Saturday, March 5, 2011

Food Truck History Lesson

America is experiencing a “food truck invasion.” Actually, food trucks are an update of an old concept. Consequently, I would like to acknowledge another birthday this week, Charles Goodnight, inventor of a mobile kitchen known as the “Chuckwagon.”

Read On:
Charles Goodnight born March 5th, 1836 was a famous Texas rancher, better known as the “Father of the Texas Panhandle.” In addition to raising cattle, Charles was also a banker, newspaperman, silver miner and founder of Goodnight College which closed its doors in 1917. However, few people know that back in 1866 Charles, in recognition of the need to make meals easier on cattle drives, invented the chuckwagon. He outfitted an old Army wagon with kitchen shelves and drawers stocked with easy-to-preserve items like salted meats, beans, etc.; along with a water barrel, coffee grinder and a sling for kindling wood.

Flash forward to 2011. Food trucks, a contemporary form of mobile kitchens have become popular on both coasts thanks to delivering a wide variety of restaurant quality food, marketed via numerous social media tools. Having grown up in New York, I was familiar with hot dog carts that populated every busy street corner. Then I witnessed a wave of gyros and kebab carts; an occasional catering truck parked outside construction sites that served mystery tuna or chicken salad sandwiches on stale white bread with wilted lettuce. When I first moved to Philadelphia, I sampled the mobile trucks parked outside the University of Pennsylvania that serve ethnic foods like Chinese, Mexican and Caribbean, but were called "roach coaches" thanks to their questionable sanitation. But now the chuck, Goodnight’s slang word for food has gone upscale – everything from grass-fed organic burgers and hot dogs, sushi rolls, falafel, Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, etc. are being served.

A quick archeological dig revealed that the new wave of food trucks started in Los Angeles by Mark Manguera at a taco stand after a night of bar hopping. Mark, a Filipino married to a Korean had a drunken revelation, Korean barbecue on a taco. He partnered with his sister-in-law Alice Shin and friend Korean chef Roy Choi, enlisted his family and friends to orchestrate a social media movement and created the famous Kogi Korean BBQ taco truck. @kogibbq went viral in 2008. Soon other gourmet roving vehicles started popping up in LA., Portland, Seattle, NYC, South Florida, etc.

What’s next? Food truck lots (food courts) are beginning to surface. I cannot wait until someone organizes the first food truck festival inviting all the best food trucks in America. Maybe they should hold the festival in the Texas Panhandle and call it “Chuckstock” in honor of Charles Goodnight.

Happy Birthday Charles!


  1. My restauranteur brother-in-law and I are investigating a gourmet burger food truck here in ATL. THe various components are really expensive, so the ROI is not good enough to get financing. Great concept, tho. For examples from NYC, check this

  2. Food trucks were front page of Orlando Sentinel today. Idea is making its way to Florida.

  3. Everything old is new again!

  4. Jimmy,

    Having eaten at several of the "roach coaches" you mention as well as various NYC street vendors I feel I am well acquainted with this form of fast food.

    What I find interesting is that here in Boston several vendors have found success in defining specific niches. There are trucks that specialize in cupcakes, grilled cheese sandwiches and other specific food groups that are not generally associated with the food pyramid.

    It appears that knowing your market and appealing to it will always win. (BTY, some these vendors tweet their location.)


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  8. Hello!

    I came across your site and wanted to offer a contrasting argument on the origins of the food truck.

    Chuck wagons were exclusive to the cattle trade, and not for public consumption. Therefore, like the pushcart, a precursor to the food truck.

    The first mobile eateries selling food for public consumption were diners, which began in Providence RI in 1872. A lesser know fact is that the original diners were all on wheels, making them the first food trucks.

    Best wishes,
    Jeff Toste, Director
    "The Original Food Truck," Haven Brothers: Legacy of the American Diner

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