Moveable feasts

Reno’s food trucks rally together for a monthly event

Jessie Watnes serves up a sandwich from the GourMelt Grilled Cheese Truck.

Jessie Watnes serves up a sandwich from the GourMelt Grilled Cheese Truck.

Photo by AMY BECK

Reno’s first Food Truck Friday is on April 6 at 6 p.m. at 40 E. Fourth St. For more information, visit

Gourmet food trucks have been a growing trend across the United States since the late 2000s. The Kogi Korean BBQ truck in Los Angeles, which launched in late 2008, was an early pioneer. Since then, they’ve been popping up in pop culture and on street corners around the country—the Food Network introduced their reality show The Great Food Truck Race in 2010. Thriving mostly in larger cities, food trucks feature everything from fusion cuisine and BBQ to comfort food and sustainable, local eats.

Reno has acquired its own fleet of mobile restaurants, serving up good, fast food to hungry workers on their lunch hours and late-night bar patrons. The trend has brought a number of options for cuisine “on-the-go” to the Reno area creating, not only competition, but also community. And now, they’re gathering together to converge on one spot in downtown Reno for a monthly event called Food Truck Fridays.

Friday, April 6, will be the first of such gatherings of the restaurants on wheels, which will be held from April to October in the former Citicenter bus station at Fourth and Center Streets.

“It’s such a trend in the bigger cities and something Reno was kind of lacking,” says Haley Wood from GourMelt Grilled Cheese Truck, specializing in a variety of gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches. “When we started GourMelt, there were no trucks that did just lunch.”

One of the first food trucks to show up on the downtown Reno scene was Calvin’s Sausages, serving up fries, tater tots, sausages and falafel. The trend spread fairly quickly once people realized the potential to reach a large audience with their food, as well as interact with people in a way that you can’t in a traditional restaurant environment. For one, customers often engage directly with the people who prepare the meals. Food trucks can also offer variety in places where there aren’t a lot of—or any—dining options.

“It’s kind of a treat for the places that we do go,” says Wood. “When you work in a place, sometimes you are limited to food or options in a five-mile radius because of your lunch hour. We see new faces everyday.”

Food trucks also have the potential to attract a lot of people and aren’t tied down to one spot. It’s an instant community creator. As Jessica Gelt wrote in the L.A. Times: “The truck and its staff of merry makers have become a sort of roving party, bringing people to neighborhoods they might not normally go to, and allowing for interactions with strangers they might not otherwise talk to.”

The appeal for some who start food trucks is that it is less of a risk—you don’t have to have the kind of financial backing you would need to start a full-on restaurant. Or, in the case of Red Truck, based in Truckee, Calif., a food truck was an alternative to working in professional kitchens.

As far as competition goes, one might think that the more food trucks there are out there, the worse it might get for any one of them. However, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

“For the most part, I think we roll together, you know?” Joseph Najera, owner of Kenji’s Food Truck. “It’s better if we stick together.”

Najera feels that people are less intimidated to approach the trucks if there are a few around and if other people are buying food.

“People were really skeptical at first. Now we have regulars,” says Najera. “Also, with the whole ordinance they were trying to pass, it’s our way of saying, ‘Hey, we’re here to stay. We are part of this city.’”

Feeding frenzy

This idea of community is driving Food Truck Fridays. Not only are the food truck owners interested in working together but the city is also interested in bringing people back into the heart of downtown.

Wood, the initiator of Reno Food Truck Fridays, originally envisioned the ReTRAC plaza between the Eldorado and CommRow for the event when Jaime Schroeder, acting special events and activity permits director, suggested the currently unused and fenced-in former RTC Citicenter. The city has been working to clean up the area and get things up to code in time for the event. Lights have gone up and, once the fences come down, they will be down for good. The plaza will be open for use by the public.

“We are continuing with the revitalization and trying to change the perception that downtown isn’t a place you want to be,” says Schroeder. “I think all the special events we have in downtown Reno are great not only for tourism but because they bring the community together and bring people back downtown.”

Food Truck Fridays will bring together various food trucks from throughout the Truckee Meadows—it will vary from month to month. The trucks will include GourMelt; Kenji’s, featuring Asian fusion with tacos, Hawaiian style lunch specials, and burgers; St. Lawrence Pizza Co.; BoDawgs hotdogs; Island Ice shave ice (a trailer, not a truck); Sauce Wagon featuring barbecue; DishTruck; and Red Truck, featuring “sustainable, organic, eclectic eats.”

Each event will also include the Tumblebus, a full-size, 76-passenger school bus with no seats inside and instead equipped with a padded floor, rock wall, climbing ladders, rings, a ball pit and more. It’s essentially a gym on wheels for kids.

“I just ordered a slide so when we do Food Truck Fridays, the kids can come through the bus and play, then slide out and come back around,” says Kristin Reagan, the Tumblebus driver. “It will be there to provide fun for families at the event.”

There will also be live, local music every month as well as craft booths from IndieReno and a beer garden hosted by Great Basin Brewing Co. The first Friday will feature music by Chiggity Chuck and Daylight Roots. It will be a family-friendly atmosphere, focused on good food, fun and enlivening the city. When other summer events get going, it will be a nice complement—think Aces baseball and Hot August nights.

“We want this to be a good event for Reno that adds to the community,” says Wood, who was inspired to put the event together because of the growing number of food trucks that have popped up in Reno over the past few months.

“I think it’ll be really great for downtown Reno,” says Reagan. “Just like the farmers’ market for Sparks.”

Najera is excited because he feels that, with more trucks, people will feel more at ease and more likely to try things they might otherwise be afraid to eat. “It’s been a really fun experience so far,” he says of being behind the wheel of Kenji’s. “We love serving the people we do.”

For the most part, the food trucks in town have Facebook pages that they update with their locations or they broadcast it on Twitter, incorporating the thrill of the chase into the dining experience. If you don’t want to have to hunt them down to try the various culinary delights they offer, then Food Truck Fridays is the perfect place to find the and sample the various goods the food trucks have to offer.