Update: And the results are in. Truck By Truckwest, Austin’s first ever food truck taste-off, has a winner.
After 1,400 votes were cast, Texas-inspired sandwich joint Hey! … You Gonna Eat or What? and chef/owner Eric Regan took home a $10,000 prize. Over 60 food trucks, showcasing a wide array of culinary creations, took part in the five-day event.
Austin Food for Life founder Brian Stubbs will also be presented a check for $3,100. Ten percent of the event’s proceeds were donated to the nonprofit, which helps Austin’s food and beverage service community access health care.
Original story (Oct. 31): It seems like you find them on almost every street in Austin: Airstreams, buses and trailers surrounded by chairs and picnic tables – a movable feast tucked away in whatever alleyway, vacant lot or convenience store that can hold them.
Their client base is as eclectic as the culinary mashups they produce. Business professionals and college students, young families, tourists and local artists chowing down on the latest creations these culinary mad scientists can concoct.
They're the city's food trucks – the incubators of Austin’s culinary scene.
Food trucks aren't anything new to those who live here. In fact, the market may be oversaturated. In spite of this – or perhaps because of it – restaurant consultant Brian Erickson has launched Truck by Truckwest. The event began Tuesday night and runs through Nov. 3. It brings together over 60 Austin food trucks vying for a $10,000 prize – the first ever competition of its kind held in Austin.
The competition is about more than the food. It’s about supporting a model for restaurant startups and the people who run them.
“I love what the food truck concept can do for anyone who wants to open a restaurant,” Erickson says. “They can say that we have $20,000 or $30,000 to start a business and prove themselves – and say, 'Here’s our food costs, labor costs and profit margin,' and then go to outside investors and say, 'We’re a success, this is what we’re doing and it’s in fact scalable.' So that they can get $200,000 or $300,000 more easily.”
Forty percent of TXTW ticket sales are redistributed among the participating trucks, making the event an exercise in community and collaboration. However, the $10,000 “Best Truck” prize also encourages innovation and entrepreneurship. “That is one of the reasons I wanted to put that bounty in there. This $10,000 represents your business," says Erickson. "This competition is almost like a metaphor for the success of your business."
Investment experts agree with Erickson’s assessment. Shamsah Jaferali is a loan portfolio manager at BiG Austin. She’s worked with food truck owners trying to gain a foothold in the Austin market.
“The value of food trucks without equipment goes somewhere between $6,000 and $10,000,” Jaferali says. “If you have equipment in there, it will cost them somewhere between $14,000 to $18,000. $10,000 is a big impact for renovating the food truck or purchasing inventory … any prize money impacts small businesses a lot.”
TXTW has also partnered with Austin Food For Life, a non-profit organization trying to help the food and beverage community in Austin access affordable health care. Ten percent of ticket sales benefit the organization and its efforts.
“You have small organizations that don’t generate a ton of sales – and the sales that they do are usually covering operational costs,” says Austin Food For Life co-founder Brian Stubbs. “And so the individual employee in a food truck is not like an individual employee in many restaurants. … There’s no food trucks, to my knowledge, that are in a position to provide healthcare to their employees.”
In those ways, Truck By Truckwest is more than a foodies’ gallery tour – it's an investment in the Austin food truck community.
“It’s not necessarily as much of a novelty to be a food truck now,” Erickson says. “To be successful you have to do all the things that a restaurant would do. … It’s really been a labor of love and a passion of mine to fight for the underdog.”