Foodie Underground: Who Wants to Launch an Airstream Taco Truck?

ColumnWhat fuels our desire to combine food and business.

It was only a matter of time before a small-town Airstream food truck opportunity that involved tacos crossed my path. No, really.

Over a sunny, Saturday morning coffee in Salida, Colorado this weekend, the conversation was going a little something like this:

“We need someone to get the Airstream taco truck going. We already have the Airstream and the space. You ladies in?” Annie, a go-getter, mountain biking bad ass asked us hopefully, in the kind of voice that you know someone is trying to insist on something really hard.

My friend Megan and I looked at each other. We both have jobs, and love our urban friends and living spaces, but I could see the wheels turning in her head thinking about all it would take to make this a possibility. How often are you propositioned with opening a food venture in a small town that several of your friends live in? Not every day.

Let me back up a little.

Food is a constant theme between a close group of friends of mine. New Years was devoted to the overconsumption of tacos in Baja, Mexico, the following winter months sharing recipes and the warmer spring days catching up over outdoor weekend brunches.

We’re spread out, two of us in Portland and others in Colorado. The geographic distance between us has lead to plenty of emails, group texts (often with food photos) and Skype chats, the former being exactly how I first found out about the Airstream.

“I have an idea to run by you,” my friend Beda kicked off one weekend call.

“Yes…” I responded, knowing fully well that anytime Beda has an idea it’s going to be a good one.

“So we’re thinking of starting a taco truck in Salida, because there’s no good place to get a burrito! And it would be in an Airstream,” she continued.

At this point we launched into the logistics of running a food establishment – logistics that neither of us have any experience in – and whether or not it was possible.

“And then you could move down here and run it!” she said.

I laughed and we left things at that.

Flash forward to five months later when myself and my fellow Portland foodie urbanite – yes, we eat sea salt with everything – Megan were drinking coffee with the Salida crew that we had come to visit.

“So, that food truck… we need someone to run it. We already have the wine tasting room and the distillery on board, and the space is right next to the new bike shop. You could serve locally roasted coffee, and breakfast burritos to all the skiers in the winter. You ladies want to move down here and take on the project?” Annie was all over this.

Wine, bikes and tacos? My heart skipped a beat.

These are all things that have become ubiquitous with urban food hot spots, you can barely walk five blocks in Portland, San Francisco or Brooklyn without coming across an off-the-cuff food operation, be it a food truck, a waffle window or a refurbished storage container that sells local food. But rural Colorado where there’s a good mix of mountain bikers, cowboys, river guides and four wheel truck drivers, is something different. On the other hand, isn’t this where free range local beef and real artisan goat cheese is just down the road? Good food abounds even if it’s not drizzled in truffle oil (although if you’re ever in Salida, be sure to try the truffle oil fries at The Fritz).

Can’t you envision an Airstream parked here serving up homemade tacos and burritos?

What is it about a food venture that is so appealing?

“You should open a restaurant!” is a common phrase heard at dinner parties when someone cooks a delicious meal, and who hasn’t had romantic visions of starting a brewery where you can serve local food and craft beer? Grab coffee at a quaint cafe with art on the walls and local bands playing at night while you’re on vacation and you’ll soon find yourself thinking, “we should have something like that here,” as soon as you return home.

Food is primal, and providing our communities with a chance to enjoy it is appealing. Seductive even.

There is of course the reality, and at the back of my mind I always hear my mother saying, “you don’t want to run a restaurant, you need balance.” Mothers like to give that kind of advice, especially if they know you well. There is no denying that a job in the food industry is a stressful and time consuming one. But it’s also rewarding.

Making food is making sustenance, and turning it into an art in the process. It’s about providing people with a place to eat, but also a place to appreciate good food and the community around them, all things that even those of us sitting around drinking coffee and discussing the potential business venture, without any restaurant or food truck management experience under our belts, are passionate about.

I am by no means trying to over-romanticize the everyday logistics that go into such a project, or even say that I would be willing to commit to it.

Run a restaurant and you need to put food on the table. Every. Single. Day. Or at least every single day you commit to being open. You also have to do fun jobs like inventory, permitting and clean-up. But at the end of the day, you’re still running a business that’s all about food. Shouldn’t everything we do in life be a labor of love? And what requires more love than good food?

We may not all launch a restaurant, but plenty of people out there are passionate about what they eat and drink and pursuing successful business ventures, from baking to support nonprofits, to hosting local farm-to-table tours, to roasting specialty coffee and delivering it on a bike. There is a reward in giving back to a community that you can’t put a dollar value to, and what better way to do so than through food and drink?

It might be a stretch to say “change the world one food truck at a time” but if in doing so we are creating a better conversation around food, what’s to say that this isn’t the tipping point? We all need to eat, and if we can have affordable and equitable access to a healthy product, the faster we can influence a path to positive change in the realm of food politics.

Airstream taco truck in Salida, Colorado? Who knows. But the seed has been planted, and at the very least, it’s fun to dream.

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment of Anna Brones’s weekly column at EcoSalon, Foodie Underground, discovering what’s new and different in the underground food movement, from supper clubs to mini markets to the culinary avant garde.

Images: Anna Brones

Anna Brones

Anna Brones is a food + travel writer with a love for coffee and bikes. She is the author of The Culinary Cyclist and Fika: The Art of the Swedish Coffee Break. Catch her weekly column, Foodie Underground.