Road Chef has been catering events in Windsor-Essex since 2012

Despite municipal by-laws restricting them from operating in a traditional sense, food trucks are slowly starting to arrive on the Windsor-Essex culinary scene.

“I’m a huge food truck fan,” says John Neill, owner of Smokin’ Aces Mobile BBQ and Windsor’s most recent addition to the food truck scene, Black Jack’s. “This new generation of food trucks and their staff are real artists. They’re totally focused on putting out 3-4 unique and high quality items and that’s what really appeals to me. Do two, three or four items really well and build that reputation for quality and dependability.”

John’s business partner, Trevor Loop of Jack’s Gastropub, agrees.

“I thought this might be an interesting direction to head,” he said. “Establishing a partnership with John and Smokin’ Aces seemed like a good fit as we had proven that we worked well together as part of Jack’s kitchen team and events we had done together.”

Currently, food trucks in Windsor-Essex are restricted from pulling up at any location and serving their food. In Windsor, they are required to purchase a permit that restricts them to a particular location.

But that hasn’t deterred local food entrepreneurs to find creative ways to work within local bylaws and bring a growing and popular trend to Essex County.

Black Jack Gastrovan

“Our plan is to look at catering and event based opportunities along with the festival opportunities in the area,” explains Trevor. “We hope to work with “Our plan is look at catering and event based opportunities along with the festival opportunities in the area,” explains Trevor. “We hope to work with the growing the growing wine industry in the county. Our plan is to do our part to help create a market for Food Trucks and Mobile Kitchen business in South Western Ontario.”

“In the end our goal is to be wherever our guests and customer want us to be,” says John. “We will work within local bylaws for now and if the demand is there, then we would certainly love to have that discussion with city officials.”

Similar to John and Trevor’s business model, Road Chef owner, Nick Finlay, plans to book as many private events as they can, participate in high profile festivals and develop relationships with local wineries and other businesses to provide “curbside” style events. Instead of being named a food truck, he prefers to be called a “mobile, custom event kitchen”.

Road Chef has been serving hungry patrons since last year, operating at high profile events such as Bay Fest and the Shores of Erie International Wine Festival. Road Chef’s focus, however, is on private parties such as weddings, bridal and baby showers, anniversaries and more.

“People are demanding a higher quality product when they host ‘off-site’ events, such as those held at wineries,” Nick says. “Bringing food in chafing dishes just isn’t cutting it anymore. What has made Road Chef so successful is the fact we are making a high quality product and moving it directly from the kitchen to the customers plate, no matter where they are located.”

Inside the Road Chef, the food truck is just as clean and functional as a traditional restaurant kitchen

Many people still have images of corn dogs or greasy fare coming out of food trucks. That perception is changing. Popular shows on food networks are highlighting gourmet mobile kitchens across Canada and the U.S. showing viewers that good food can be made from a truck.

The popularity of food trucks has grown across North America. In the District of Columbia in the United States, they’ve become so much a part of life that there is even a DC Food Truck Association (DCFTA) to lobby for their needs and promote their economic impact. In fact, the DCFTA says that its members have created 250 full-time jobs.

But you don’t have to travel very far to get a taste what’s being produced in mobile kitchens. Our neighbour to the north, Detroit, is the newest city to jump on board the bandwagon. Detroit held it’s first “Dine and Drive in the D” in May, 2012. In February 2012, Royal Oak held it’s first Street Eats. They planned for 500-700 people. 4,000 people showed up, clearly showing that the demand from the customer for food trucks and mobile kitchens is here.

So let’s start a conversation! Let’s get people thinking of food trucks as part of the daily culture our city. What do you think? Should Windsor and Essex County follow the lead of a growing number of municipalities and change their bylaws to encourage creative mobile vendors to grow and succeed?