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11/3, 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Riverfront Park, downtown
Free • Ballot cards: $10
Live music, food truck cookoff and NC craft brew and wine

SACRED FLAMES: Flaming Amy’s will make its debut at the first local food truck coofoff, Truck-a-Roo. Photo by Jay Muxworthy

Food Trucks: the craze is here in Wilmington after sweeping the nation from San Francisco to Austin to New York. Whether seen as a low-cost upstart for restaurateurs to wet their feet or the perfect extension to an already secured brick-and-mortar restaurant, food trucks offer another way for entrepreneurs to find their American Dream. Luckily for us diners, it remains a tasty trend, too.

Wilmington Downtown Inc. (WDI) and Pipeline Events Management will celebrate the trend come November 2nd at Riverfront Park, downtown, as the first food-truck cookoff takes place. Truck-a-Roo will host tons of live music, beer, prizes and lots of mingling among attendees.

“WDI has conducted many surveys over the years, and last fall we added some new questions,” John Hinnant, president, says. “One was, ‘If allowed, would mobile food trucks have a positive or negative impact on downtown?’”

The controversy has been ongoing since the first one rolled out last fall. Businesses who pay higher taxes and have secured brick-and-mortars have complained these trucks are competing in an unfair fashion, especially if they can park right in front of their business (which local regulations do not allow).The surveys WDI conducted found food trucks a positive addition to the business climate; though Hinnant is clear that in no way is he trying to change codes already in place. He simply wanted a way to attract visitors and locals to downtown Wilmington during a normally slow Saturday.

“Food trucks are a really cool endeavor,” he says. “Think about how risky it is to start your day in a place that you can move. Some experts believe food trucks are a reaction to the real estate and lending environment. I think these operators have a mindset of independence; they don’t want the same view every day. Most of them created a job for themselves and, in turn, created a few other jobs for others. It is probably more risky than opening a brick-and-mortar business given many of the regulations.”

For Poor Piggy’s it was all about low startup cost—and one great brisket and barbecue recipe. “The ability to test our product on the Wilmington market and move to the beat of the people is what inspired us,” Ed Coulbourn III, who’s competing in Truck-a-Roo, says. “We come from a background of owning a real-estate franchise, and just didn’t want the pressure of long-term commitments and debt until we were sure we had what it takes to be successful in the food industry.” Coulbourn has won awards through the Kansas City Barbecue Society, Hogfest in Edenton and his fair share of People’s Choice awards. Also, he launched a second truck in recent months.

“A traditional, stationary restaurant limits you,” says Angela Rhodes, wife to Catch’s chef, Keith Rhodes, who will compete in the showdown. “The appeal of owning a food truck is being able to take our brand all over. The concept is to have quality food options accessible to everyone.”

Hinnant found his survey responders connected to the food scene. In fact, many wanted a local food festival most. Though not interested in replicating events already in place (Encore Restaurant Week, Taste of Wilmington), Hinnant took note that

“food trucks are currently among the hottest trends in downtowns across America.” He has no doubt the food truck cookoff will appease many tastebuds.

The latest to join the showdown is Flaming Amy’s, which will make its debut at the event. Owner Jay Muxworthy has been transforming the previous Port City Sliders’ wheels into a his Sacred Burrito Bus. “We now can bring the burritos our customers they love to them,” he notes. “We will be able to prepare our burritos in the exact same manner as in the restaurant, using the same ingredients.” Though their menu will not contain everything from Amy’s, many favorites are in place, like Thai Me Up.

Also competing The Patty Wagon’s James Smith, dishing out some of the best burgers in the Port City. “I think it will be great exposure for us to show people who might not have tried a food truck that you can get quality food,” he says. Smith, who’s worked in the restaurant and service industry his entire life, loves this approach because he can still cook and interact with customers.

Also slated for competition will be The Cheesy Banker, who will serve their “famous two cheese grilled cheese sandwich with bacon wrapped tater tot and jalapeno,” according to owner Carter McKaughan. “Trust me we are all better than the $1 menu!”

Webo’s Home Cookin’ will also participate. “We had trucks from Raleigh that wanted to compete,” Chris Lee of Pipeline says, “but we’re keeping it as local as possible.”

Diners will be able to taste samples from each truck with the purchase of a $10 ballot card, which allows them to cast their favorite for Best in Show. Bands will take over the Freaker box truck-turned-stage throughout the day, including Groove Fetish (4:15-5:15 p.m.), Fred Flynn and Wes Sayer (5:30-6:30 p.m.), and Jesse Stockton and Dead Sparrow (6:45-8 p.m.). Regional craft brews and wine will be for sale, too.

Weekly contests are taking place on Truck-a-Roo’s Facebook fan page for folks to win free ballot cards. The first 200 to arrive with a pre-sale ballot (available online or in person at WDI offices, downtown) will get an event trucker hat. Proceeds from Truck-a-Roo will help WDI carry out its mission to help promote and expand downtown Wilmington’s offerings.

“WDI has made a conscience effort to work with as many local businesses we can,” Hinnant says. “Our organization is exhibiting at several targeted trade shows this fall, and these funds will help us promote our community.” The Urban Land Institute and the Internet Summit are two which Hinnant will attend. He notes exposing Wilmington to approximately 5,000 people who potentially could relocate their business here.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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