This week I was overjoyed to see the return of the GrrChe grilled cheese food truck to my work neighborhood. Turns out, they never really left. Neither have most of the food trucks. They have just moved further west of Central Avenue.
When I spoke with the operator of the GrrChe truck, he told a rather unfortunate tale of two groups who should be supporting each other for the greater good of the community but have a tenuous relationship at best, and sometimes downright hostility - the independent food truck operators who set up temporary shop in various neighborhoods throughout the city and the restaurant entrepreneur working to build a loyal following.
When the food truck rolls into my neighborhood, the block between of Fleet Street between Central and Exeter is prime real estate. There are two large office buildings on that block (including the one that houses my employer) full of corporate America looking for lunch. There is also one of my favorite local restaurateurs - The Bagby Restaurant Group. And it's a challenge to park on that block without ending up right in front of Bagby Pizza. If you were Mr. Bagby, what would you do? If you said "protect my investment", you're on the same page.
SouperFreak spent an abbreviated lunch hour on our block and has never returned. Last time I saw GrrChe, they were also in close proximity to the Bagby building. Now I heard this secondhand, but Mr. Bagby's alleged assertion is that the mobile food truck wins over customers - potentially his customers - without making the same financial investment in the neighborhood. Which is an interesting thought.
Which gave rise to another interesting thought. When I started considering lunch, I first visited the website for Bagby's TenTen Bistro to check the current menu and get a price check on their bison burger. When I stepped outside and saw the GrrChe truck parked on Central Ave, I made a B-line for the truck.
Did Bagby lose me as a customer? No - when I thought of lunch out, i thought of him first and will continue to do so. But why did he lose my business that day? Part of it is the food truck is a novelty. Many of them have a theme (like Haute Dog and the aforementioned SuperFreak) or an eclectic menu (The Gypsy Queen Cafe) that makes them unique. Plus they are mobile so when I see one in the neighborhood, I'm never sure when they will be back. And, with the impending snow already creeping into the air, what I really wanted was a grilled cheese sandwich and a cup of tomato soup. This is not on Bagby's menu. And that's really the bottom line. GrrChe provides something the Bagby doesn't, and vice versa.
I strongly support both in their endeavors. I am also a regular patron of both types of business. I think they provide different services to the city. Their presence means a smaller market for The Cheesecake Factory and Hooters and Chipotle and other purveyors of culinary abominations. I'm sure there are loyalists in both camps, but I'm also sure there is a lot of crossover customers like me. And, as any restaurateur can attest - people are fickle. I can change my mind in a moment. I did.
So while I continue to contemplate the state of the local food scene, feast your eyes on GrrChe's Grilled American on Sourdough with sliced tomato. It came with a piping hot cup of from-scratch tomato basil soup, a bag of Utz Kettle Crisps and the requisite deli pickle. It was, like my last GrrChe sandwich, cooked to perfection. And the gossip wasn't bad, either.