectionist, and “organized” for me looks like doodled on, handwritten pages scrawled with ideas, inspirations, and notes. Admittedly, I am a neat freak. I like my workspaces clear of clutter. But I’ve come to understand that my by-the-seat-of-my-pants approach to most tasks generally delivers outcomes beyond my control. And there’s a certain beauty in that. Que sera, sera. So, when a daily blog I read, @thedailylove , slipped into my mailbox this morning giving this “the outcome is beyond your control” idea a name—detachment—and a supporting list of great thinkers, including Khalil Gibran and Krishnamurti (the title mantra is his), who celebrate it, the idea of letting go came prominently to mind.
We had a simple exercise in detachment on Friday. As Santa Fe’s Original Airstream Eatery, and one of the first entries in the mobile food “movement” in town, we thought it would be great to head up the city’s first food truck “pod.” If you’re reading this, you probably already know that a “pod” is a gathering of food trucks that happens regularly in a particular location, creating a sweet little urban food scene. Food truck pods offer a fair atmosphere for a couple of festive hours, then off the trucks roll to do their thing solo (or at another pod location) the next day. In some places, pods are permanent, duplicating street food landscapes reminiscent of outdoor Asian markets or North African bazaars, albeit distinctly “American” in style. In other spots, vendors are required to move every few hours, creating a group of devotees who keep up with their favorite trucks and their gatherings via tweets and the Facebook news feed.
We drew inspiration for our pod from San Francisco’s vast Off the Grid network. And we traveled to nearby Albuquerque to check out their burgeoning pod scene. Then we gave our grouping a name—Food Caravan, Santa Fe. We designed vendor tees, a logo, a blog, even whipped up a membership application. We sought out every mobile truck we stumbled upon, met with the city officials, the Santa Fe Railyard event planner (thank you Sandy! Be a fan of the Santa Fe Railyard on Facebook, please), plus fire, electric, and health inspectors to organize the event. And then: … We were two!
Two trucks does not a caravan make. We’d certainly hoped for a different outcome. Enter “detachment.” The night was sweet. The crowd was happy. And our fellow truck, All Fired Up, was manned by a friendly couple with day jobs who served their barbecue and lamb tacos from a flame-licked black trailer. So while it’s not yet stirred up our city’s culinary imagination nor generated the buzz we’d hoped for, we’re still calling our Food Caravan a success! We got it off the ground in this slow-to-change “City Different.” Facebook revealed a couple of thumbs up “likes.” And we’ll do it again in 2 weeks, expecting nothing, hoping simply for more good food, fun, and an extra truck or two pulled alongside us.
Larry Olmstead, a travel editor for Forbes.com, USA Today, and Cigar Aficionado, recently blasted the whole food truck trend, calling carts “ridiculous” and “morally reprehensible.” Ridiculous? To him, maybe. But morally reprehensible? Um… food carts or cigars, Mr. Aficionado? You decide.
Even crazier is Olmstead’s complaint that “trucks do more harm than good… and compete unfairly with rent-paying establishments while cannibalizing hard to get public parking spots and squatting on public property.” The man writes for Forbes, a leading business publication, right? Cart owners aren’t squatters or cannibals. Most of us pay for our parking spots—permanent installments or hourly locations, plus permits and inspections. Do your homework! Then Olmstead points the finger at trucks for offering a “lower barrier entry for wanna-be ‘chefs’” to start a restaurant. Again, doesn’t the man write for Forbes? Seems to me that low overhead for a start-up business is desirable, hardly reprehensible.
Maybe the main thing Olmstead fails to understand is how food cart pods stand as symbols of forward thinking development. City planners like to champion their urban landscapes using catch phrases like “downtown density,” and “pedestrian friendly zones” and “mixed use live/work areas.” In cities such as Austin and Portland, San Francisco and Seattle, food truck pods serve as great examples of smart urban planning. The trucks operate in a supportive environment. They create foot traffic and generate downtown areas humming with activity.
While Olmstead criticizes, the New York Times and Saveur headlines this month celebrate trucks. An article in the June 4 New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/04/world/europe/food-trucks-add-american-flavor-to-paris.html?pagewanted=all describes the popularity of high end burger carts in Paris. The cart’s drivers are American expats, educated in France, and they fetch upwards of $13 for a hamburger. Mais oui!
Saveur’s June issue (www.saveur.com) celebrates Portland, Oregon’s “pod people,” saying “one thing that makes Portland’s food carts so special is the way they are grouped together in pods…from a couple of vehicles…to dozens.” The article credits carts with “revolutionizing” the city’s dining scene, and quotes a just-released book by prominent food writer John T. Edge, saying food trucks have “a positive impact on street vitality and neighborhood life and advance public value, including community connectedness and distinctiveness, equity and access, and sustainability.”
More than just serving meals, I like to think of us “food truck pioneers” as trailblazers. Wherever we park—for the day, or more permanently—we create community on site, not to mention in cyber space, where we share our experiences with folks unable to wander up in person Plus, our trailers stand as hallmarks of our changed economy. A few months ago, the Harvard Business Review said marketers had much to learn from the food truck trend. “The world is changing,” the HBR piece concluded boldly, “trucks are signaling us that the old rules of innovation, marketing and retail (keep it simple, make it cheerful and unmysterious, lay it on everywhere, and lead with the functional benefit) are now in shambles. “ Can we surrender the rat race and the established “successful” restaurant business model? Maybe “detachment” is the new rule of the day!