June 16, 2017

​​Morning Sun

With a goal of boosting business for small entrepreneurs and providing a fun community event, a Central Michigan University offshoot has hosted weekly Food Truck Fridays the past three summers.

Created and hosted at the CMU Research Corporation – located at 2625 Denison Drive – the weekly event brings in local food trucks and vendors to bring them exposure and allow residents to try a wide variety of different foods.

CMURC, which functions to help entrepreneurs grow their businesses, started the event in 2014 when a local food truck went to them for help attracting customers. The group thought to block off its parking lot and has since added other businesses every year for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekly summer event.

CMURC President and CEO Erin Strang said supporting local business “is what it’s all about.”

“These are not (just) businesses, they are your neighbors,” she said. “To be able to help support your neighbors and then hire you or your family (is special). It is just community members helping community members.”

Strang said Food Truck Friday has grown significantly each year and gets close to 200 customers each week. She added that businesses are now reaching out due to the event’s popularity.

“It’s been fantastic. We’ve continued the growth between the vendors and the participants,” she said. “It’s always surprising when somebody comes in and says it is their first time. It’s exciting to see that we still have new people coming in and others that are consistent and come on a regular basis too.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to bring in restaurants that don’t normally have a food truck to come in and do their own marketing and leverage things.”

Last year, Strang and her staff had the idea to have head-to-head competitions each week to spice up Food Truck Friday. Each week, two trucks with similar food will compete against one another and customers vote on their favorite dishes.

This year, Greentree Cooperative Grocery and Little Miss Cupcake faced off the first week and Soul Sista’s went up against Yum Baked Goods this week.

Last Friday, it was the battle for best barbecue when Marl’s BBQ went head-to-head with Phat Matt’s Food Trailer. Phat Matt’s came out victorious, 136-129.

Matt Lotarski, owner Phat Matt’s Food Trailer, was thrilled with the victory and has seen a rise in business at his restaurant, the Wheatland Avenue Grill.

“That was the first competition we’ve ever done. It was quite a joyful ride home,” he said. “There is always a great crowd here and we’re getting people coming to the restaurant now. It has been a great thing for us.”

Roger Irwin, owner of Marl’s BBQ, said ‘Food Truck Friday’ brings a whole new crowd to his traveling business, which is needed in today’s market.

“People want a variety. If you sit in one spot all the time, you’re going to lose (business),” he said. “It’s oversaturating the market and people want different foods. The only bad thing about (the event) is most of the time I don’t get the chance to try anyone else’s stuff because I’m so busy.”

Jessica Cieslak, of Mt. Pleasant, has been coming to ‘Food Truck Friday’ since 2015 and has continued to bring friends and co-workers with her. She said the event is “great” because she always gets to try different tasty treats.

“I love food trucks. It came up on my Facebook feed and I’ve been coming here ever since,” she said. “It’s been cool to watch it grows and it’s been great to see different food trucks in here. I love food and don’t like to eat the same thing every time.”

Dog Central, Max and Emily’s and Mountain Town Station are among the local businesses that will compete in the head-to-head competitions this summer. Food Truck Friday goes until Aug. 25 when all the victors will be brought back for a winner’s showcase.