Meals on Wheels: The Food Truck Phenomenon Sweeps South Florida | Feature | South Florida | Broward Palm Beach New Times | The Leading Independent News Source in Broward-Palm Beach, Florida


Meals on Wheels: The Food Truck Phenomenon Sweeps South Florida

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"Plus," he says motioning to the line of customers waiting in front of Latin Burger, "look at all the buzz it's creating."

Latin Burger was one of the first trucks on the scene when the craze began sweeping South Florida in late 2009. Backed by Food Network star Ingrid Hoffman, the truck combining street food favorites with Latin fusion was instantly popular. Now, Latin Burger and Taco has nearly 3,000 followers on Twitter. Each time it Tweets a new location, its fans come running in droves.

Though restaurants and clubs often use Twitter to market themselves too, that cult-like following seems to be unique to food trucks. Santacroce, for example, says he shows up to Latin Burger every time it comes to Fort Lauderdale. He explains his fandom simply: "You get a feeling of attachment following a food truck that you don't have with restaurants. You really want to see them succeed."

He isn't the only one. An entire online community has sprung up to support the blossoming South Florida food truck scene. At the center of it is Sef Gonzalez, better-known as the Burger Beast. On his eponymous website, the Beast tracks the location of trucks via Twitter and reviews them. His site has even gone meta: He's hosted street food fairs, like the one he assembled at September's Fall for the Arts Festival in Miami, and has helped bring food trucks together at venues like the Miami Street Food Court, a weekly gathering of vendors held at 65th Avenue and Bird Road in Miami.

For Gonzalez, the feeling of being a part of a vibrant scene is a big factor in the popularity of these trucks. But it's also about the food itself. "If you go to a restaurant, the menu will probably have 30 to 40 dishes, but how many are really exceptional?" he asks. "These trucks have narrowed their focus down to one or just a few dishes, so what they make tends to be really, really good."

Good food is exactly what drew Aaron Byers into the food truck business.

Byers, a 33-year-old guy with a black baseball cap and a distinctive surfer drawl, operates Nacho Bizness, a ten-by-ten-foot aluminum trailer based in Fort Lauderdale that serves international takes on tacos and burritos. He says of all the best food he's tried, much of it has come from underground eateries like food trucks and taco shops. "It's like walking down some Tijuana alleyway and seeing a roll-up window with a little old lady inside, and all she's doing is shaving pork and making carnitas all day," says Byers. "You take one look and know it's going to be good."

Before opening Nacho Bizness in June, Byers worked as a mate aboard luxury yachts. The luxurious career afforded him plenty of opportunity to travel around the world and do his favorite thing: eat. But even as he traveled, his mind always returned to a running joke he had with his brother, Jay. "We always talked about one day grabbing our surfboards and setting up a taco stand on the beach somewhere," he says. "We wanted to get out of the rat race."

It wasn't until 2009, when Byers was scheduled to make a yacht delivery from San Francisco to Cabo San Lucas, that he decided to make their plan a reality. During his journey, he docked the boat and stopped at nearly every notable taco joint along the West Coast. He dubbed it research for his own taco operation. Nacho Bizness was born.

A fully-equipped food truck with ovens, fryers, fridges, sinks, and prep stations can cost as much as $75,000. Byers had some cash saved up, but instead of plunking that much down, he found an old-school aluminum trailer on eBay and dressed it up with a bright-blue sign he made himself.

On most days, he parks it in a little nook behind the Maritime Professional Training School in Fort Lauderdale. Its aluminum frame rocks back and forth as Byers cooks breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the mostly student crowd that gathers there. His menu, inspired by his years of traveling, takes creative license with Mexican street food. He fills pliant tortillas (bought daily from local eatery Tortilleria Mexicana) with Korean-style pulled-pork tacos with cucumber or fresh grilled mahi-mahi with pineapple slaw. Take a $10 bill to Nacho Bizness and you can buy enough food to be burstingly full.

The only problem? Byers' idea for a freewheeling lifestyle turned out to be hard work. He runs Nacho Bizness from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. six days per week. "I didn't want to work for the man, but now I am the man," Byers jokes. "When I started this, I never thought I'd be waking up at 6 a.m."

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John Linn

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