What started with a couple of lunchtime food trucks in Roger Williams Park has exploded into Food Truck Friday, a full-blown community happening that now draws 1,000+ people to the Park every Friday evening.
When the Roger Williams Park Zoo began managing Carousel Village in May, they brought in Eric Weiner to manage concessions. Weiner owns FoodTrucksIn.com, a Providence-based online directory of 6,000 food trucks in 1,100 cities across the country – it represents the largest nationwide community of mobile food vendors.
Weiner threw together the first Food Truck Friday in mid-May rather quickly. “We had seven trucks on site – we thought it would be a good way to test the water to see who would come.” More than 300 people showed up, and Weiner says everyone was asking when he’d do it again. By the end of June, 500 or 600 people were coming to support a rotating array of Providence’s best food trucks. And by August, the weekly event was featuring 12-13 food trucks, live music, a beer garden, and hosting more than 1,200 people.
“In the Midwest there’s a lot of open space, but if you own a small mobile food business in Rhode Island, you know it’s a densely populated area with not a lot of space,” Weiner explains. “Lunch and special events are easy, catering is growing, but having a place to serve the public in the evenings has been a real challenge for them.”
Roger Williams Park has become the perfect place to enable mobile food vendors to extend their business day into the evening: Their biggest fans can easily find them, and they’re reaching a lot of new customers.
As events like this grow, there is the tendency to quickly add more food trucks which dilutes sales for any individual vendor, Weiner says. “What we have done at Food Truck Friday is add trucks in a controlled way as the customer base grows, so there has been no dip in revenue. We built it around the economic premise of being a win-win-win event.”
He is managing the event with longevity in mind by keeping fees low for the trucks and offering the public free admission. “We want this to become part of the fabric of the city – supporting small businesses and supporting the community. The success has been more than we could have ever imagined.”