Food trucks and carts aren’t a foreign sight in Juneau, where any number of factors can prompt entrepreneurial chefs and cooks to invest in these smaller, mobile alternatives to a brick and mortar restaurant. But Food Truck Fridays, the new Concerts in the Park, bring the carts and trucks together for what Juneau Arts & Humanities Council Executive Director Nancy Decherney called a “Do-it-yourself festival.”
On the lawn of the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, food vendors with carts and trucks gather, along with sellers of jewelry, art, fresh produce and gourmet oils and vinegars. There’s also music, sometimes on the stage inside, as with this week’s performance by Queens of the Sound Table, or outdoors, as with the City of Juneau Pipe Band, accompanied by the Highland Dancers. The JACC has also opened up its parking lot to the Alaskan version of a flea market — the Mosquito Market — where folks can sell their stuff right out of the trunks of their cars.
These banks of food trucks aren’t an entirely new idea, it’s been trending across the nation. Portland, Ore. boasts more than 500 food carts, many grouped in “pods” where those seeking a bite to eat can gather.
Mostly, these carts and trucks come out on special occasions like the Fourth of July or Gold Rush Days, to name just a couple. But Food Truck Fridays have offered an opportunity for these mouthwatering mobile meals to reach an audience more often. At least during the summer.
One downside to food carts and trucks is most people don’t want to eat outside in the rain — nobody wants a soggy bun on their burger — so why have such a fair-weather business model?
For some, it’s a precursor to something more permanent. Rebecca Gaguine took B’s Bakery and Bistro from a small push cart to a bright pink trailer, and now to a permanent place downtown when she renovated the back room of the Second Street spot into a commercial kitchen.
Gail Marvin set up a station making fry-bread, but said she’s working on getting Starvin’ Marvin’s Steak and Seafood off the ground, a restaurant she said will serve steak, seafood, organic salads with homemade dressings and homemade desserts.
Not everyone has aspirations to run a full-fledged restaurant, there were some small, family-run businesses on location who do it in addition to other jobs, maybe for fun, maybe for additional income.
Slick Ric’s BBQ was serving burgers, chicken and grilled vegetables. Clydina Bailey took orders, Ivn Bailey was on the grill, Maria Bailey prepped and packaged the orders and Eazy Bailey, who is nearly 9, was in charge of calling out orders and handing them to customers.
The Baileys have had Slick Ric’s going since around 2000, Maria said. It’s something they do on weekends and holidays, since they all work full-time jobs.
Eazy recommends getting the Eazy Burger, named after him, of course.
Nate’s Grill is run by Nate Watts and Jodi Watts — also just for events. A popular dish seemed to be tacos, served on corn tortillas and looking fresh. The couple’s three daughters sometimes help — Emily was around on Friday.
Marc Wheeler and Jessica Paris offered a sweet treat, with their 5-year-old son Ferguson helping on a primary-colored register — rhubarb sherbet or sorbet — made with real cream and real water, respectively, the sign read.
Wheeler said they did start a small business, Casey-Shattuck Sherbet Company is licensed, but it’s mostly a fun summer project. Northern Light United Church has allowed the family to use its kitchen to prepare the sherbet and sorbet, using rhubarb that is so abundant in the Flats.
Originally, Wheeler said, they had made raspberry and rhubarb flavored frozen treats, but the rhubarb was more popular. He speculated its popularity is because “people have nostalgic associations with rhubarb” and it brings back “summer memories.”
They have experimented with making rhubarb fruit leather and that might be on the menu soon.
Also present to offer something for the taste buds were the recently featured reindeer sausage cart and Riverside Herbs, offering not meals, but tastes of gourmet olive oils, vinegars and herbs.
For more opportunities to taste, visit Food Truck Fridays through the summer. Decherney said JAHC advertises which carts have registered for the Friday events, but that it’s not uncommon for vendors to show up without registering. The events have drawn crowds of around 100 in the last four weeks. A calendar of musical guests is available online at JAHC.org and up next week are flute trio Flutacious, vocal ensemble Pitch Hitters and Bryan Graceland, with MC Patricia Hull.
You can also find these carts around town on July 4.
Wheeler said Casey-Shattuck Sherbet would be raising money with sales to help Northern Light United Church to replace its roof. They will be located at Savikko Park.
Next time you're hungry and don’t know which restaurant to choose, don’t discount the options that have the ability to come to you.