Food truck trend rolls into Porter County
BY CHRISTIN NANCE LAZERUS firstname.lastname@example.org September 23, 2013 11:14PM
Hungry Inc. owner Phil West talks to a customer about the truck's menu. | Christin Nance Lazerus/Post-Tribune
Updated: September 24, 2013 11:53AM
The aroma of charred crust and garlic beckoned pizza lovers to the bright red Studebaker fire truck at the Griffith Farmer’s Market, while fresh salads and homemade soups had folks tailgating as the Hungry Inc. truck was parked at Opportunity Enterprises in Valparaiso.
The food truck phenomenon has allowed creative cuisine to flourish in cities across the U.S. without some of the costs associated with running a restaurant. They’re most often found in big cities, but Northwest Indiana features some notable entries, particularly in Porter County.
The Rolling Stonebaker, co-owned by Beverly Shores residents Andrea Georgion and Jim Chaddock, started offering pizzas cooked in their wood-burning oven three years ago. Georgion had owned her own restaurant — Cafe 444 in Miller — and Chaddock was a musician with a love of classic cars.
They started out working local festivals, but moved into farmers markets and catering to grow their business. They also set up shop outside the Camp Stop General Store on U.S. 12 in Beverly Shores four days a week during the spring and summer.
“It’s very busy and just a hair more flexible than having restaurant, but it allows us the extra hours to spend with our son,” Georgion said. “It’s a 12- to 15-hour day and normally one of us is on one of the trucks. We’ve learned quite a bit, but we both really enjoy what we’re doing.”
Phil West spent quite a bit of time in the food and hospitality industry before family concerns brought him back to Valparaiso. After taking care of his mother’s estate, he wanted to get back into the food industry but loathed the commute to Chicago. That led to his Hungry Inc. food truck, which debuted in July at Valparaiso’s ChicaGo Dash lot. It offers hearty sandwiches, soups, salads, baked potatoes and other options.
“It had been a barstool conversation I’d been having for few years now,” West said. “We’ve only been in business for a few weeks, but we’ve been gaining momentum. We have a GPS on the truck to let customers know where to find us. We’re out in the morning for preorders and bag lunches, and we have lunch stops in Valparaiso in Chesterton. We also have fund-raising stops at Opportunity Enterprises and PAWS to give back 10 percent of our proceeds.”
Both Georgion and West credit social media with creating word-of-mouth buzz and generating business.
“Social media is the best way of advertising since everybody has a Facebook page, and I’ve noticed we’ve build quite a following through the page and generated catering business,” Georgion said.
Valparaiso residents Vicki Schmidt and Michelle McCaskey happened upon the Hungry Inc. truck by accident a few weeks ago.
“We were running by the old fairgrounds and saw the truck, and the mac and cheese helped us continue on with the run,” McCaskey said.
Schmidt and McCaskey are training for the Chicago Marathon with Opportunity Enterprises’ team, so they appreciated the chance to eat and donate at the same time.
“It’s something new and it’s nice to support a local guy,” Schmidt said.
West recently opened a commissary kitchen in Chesterton to have a bit more room to prepare food for catering and he hopes to have a walk-up counter in the future. There are plans to expand into Lake and LaPorte counties next year.
“Each town and city is different,” West said. “Some are super easy and some take a long time. Even in Valparaiso, it took us four months to get permission.”
In terms of start-up, a truck must get a health inspection from the county, but permitting and regulations can vary depending on the municipalities and whether it is for an event.
Chesterton Town Manager Bernie Doyle said the hot dog cart in town has a peddler’s permit, while West’s truck got a business contract with the town. If a truck wants to operate at the popular Chesterton European Market, they must fill out a booth application.
“A lot depends on whether it’s private or municipal property,” Doyle said. “It can’t conflict with the Chesterton European Market on Saturdays.”
Valparaiso is currently working on food truck regulations since trucks can’t park on city streets or on public property. They can park on private property, such as a parking lot, as long as there’s an agreement with the owner, said Planning Director Tyler Kent.
“There’s a national move to do this and not just in Valpo, so it needs to be in writing,” Kent said.
There are two Rolling Stonebaker trucks at the moment, while Chaddock is currently fixing up a prototype Studebaker van to become the third mobile pizza oven in their fleet, with the possibility of expanding into Chicago for a farmer’s market or catering. Georgion said Rolling Stonebaker fans always suggest they should “park on a street in Chicago” and set up shop, but it’s not that easy.
“I don’t really understand it,” Georgion said. “I’ve been to other cities and there’s much more going on to bring more (food trucks) out. Chicago is very strict on permitting, with only a few trucks allowed to work the street. I don’t even know if we’d be legal because of we have a setup counter outside the truck and they need you to be fully enclosed.”