NJ food truck hysteria keeps rolling through the state
Meals on wheels never seemed so hip.
Similar to the trend seen countrywide, the gourmet food truck industry in New Jersey has exploded over the years. It's estimated the number of trucks roaming the Garden State has grown by 2,500 percent since the beginning of the decade.
Some owners had dreams of opening a full-fledged restaurant but couldn't afford the space. Some loved the appeal of the mobile eatery — developing a following and bringing their flavor to a new spot every so often. Some saw the industry take off and decided their culinary expertise would be the perfect addition.
No matter the reason, all the trucks offer something unique to hungry New Jerseyans — a twist on an American classic, such as a grilled cheese or burger, or a combination of flavors you can't find just anywhere.
Rondell Donaldson's soul food background, and his fiance's Jamaican upbringing, created the menu for the Caribbean Soul food truck, which has been all over the Garden State since its inception two years ago.
The couple made the most of an empty FedEx truck —inside and out — and started serving their BBQ jerk chicken, bang bang wings, candied yams, bacon mac & cheese and other dishes that would soon become customer favorites.
Business has been so good, the couple opened a restaurant in Brick to act as a prep station. There are plans to get an additional four trucks rolling by the end of the year.
"We're food truckers and this what we do. This is our life," Donaldson said.
According to Jon Hepner, president and founder of the New Jersey Food Truck Association, the industry has taken off over the years due to several driving factors — perhaps the greatest being the power of social media.
"Today, a food truck can just post on social media where they're going to be, how long they're going to be there, and what the specials of the day are, and people will follow them," Hepner said. "We don't have customers, we have followers."
Hepner owns Aroy-D, the Thai Elephant — believed to be the only food truck in New Jersey serving Thai cuisine. The truck has permits to serve in a few New Jersey towns. Its success has led to the creation of a brick-and-mortar establishment, which will be moving locations to a bigger space over the next couple weeks.
Hepner said the industry has also been assisted by technological advances in the design and build of food trucks, along with the popularity of industry-related programming on television.
When Hepner's truck started rolling in 2011, about 20 gourmet food trucks existed in New Jersey, he said. Today, the number is close to 500.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at email@example.com.