According to Food Truck Nation, a project of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the food truck industry has been on a steady rise with an estimated $2.7 billion in revenue in 2017 and a 300 percent revenue increase in the last three years.
Locally, several food trucks have sprung up in recent years, serving everything from tacos to gourmet grilled cheese.
Another trend in the community has been the transition local eateries have taken from doing business out of a truck to a traditional brick and mortar location. Two restaurants opened in Elizabethtown in 2018 that once were operated chiefly out of food trucks: Deez Butts BBQ in September and Dewster’s Homemade Ice Cream in October.
Deez Butts and Dewster’s both began in 2015 and got their start setting up at local festivals and events. Business owners from both eateries indicated the experience and clientele gained during their food truck days were beneficial when transitioning to brick and mortar locations.
“We built a really good clientele, so when we did open the store, we had a following,” said Dewey Cruz, who co-founded Dewster’s with his wife, Kelly.
David Pritchard, co-founder of Deez Butts, said operating from a food truck is a great way for any aspiring restaurant owner to test the waters of the food industry without making as large of an investment.
“If you can’t make it on a food truck, there’s absolutely no way you’re going to make it in the restaurant world,” he said. “It’s a great indicator because you’re not even touching the tip of the iceberg. If you have a line of 10 people waiting outside of your food trailer and that overwhelms you, then I don’t know what to tell you.”
Since moving his business to the site of the former Jerry’s Restaurant on East Dixie Avenue in Elizabethtown, Pritchard said he has enjoyed having a large space to prepare food, having an area for customers to relax and having a physical location to further the Deez Butts brand.
For the Cruzes, having a brick and mortar location means an escape from the limitations of the weather, a facility to create ice cream and the addition of a bakery.
Both eateries set up shop in locations significant to the history of Elizabethtown commerce. Before Deez Butts opened, their building housed Jerry’s for five decades before it closed in 2014.
Pritchard said he hopes Deez Butts’ presence in the south end of Elizabethtown will inspire revitalization similar to what has transpired in downtown Elizabethtown in recent years. He said with Elizabethtown Mayor Jeff Gregory’s interest in developing a south end development task force and with the area’s proximity to the interstate, he hopes to see a commercial boom in the future.
“I think with the right vision and the right people at the helm, we can really grow E’town to a nicer place down here,” he said. “With the interstate traffic you’re getting down here, there’s no reason why businesses shouldn’t spring back up.”
Dewster’s’ location on North Mulberry Street also has a great deal of history. According to Kelly Cruze, its building previously housed a Jiffy Burger restaurant, an attorney’s office and, most recently, Boot Country. She said the building also was the home of a restaurant owned by Claudia Sanders, the wife of Colonel Harland Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame.
While some local food truck operators have moved to brick and mortar locations, others enjoy the freedom afforded by mobile food service. George Willis, owner of local food truck Papa George’s Chicago Style Hot Dogs, said he has no interest in opening a brick and mortar version of his business.
“I like the freedom of not being tied to a specific location,” he said.
A veteran of the food industry and native of Chicago who has years of experience working in brick and mortar restaurants, Willis opened his food truck business in 2013. He said he chooses to continue the mobile approach because he enjoys setting his own hours and he doesn’t want to worry about expenses such as insurance and utility costs that come with commercial properties.
“As a mobile food vendor, if it’s not happening that day, I can just pack up and go home or move to another location,” he said.
Though the owners of Deez Butts and Dewster’s are set on building their businesses through brick and mortar locations, they both expressed an interest in using their food trucks in the future.
Dewey Cruze said with the abundance of events and community support for local food trucks, there is no reason to stop using the mobile method in conjunction with the new store.
“We are very lucky living in this area because we have some really good festivals,” he said. “You don’t have to travel very far to do a good job.”