Rochester food trucks: Outshining Buffalo? - INTERVIEW
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • January 09, 2013 @ 11:13am
A Rochester food truck made a splash at a major Buffalo food event, as Tim Gorie’s Chowder Up truck captured two Buffalo Soup-Fest awards: “Best Chowder” and “Best Seafood.” Even more impressive is the fact that Chowder Up—a trippy, 1972 truck that specializes in a fresh approach to seafood—has only been in business since August and is stretching its vending boundaries to the Queen City.
“We had a blast at Soup-Fest,” Gorie, who’s informally known as “Chef Tim,” explained in a phone call this morning. “People were going crazy for our chowder—we used over 100 quarts and handed out 700 servings.”
After witnessing Chowder Up’s success at a Buffalo event—where only the Roaming Buffalo food truck and R & R BBQ represented the Queen City—we decided it was worth investigating the Rochester food truck scene. How does it compare to Buffalo’s? Is it more diverse? At what stage is the legislation?
Buffalo Eats’ Donnie Burtless and Alli Suriani trekked to Rochester in early December to sample the wares of Le Petit Poutine (BE’s photo, right) and Brick-N-Motor, two of nearly a dozen food trucks meandering the streets of the 585 area code.
Here’s a snippet from the Buffalo Eats post, which is replete with gushing praise and a hint of drool:
Our food truck experience in Rochester was really eye opening, we had no idea that Rochester had such an impressive array of food truck cuisines. We will shortly have an interview on the site with Brick-N-Motor co-owner/chef Paul Vroman to talk about his background as well as the messed up legislation and legal issues that they are dealing with (they are actually worse than what Buffalo food trucks deal with).
I strongly encourage all Buffalo foodies to make the ~60 minute drive to Rochester to check out these trucks on a weekend. The trucks out there are really doing great things and offering unique food that you can’t get at many restaurants.
As Burtless alluded to, the legislation process has been far from smooth in Rochester. There are no permits aside from hot dog carts designated for the inner-loop, and the City of Rochester appears to be dragging its feet in determining fees, taking safety measures and providing the limitations of a permit.
“We’re about a year behind Buffalo,” Gories agreed. “Right now it’s a fiasco—things are moving very low, and we don’t really know what the city officials are doing.”
In our short chat with Lloyd Taco Truck’s Peter Cimino, the co-owner of Buffalo’s most successful food truck drew a surprisingly rosy picture of our neighbor’s food truck scene, and even hinting that Rochester’s legislation at least appears to be moving forward.
“The [food truck’s] food is great,” said Cimino, who visited with the Rochester food truck coalition recently, suggesting that the city’s entrepreneurs look to the Institute for Justice for support—a major catalyst for Buffalo’s food truck legislation. “Their trucks are more diverse [in terms of menu], and they seem more hungry. They’re in the ‘fighting stage’ right now, and maybe our trucks have taken things for granted.”
Filling culinary niches from arepas to seafood chowder to poutine to vegetarian-vegan dishes, Rochester’s food trucks boast options for diverse and sophisticated palates. Even without firm legislation—which prevents vendors from serving inside the inner-loop (densely populated at ~ one million business people per month) at the discretion of each individual town or district—creative truck owners are scrapping and clawing for a foothold—or simply, “progress.”
Why the diversity in food options? Gorie (whose fish taco is pictured above) speculates that the chicken wing—or the chicken as a whole—is so central to Buffalo’s identity that breaking away from the mold isn’t often the safest choice.
“We really have no food identity in Rochester,” Gorie admitted, “unless it’s the white-hot and red-hots [hot dogs] from Zweigle’s. Basically, the food truck owners said, ‘Let’s do something different!’ and ‘Why are we locked into hot dogs?’”
“Plus, we don’t really want to compete [among each other],” the Chowder Up owner added. “People got creative—we have arepas with black beans after all—and I’ve always told [owners] to choose their menus wisely because that’s what customers will know you by.”
Collaboration with the Buffalo food truck scene is in the works. Gorie has already reached out to the organizers of the Lewiston Concert Series and is intrigued by vending with other trucks in Amherst. He’d love to participate in a Buffalo food truck rally, and he pointed to the success of Rochester’s Food Truck Rodeos and massive public market as opportunities for Queen City trucks to explore Rochester’s scene.
“It’s such a short drive,” Gories added, noting that the trip—due to the weight of the truck—took just shy of two hours. “We’re just neighbors.”
Kudos to Rochester for fighting the same battles that Buffalo fought, and the Flower City has displayed a creativity and risk-taking that few in Buffalo have pursued. Instead of taking our neighbors’ positives as a threat, can we respond through cooperation, an open mind and improvement?