STORY BY SARAH LEBLANC
There are few restaurants in Des Moines that offer the flexibility, efficiency and satisfaction that food trucks offer residents.
On Friday, the Legion of Food hosted a Food Truck Showdown around the Pappajohn Sculpture Park in downtown Des Moines from noon to 9 p.m.
Since the city council passed a six-month pilot program allowing food trucks to operate on public property, the Legion of Food has hosted several events, with last Friday’s being the most successful in terms of space and the amount of vendors.
“(The Legion) did (an event) in May – great turnout, but it was kind of a disaster,” said Nick Kuhn, president of the Legion of Food. “It was a very small venue with 10,000 people and not enough food.”
Compared to the 22 trucks that gathered for the Food Truck Showdown, the event in May had just 10 trucks and inspired the Legion to host more events.
“(The event) showed us how popular the trucks could be,” Kuhn said. “Right now we’re looking to do this a couple times a year, but if I had my way we’d be doing this once a month.”
Friday’s gathering of vendors also surprised Kuhn in the amount of people who arrived for the trucks.
“We were estimating 5,000,” Kuhn said. “I think we might have had 5,000 at lunch.”
Kuhn adjusted his estimate to be over 10,000 people who came to the sculpture park during the nine hours that the event was held.
Several members of the Legion of Food hope to see legislation passed allowing the food trucks to operate on a long-term basis due to popular demand.
“Our immediate goal (is that) the city council is going to vote in November about whether to make this a permanent program or not,” Kuhn said. “We need for them to make this a permanent program.”
The Legion of Food is an association of around 25 food trucks in Des Moines that works to coordinate the trucks.
“Every food truck that’s a member pays dues and there’s a monthly meeting where the trucks mostly get together to talk about how not to compete with each other but how to collaborate,” said Zachary Mannheimer, executive director of the Des Moines Social Club. “We talk about the best zones, the best places for the trucks to go how we can partner up on events – it’s more of an information session for all the trucks.”
Originally from Philadelphia, Mannheimer has been branching into the food truck industry through the temporary legalization of the mobile vendors and his own food truck, Powered by Fries.
“I led the charge to change the law to allow food trucks to come back downtown,” Mannheimer said. “Food trucks are a perception issue that we need to have solved. Plus, (food trucks are) delicious.”
Since the Legion of Food was launched in February, and the city council passed the pilot program to allow the vendors to operate on public property, the number of trucks in Des Moines has more than doubled.
“Prior to this law, there were only about eight trucks that actually came into downtown,” Mannheimer said. “It’s just a six month pilot period that ends in two weeks so its still risky for food truck owners to do it and make the investment. I think that sends a clear signal to city council that they better make this law permanent.”
If the law is passed, Mannheimer hopes to fulfill the Legion’s more long-term concerns.
“Number one is nailing down an annual permit fee that’s reasonable and in line with the rest of the country,” Mannheimer said. “Number two would be opening up more zones in downtown for the trucks to be at and number three would be a larger variety. It’s a pretty decent variety right now but it’s still dominated by tacos and pizza.”
Shon Bruellman from Polk City, owner and operator of The Little Red Food Truck, works with his wife to serve what he terms “comfort street food” to the people of Des Moines. The menu includes Navajo fried bread tacos, fried fish tacos, homemade tenderloins and chili dogs on fries.
Previously a restaurant owner, Bruellman took his truck to the streets in June after the pilot program was launched.
“I saw an opportunity to do something that I love to do and saw a niche for the type of food that I like to cook,” Bruellman said. “I like serving people – I actually enjoy the stress of having a line 20 people deep and being buried.”
The trucks currently operate in four sanctioned zones around Des Moines. The zones are located around the sculpture park, Locust Bridge and East Village and around the courthouse and Iowa Events Center.
The app “Klickle” can be used to show both where food trucks are located in an area and the vendor’s menu.