One of the highlights of this year’s Ponte Vedra Auto Show will be the participation of food trucks.
The St. Johns County Food Truck Co-op plans to have a dozen mobile eateries on site Saturday, Nov. 13, for the A1A Cruise Night and six trucks on Sunday, Nov. 14, for the show itself.
According to cooperative founding member Dawn Watkins, who with husband Jason owns the YAMO Italian Street Food truck, attendance at last year’s show was so great that vendors actually ran out of food.
“This year, that’s not going to happen,” she said. “We’re going to make sure they’ve got lots of food.”
The trucks will be ready to serve a hungry public Saturday starting at 5 p.m. On Sunday, they’ll have doughnuts and coffee as early as 7 a.m. – even though the main show doesn’t really get into gear until three hours later.
“Car guys get up early,” Watkins said. “They love their coffee and doughnuts.”
In recent years, food trucks have proven very popular. In part, that’s because the food trucks of today are not the food trucks of the past.
Master chefs are running food trucks now. There are gourmet trucks, and the quality of the food is high.
In fact, Watkins said, “We call it mobile cuisine rather than mobile food.”
The Watkinses know what they’re doing. They owned a regular “brick and mortar” Italian restaurant for a long time.
“We try to stick close to traditional sauces – all of our sauces are prepared fresh – and homemade recipes,” Dawn Watkins said. “We try to do as much from scratch as we possibly can.”
Auto show visitors will see not only the YAMO truck, but a variety of trucks featuring selections from different cultures – Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Cajun and more. And, of course, there will be those always popular dessert trucks.
Nocatee Station Field is a familiar venue for both the public and the food truck operators. As many as 22 food trucks have set up shop there during Nocatee Food Truck Fridays.
The co-op, itself, is a clever and efficacious way to do business. The goal of member trucks is to help one another and work to bring down costs by sharing resources and information.
“We also want to make sure than new trucks who come into our county and into our neighborhoods have the best information they can possibly have and as much help as they can possibly get,” said Watkins. “The last thing we want to see is a food truck – you know, super-excited, great food, wonderful family – and they’re not successful.”
In fact, co-op members work on each others’ trucks all the time.
“We all share our employees,” Watkins said. “We help each other out. I think we’ve worked on almost every single one of the food trucks in the co-op, my husband and I.”
Also, truck operators have found an advantage in ordering products in bulk to bring down costs. That’s even more important at a time when the supply chain has been disrupted.
This sharing extends to information. Because there are 18 food trucks in the co-op, there are 18 sources of information.
“Someone knows a guy,” Watkins said. “Someone knows someone who knows someone. Everyone knows a guy. So, we share all of that information and then find out where we can get things.”
The co-op maintains a shared Google calendar, and there have been months when Watkins has posted more than 120 jobs there.
“Every time someone comes up to me and says, ‘I need food trucks for this event,’ I put it on the calendar, and I say, ‘Hey, who’s interested?’” Watkins said.
Operators can then accept whichever jobs suit them.
An advantage for the venues is that the co-op doesn’t charge for the bookings.
In an unexpected turn of events over the past year and a half, food trucks have actually done well during the pandemic. That’s because they could go into places where people could not go out to traditional restaurants.
“We would come to their neighborhood and provide carry-out service for them,” Watkins said. “They’d order ahead of time. They’d come pick up their food from the food truck. They’d never have to go inside. They could be as far away from other people as they like.”
Local food trucks have also contributed to the community by participating in fundraisers and other charitable events.
For instance, they have worked with We Feed St. Augustine to provide free meals.
“Food trucks are a lot of work, but they’re very rewarding,” Watkins said. “And the sense of community is just overwhelming. We’re really grateful for it.”