What’s better than eating local, gourmet food served from friendly food trucks?
How about eating your order on picturesque Parksville Beach, gazing out into the Strait of Georgia as the sun sets?
The food truck phenomena has taken over most trendy, urban cities like San Francisco and Portland. And now, the culture of curbside dining has graced Parksville.
There are five locally-based food trucks that are taking to the beach this summer on a cycle of two trucks a day with back-up options from all over the Island filling in as needed.
The food they’re serving is nothing short of delicious — and their stories are pretty palatable too.
Though they represent five different food trucks with diverse menus and styles, they all agree the liberty of mobile entrepreneurship is a key part of the lifestyle.
Parksville’s Justin Alden is the new owner of Extreme Eatz.
Alden, 25, has a background in traditional French cooking and has worked in various kitchens throughout his life, but now he gets to draw up the menu, something he called “a dream for a chef.”
Alden said he got into the business, “for the freedom of it all. Really, I can go anywhere.”
Extreme Eatz has an ever-changing menu, based on what’s in season and in demand.
He describes his menu as “upscale pub food” and said he’s offering items like gourmet beef and pulled pork sliders.
He wants to serve “real food,” with a big focus on healthy ingredients that come from the ground.
Becky Vanata is also new to food trucks.
She recently relocated to Parksville from Ontario and purchased Rolling Cones, specializing in ice cream cones.
“I’ve wanted a food truck for 10 years,” she said. “I’ve just always thought it would be exciting and I love people.”
Vanata said she’s always been a big fan of food truck cuisine and this year she had the opportunity to go out on a limb, take a chance, move across the country and scratch another thing off her bucket list.
“It’s a whole new life,” she said with a smile. “I’m hoping for a hot summer.”
So is Andrea Chambers, who puts the A in AJ’s Island Grill, a food truck that serves homemade gourmet burgers, wraps and sandwiches.
She said their most popular dish is the Kick Butt Burger, which comes fully loaded with bacon, cheese and lots of mushrooms on a kaiser bun.
Chambers and her husband, Jody, run the food truck and their four kids, aged nine to 16, all help out with the unconventional family business.
She admits she never thought she’d have a food truck — and like most good things in life, it happened serendipitously.
“My husband traded our hot tub and a 50CC dirt bike for a truck to keep the quads in,” she said with a laugh. “But the quads didn’t fit.”
That turned into their first food truck, but after business picked up, the couple expanded and built a bigger truck.
They’ve now been running the business for five years.
“It can be stressful at times,” said Chambers of working with her entire family. “But I get to spend the whole day with my family and who gets to say that? I love it.”
Like Chambers, Farm to Fire’s Clinton Barnum fell into it.
“I got fired from a job in Vancouver that I hated,” Barnum recalled.
“I was so unhappy there, but it all came together through that.”
Farm to Fire is a wood fire oven food truck that specializes in thin crust pizza with fresh, local ingredients.
In fact, Barnum is so committed to using local ingredients he even raises his own cows on his family’s Nanoose Bay farm, which are then used in his pepperoni.
Barnum is in his third year and said “it keeps getting better.”
He said the industry is growing because “it’s accessible for someone like me to get into the business.”
By that, he means someone with little business experience but “big hopes, dreams and a supportive family.”
He said the risk factor and personal investment is much lower.
“Something like 90 per cent of brick and mortar restaurants close within nine months,” he said. “For a food truck, if it doesn’t work out today I can just go somewhere else tomorrow.”
The fifth truck in the current rotation is Belinda Storell’s Bee’s Knees Mini Donuts, a truck dishing up delightful bites of sugar-coated goodness.
She was given a small severance when she was laid off from a personal assistant position, which she invested in a hot dog cart she ran for three years. One day at an event she saw a mini-donut truck and something sparked. She and her husband decided to switch that winter.
“We didn’t know anything about making mini donuts and I remember sitting in a corner hoping nobody would come to us because we didn’t know what we were doing,” she said. “We were making lists and lists of things to buy and finally one day we were able to make a bag of donuts that wasn’t too bad.”
She laughs at the memory now that she’s successfully been in business 12 years.
While Storell started in Campbell River, she moved to Parksville with the dream of operating at the beach one day.
“My husband said that was a pipe dream,” she said on the first day she was able to set up shop on one of two pads specially designed for the trucks and built by the city.
“This is the Cadillac of spots.”
Aside from the five locally-based food trucks, you’ll occasionally see: West Coast Mobile Kitchen, The Pickled Carrot Catering, Country Kusina, Lime N and Vancouver Island Event Catering.
The trucks are all part of the Van Isle Food Truck Association, founded by enthusiast Mark Chandler. In partnership with the Parksville and District Chamber of Commerce, the association made this food truck project possible working with the City of Parksville.