What’s better to eat than hot sandwiches stuffed with smoked barbecue, gourmet hotdogs or seasoned, pulled chicken?
What about roasted hot coffee with a pastry, a slushy drink at a summer festival on a hot day or a fried funnel cake topped with strawberries and powdered sugar?
These delicacies are a few that have been available at festivals and fairs throughout Calhoun County in the past few years. While many food-truck items, such as fried Twinkies, onion rings, ribs and bacon-cheese burgers, are full of fat and sugar or both, an occasional curve away from healthier foods is fine for most people.
Locally and nationwide, consumers who enjoy quick, unusual and gourmet food items are behind a $1.2 billion food-truck industry in the United States, according to IBISWorld, a research group that reports on the statistics from a variety of industries. Other research groups estimated the industry produced sales as high as $2 billion last year.
IBISWorld also states that the food truck industry in the United States is expected to grow by 3.4 percent this year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the industry grew at a 6.4 percent rate during the prior few years. The slowdown is, in part, due to less foot traffic by employees who now work from home. However, locally, the pandemic helped local food truck owners because people could no longer eat inside restaurants.
“We stayed open,” said Greg Hampton, who runs Jess BBQ at the intersection of Alabama 21 and Anniston Beach Road. “We started seeing customers that we had not seen before. People were social distancing, standing under our tent or waiting in their cars.”
One phenomenon adding to the growth of food truck owners is the large numbers of baby boomers who are retiring and entering the food-truck industry, both for income and for pleasure. The Legion Food Truck company states that food truck owners can make extra income, set their own hours, stay involved in their communities and travel the nation.
Three out of five of Calhoun County’s largest cities have recognized the popularity of food trucks by writing ordinances regarding their operation. Two smaller cities have minimal rules because food trucks there usually operate temporarily at community events.
The Alabama Department of Public Health regulates the food trucks and other food industries, including restaurants and home-based businesses. Consumers should make sure each food truck or other food-related business has the proper certification displayed from the city, the county and the health department.
One business owner who has worked hard to create a successful food-truck business is Jerod Snider, whose family started operating a food truck named Called Coffee a couple of years ago.
“It’s more than working a job,” Snider said recently. “It becomes part of your life and everything revolves around it.”
Snider attends festivals and community events and is venturing into brick-and-mortar venues. As a businessman, he said he feels it is important to set and meet goals.
“It is hard to make a food truck successful, long term,” he said, “but it is better to double or triple your chances of success by working hard up front and putting different systems into place.”
In addition to a food truck, Called Coffee has a new shop at the Quintard Mall and hopes to set up shop next month in the former Daylight Donuts building at 14th Street and Quintard Avenue.
So, for those not interested in operating a food truck, they can simply enjoy purchasing interesting food products, such as fried ice cream, curly fries or fried Oreos from a food truck, recipes they would never prepare at home.