A Boston food-truck operator recently masterminded what promises to become an iconic gastronomic festival.
Sara Ross, organizer of Food Truck Throwdown and owner of Kickass Cupcakes, rolled out her baked goods at culinary festivals a year ago, when she expanded her Somerville, Mass.-based business by adding a food truck. A few months later, Ross came up with an idea: Why not pit seven food trucks from New York City against an equivalent number from Boston in a “best food truck” contest? The New York City Food Truck Association accepted the challenge, and the race was on to pull the event together before the arrival of winter.
“I wanted to add a whole other layer of excitement to food truck festivals,” Ross says.
Sponsored by JetBlue Airways, the inaugural Food Truck Throwdown took place Oct. 13 at Dewey Square Park on the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Boston. The event drew more than 14,000 attendees, she says, despite a major logistical challenge: parking 14 food trucks on the Greenway. It proved a tight fit.
The New York contenders were Bian Dang, Big D’s Grub, Fishing Shrimp, Mike ’N’ Willie’s, Munchie Mobile, Nuchas, and Wafels & Dinges. The Boston lineup featured Bon Me, the Cookie Monstah, Kickass Cupcakes, Lobsta Love, Mei Mei Street Kitchen, Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, and Staff Meal.
The Boston team had the advantage of home turf, and Ross had the task of whittling down the number of potential local participants from around 20 to seven. She accomplished that with an online vote for the finalists.
Convincing New York food-truck owners that the eight-hour round-trip drive would be worth it “proved a little bit of a harder sell,” Ross says. She enlisted the help of Nuchas owner Ariel Barbouth to recruit participants from the Big Apple. Barbouth, who hails from Argentina, was honored in May 2012 as the New York State Small Business Development Center’s Minority Entrepreneur of the Year. Ross also sweetened the deal for both groups of contestants, offering everyone an opportunity to win round-trip airline tickets to anywhere JetBlue flies.
Festival attendees voted for their favorite food trucks with quarters, which were collected, counted, and then donated to food pantries. Contestants vied for prizes in seven different food categories, as well as Best Bench Crew and Best Truck Design. The popular vote by attendees for the Best Food-Truck City went to — you guessed it — Boston.
“About a year ago, the city of Boston decided it really wanted to promote the trucks,” Ross says. “They represent entrepreneurship, small business, employment, and the mayor really got behind it.”
Ross says she’s already planning the next Food Truck Throwdown, which will take place in the spring of 2013. Her ideas for expanding the event include an ingredient-themed faceoff that would feature recipes using specific ingredients like Nutella or bacon, along with prizes for teams of food-truck vendors who work together to concoct new recipes. “The mayor [of Boston] is super excited about it becoming a Boston signature event,” she says.