Forest preserves — Great food in one convenient location.
That’s why Vida Larucci of Plainfield loves food trucks. Larucci said she can get tacos; her husband can get burgers and fries with cheese and bacon; and her 9-year-old son can get pizza.
She’s discovered new restaurants from patronizing their food trucks and even booked the perfect taco truck for her wedding: Supermercado Joliet, she said.
“Every event I feel like going to always has a food truck,” Larucci said.
It’s beyond a fad. The smallbizgenius.net website says there are more than35,000 active food trucks in the United States with more than 40,000 people working in the industry. The food truck market in 2022 surpassed $1.2 billion.
‘Nobody is sad when eating food’
The Forest Preserve District of Will County kicks off its first of three Fun and Food Truck events Friday. Food trucks attract people of all ages into the preserves, which they see as great places for picnics, biking, hiking or fishing, said Jen Guest, recreation coordinator at the Forest Preserve District of Will County.
“People love food,” Guest said. “So certain food trucks will draw their audiences, people that follow certain food trucks, into our preserves. Or it will get people out to preserves that don’t normally come out but just want to come out and have a good time.”
Nor do food trucks limit menu choices to the fried foods found at carnivals, Guest said. Many serve high-quality, specialty food items – such as small plates and delicacy items, she said.
Roberta Young of Joliet, who had weight loss surgery, said she could always find food compatible with her gastric sleeve, even with ice cream trucks.
“I love the neighborhood feel to food trucks,” Young said. “Nobody is sad when eating food.”
Young said she could always find meat, “a healthy kind of carbohydrate,” vegetables and beans on food trucks and doesn’t deprive herself either by passing up all unhealthy choices.
“If you can put it off after a few bites, have that, too,” Young said.
We’re getting the food back together
Joliet native Liz Bathgate moved 13 years ago to Wichita, Kansas, where the Chicago-style food she loved couldn’t be found. So she and husband Brian opened a restaurant and served it themselves, until Brian had health problems.
But in July 2020, the couple converted an old Wichita Police SWAT truck into Big B’s Beef Truck & Chicago Style Pizza Pop-Up food truck and added a “call-in option where we delivered to their cars,” Bathgate said.
Many customers never had heard of Italian beef and assumed it was barbecue, French dip or a Philly cheesesteak sandwich, Bathgate said. They weren’t used to pizzas with creamy Wisconsin cheese, chunks of sausage and hearty pizza sauce, she said.
In fact, Bathgate orders the cheese and poppy seed buns because she can’t buy them locally, she said.
The food truck has taught Bathgate’s three home-schooled sons, ages 12, 13 and 16, social and business skills, introduced the community to new foods and brought food favorites to other transplants like Bathgate.
“Some people have been here for 30 years and have not had that beef sandwich or Chicago dog,” Bathgate said. “They say, ‘Oh, this reminds me of being back in my neighborhood.’ I think all of us had some kind of beef stand or hot dog stand from where we live.”
It’s not just food
Cean Magosky of Lockport said he can’t understand why people flock to food trucks, something that he’s always associated with construction sites, carnivals and auctions.
Food trucks have no amenities, no wait staff, no bathrooms, just “cheap, to-go food that’s portable,” he said. Nor do they build home bases in municipalities, he said.
Magosky said he’s not referring to restaurants that also bring food trucks with limited menus to community events “as a marketing thing here and there” or with a set-up like Woosah Outfitters in Grand Rapids, Mich., did with Outside Coffee, which is a “full-time commitment,” he said.
This lack of commitment to any one town is Magosky’s point.
Nevertheless, food trucks still are regulated by the municipalities in which they temporarily set up shop.
Mike Paone, executive vice president of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry, said if a food truck planned to participate in 12 different festivals in the summer, it just might need 12 permits or licenses from 12 different places.
Paone said that’s simply part of the back end of running a business that people often don’t understand.
“You can’t just pull up, open up your package of hot dogs and go sell,” Paone said.
Jeff Otte of Shorewood, owner of Cream-Crunch-N-More and a member of the Southwest Suburban Food Truck Alliance, said food truck owners can get frustrated by variances in regulations, while acknowledging that food trucks may be a new concept to some towns.
Otte hopes an alliance will help give food truck owners “one voice” and streamline the regulation process, he said. Other alliance benefits include business support and information, event opportunities and mentoring, Otte said.
“They can just reach out to us and a food truck owner can answer any questions,” Otte said.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: Fun and Food Trucks
WHEN: 5 to 8 p.m. Friday
WHERE: Hickory Creek – LaPorte Road Access, Mokena
ETC: Food from Lil Deb’s, Tacos Mario and MiaBella’s Wood Fired Pizza. Cold beer from Hickory Creek Brewing Co. Entertainment by celebrity juggler Brian Pankey.