For Tom Warnke, the biggest difference between managing restaurants and owning his own
food truck can be summed up in a single word: Fun.
“They are two very different experiences,” says Warnke, owner and of the Boulder-based Wheel and Whisk food truck. “There is one that everybody is used to and has been doing forever—there’s a proper established etiquette to what you do at a restaurant and how it goes. But the food truck is like a carnival sort of thing—it’s colorful and fun.
“Customers seem to very much enjoy food trucks, where customers are tough at restaurants,” says Warnke, a former general manager at Aji and Leaf restaurants in Boulder. “I managed for a long time, and you get some people who are very gracious and happy, but it’s amazing: You see a side of people, when they sit down at restaurants, that can be ugly.”
Warnke has seen the good side of his customers since firing up his truck last summer. Like his fellow food truck operators, he travels throughout the county every week, often serving lunch in an east Boulder business park, then traveling to breweries, concerts, festivals or private events on nights and weekends. His menu is heavy on lunch and breakfast items, including a sausage and pepper sandwich, a chicken quesadilla and the Taylor ham, egg and cheese, a breakfast classic from his native New Jersey.
“I own the truck; it’s mine. It’s my business,” he says. “That makes a big difference. That makes it worthwhile to put in the long hours and the hard work. It’s a great entryway to put a little risk out there—not too much—but still have my own business and make my own mistakes and all the fun that goes along with doing my own venture.”
A far cry from the taco trucks and hot dog stands of years gone by, today’s food trucks offer gourmet fare—very often seasonal, local and organic—on the go. Since Boulder legalized food trucks three years ago, a number of mobile eateries have started their engines, among them Cheese Louise (grilled cheese), Verde (Mexican), Heirloom (farm-to-table), the Tasterie Truck (eclectic) and the Giggling Greek (Middle Eastern). Though Boulder laws make it difficult for food trucks to “pod up” and offer customers a multitruck experience like the weekly Civic Center Eats in Denver, there are events that allow more than one truck at a time, most notably Prospect Eats, a weekly Monday-night food truck party with live music, BYOB and more in Prospect Newtown in Longmont.
Prospect Eats’ first night this year was filled with families sprawled on blankets and lawn chairs, watching the sun go down while enjoying food from a dozen or so trucks—everything from burgers to barbecue to salmon salads and shrimp and grits. While local band Big Thompson Flood played covers of the Grateful Dead, Stevie Wonder and Prince, trucks like Cheese Louise, RollinGreens and Oskar Blues’ Bonewagon saw a brisk business. It was lawn party meets community festival meets shopping mall food court—and a good time was had by all.