Most trailer food vendors open their doors with hopes of one day growing into a brick and mortar restaurant. For some, that dream has come true.
The Austin street food scene is comprised of various blends of business models. For the most part, carts and trailers have gathered together in pods where they are as permanent a fixture as any restaurant. These vendors might as well take their wheels off, because they don’t move around. Others are truly mobile, driving to and from various locations throughout the city. And of course, there are hybrid models that are a blend of both.
Regardless of their mobile status, trailer food vendors in Austin have at least one thing in common: they like to cook. And most of the vendors would tell you their ultimate goal is to one day open a restaurant. Many of them started their concept on a shoestring budget while still working a full time job based on their belief in their menu. But it takes more than a devilishly good chef to make the leap from trailer to brick and mortar.
Take some of Austin’s favorite trailer vendors for example: Franklin BBQ, Odd Duck Farm to Trailer, and Hey Cupcake all now have legitimate store fronts and indoor seated dining. After building up their clientele over at least one year, these vendors have put the proof in the pudding; their menus were built to last. Franklin is still selling out of food every day they are open, Odd Duck’s chef is receiving noteworthy awards and Hey Cupcake remains a best-selling dessert in Austin.
One of the more recent trailers to have purchased a brick and mortar location is the Flying Carpet. Previously located on South Congress, the Souktourri family moved their green trailer and Moroccan “Souk food” business to a house on 504 West Oltorf. They are remodeling it themselves and anticipate opening the doors this month. Some of the benefits they are expecting: Increased parking, indoor seating, air conditioning and heating and indoor bathrooms. One twist, they will still be cooking out of the trailer but serving inside. There will be a Moroccan tea room inside. Co-owner Maria promises, "no hookahs, no belly dancing, just good food."
Burnet Road seems to be the haven for ex-trailers, with at least five vendors having moved into their permanent restaurants there. Most of these operations opened since last Spring (2011). Fortunately business has been good; no trailer that has opened as a brick and mortar restaurant has closed yet.
Jaynie Buckingham of Cutie Pie Wagon was the first vendor behind Torchy’s to open on Burnet Road in April of this year. When I asked her advice for people making the leap from trailer to brick and mortar she said, “Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it. Do your homework. You need to be ready for it. Running a restaurant is totally different than running a trailer.”
Jaynie said one of her biggest challenges in making the transition has been overhead. “It didn’t take much more than a freezer when I was in the trailer, but the restaurant requires much more budget to run,” the self-proclaimed Pie Queen shares.
Where are they now?
The Flying Carpet: From Soco to 504 W. Oltorf
Cutie Pie Wagon: From Soco to 7329 Burnet Rd.
Man Bites Dog: From South 1st to 5222 Burnet Rd.
Lucky J’s Chicken & Waffles: kept his trailer locations and opened shop at 5035 Burnet Rd.
Hey Cupcake: kept their trailers and have a storefront at 5530 Burnet Rd.
Hat Creek: has their trailer for events, and locations at 5400 Burnet Rd. & 5902 Bee Caves Rd.
Odd Duck Farm to Trailer: the trailer is still open at this point, and their brick and mortar is called “Barley Swine” located at 2024 S. Lamar
Franklin BBQ: From S. I-35 to 900 E. 11st St.