Can a city or town known for its brick-and-mortar food scene benefit from having a vibrant food truck scene? I believe the answer to that question is unequivocally yes! Having lived in what is arguably one of the best food scenes in the U.S. (particularly for its size) the past 10 years, I have observed the rise of the food truck scene alongside the city’s more established restaurants in New England’s second largest city, Providence, Rhode Island.
In 2013, Rhode Island had its fair share of food-related accolades when the James Beard Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists were announced. Additionally, in 2012, Providence was named the top destination in the United States for “Food/Drink/Restaurants” in Travel + Leisure magazine’s “America’s Favorite Cities” poll. Providence is also home to the oldest operating American diner on wheels: Haven Brothers. Basically, this city knows food — both fine dining and casual options!
Providence is also home to one of the premiere culinary arts school in the U.S., Johnson & Wales University. It has seen its fair share of culinary giants walk its hallowed halls, such as chefs Tyler Florence, Emeril Lagasse, Michelle Bernstein, and Aarón Sanchez, who are all alums of this school.
Over the past five years or so, Providence has also undergone a significant bump in public events like farmers’ markets, concerts in its parks, festivals, and other arts and cultural activities around the city. Food trucks have quickly become an integral part of those events. In fact, this coming September, Providence was named the host city for the Taste Trekkers conference, the nation’s first food tourism conference, and you can bet food trucks will not only be on the agenda, but on the streets working their magic.
Providence’s food truck scene is growing, but not bursting at the seams, which makes it an interesting comparison to larger cities. There are actually market force lessons to be learned. In a January 2013 article in the Huffington Post by Rachel Tepper entitled “Food Truck Failures Reveal Dark Side, But Hope Shines Through", the article cites food truck association leaders stating “that 100 trucks launched in 2012 in Los Angeles and 35 failed”, and “30 trucks have gone out business since 2009” in Washington, D.C.
Providence’s food truck scene is different in that since it is a bit more compact, the bar is increasingly rising with each new truck that comes on the market (both in quality and being different from others already roaming the streets), and I also believe there’s increased room for competition. Also, unlike some smaller cities where there can be mixed reaction to food trucks, they are being woven into the fabric of the community in Providence. If there’s a public event worth being at, you can bet there will be multiple food trucks there. Additionally, with lots of activities going on, the city has helped to get many of these trucks off the ground. In other words, it’s an ecosystem thing. Providence’s ecosystem is a friendly environment for highly creative ventures, such as the ones included in the slideshow.