The second-annual ROAM Mobile Food Conference will roll into San Antonio Nov. 8-9. The conference at the Embassy Suites Hotel downtown is designed to share the ins and outs of the industry for people who are interested in owning a food truck or becoming involved in some way. Health inspections, business planning, marketing, and working with the City to obtain a permit, and more – all the information to secure a spot in San Antonio’s simmering moveable feast.
Christie Blake, founder of the Portland-based ROAM Mobile Food Conference, said she started the event when she saw the need for education – not only for food truck owners, but for entrepreneurs looking for information about an industry without any central leadership.
“I’ve been an event planner for 15 years, and my brother is a chef,” she said. “I’ve always wanted to start a food truck, but I quickly learned there’s not a whole lot of information for someone who is just starting out in the business. I’d really like for the (food truck) owners and anyone who’s interested in starting a food truck to come and enjoy the conference, be educated, and network as they would at any other professional conference,” she said.
Blake said ROAM is headed to San Antonio this year because of the city’s position as a key player in the food truck industry.
“San Antonio, according to Mobile-Cuisine.com, is the No. 1 city to open a mobile food truck right now,” Blake said. "It’s really important for us to find local support to host our event, and we’ve received tremendous support from the San Antonio Food Truck Association.”
And it's a fast-growing industry nationwide. According to a report by Emergent Research, food trucks will produce about $2.7 billion in revenue by 2017. In 2012, food truck revenue was estimated at $650 million by the National Restaurant Association.
“San Antonio is also a very cool, up-and-coming city and has set a very good example of how the city and food trucks can work together, so we’re using it as an example for other cities to host this international conference,” Blake said.
The success of Alamo Street Eat Bar, The Block, The Point Park and Eats and Boardwalk on Bulverde have helped create gathering places and networks for local, mobile cuisine connoisseurs. In 2012, Sameer Siddiqui, co-founder of the Rickshaw Stop food truck, and Keith Hill, owner of KHILL BBQ, established SAFTA, giving the businesses a foundation upon which to build further support from the city.
While opening and running a food truck in San Antonio has been very challenging, Siddiqui said, the SAFTA enabled food truck owners to work together to attract the Roam Mobile Food Conference to San Antonio and secure the commitment and interest of the City.
“It has been great to get organized and start an association, because now we can work with the City to write some of the new ordinances to make them more fair to our businesses,” Siddiqui said. “SAFTA runs the only official downtown food truck program in the state of Texas and has been, for the last year, managing all of our members.”
With a background in professional banking, Siddiqui helped write SAFTA’s code of conduct, code of ethics, and bylaws, creating a system in which food trucks are vetted and equipped with copies of health permits and insurance information. This helps food truck owners secure contracts with area businesses and organizations, including the Center City Development and Operations Department, Port San Antonio, H-E-B, USAA, and Rackspace – which frequency host food trucks for employees and special event.
The City’s Mobile Vending Requirements, which establish requirements by type of operation, enable the Rickshaw Stop and dozens of local food trucks to operate as kitchen on wheels. Background checks are required of certain food vendors and handlers, including those selling frozen or refrigerated confections, but have been required of all food trucks in the past, Siddiqui said.
“The (San Antonio) Restaurant Association understands that food trucks aren’t going away, and in fact, many of the restaurant members want food trucks because they know it increases their business,” he said. “People are understanding that food trucks aren’t the enemy but can help restaurants. We pay taxes like any other business would have to pay. That’s one of the main points of our association.”
The conference sessions will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, with a pre-conference workshop titled "Health Inspection How-Tos" by Matthew Geller, co-founder of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association, followed by another pre-conference workshop about marketing by Barb Upchurch of the Apple Cart Company and Patrice Cameau, creator of C.O.O.K.I.E.
John Levy, founder and president of the Minnesota Food Truck Association, will follow at 12:30 p.m. with a presentation on the Legal Line-Up of owning a food truck. The opening session begins at 3 p.m. with Blake, Geller, and Siddiqui.
Guests can meet with exhibitors throughout the day and enjoy a night out in San Antonio beginning at 6:30 p.m. Saturday evening at The Block food park and patio bar. Here they will have a chance to enjoy some of the cuisine offered by local and national trucks, including handmade gelato treats from HipPOPs Handcrafted Gelato Bars a conference sponsor hailing from Miami, Florida.
Anthony Fellows, founder of the micro-creamery, has been in the frozen desserts business for 30 years and looks forward to a chance to build a market and network in San Antonio.
“San Antonio is pretty prolific when it comes to the mobile food truck industry,” he said. “I pride myself on the born-on date of our products,” he said. “We’re not selling ice cream that’s been sitting around for a long time and shipped out by the manufacturer. Everything is made with really fresh, high-quality ingredients.”
As one of the founding members of the South Florida Mobile Food Truck Association, he said he’s looking to meet like-minded entrepreneurs and professionals from different segments of the industry.
Sunday will offer breakout sessions delving into the nitty-gritty components of the industry. Attendees will have a choice of three different educational tracks during the day.
A food truck owner who is also a lawyer will speak about the legal ramifications of the business, and another session will focus on how to transition from a food truck to a restaurant.
“ROAM is not only about helping people get started with a food truck, but helping the owner eventually open two, three, or four trucks,” Blake noted. “People ultimately open food trucks because they’re a less expensive, and often less intimidating, option to opening a restaurant.”
Food trucks have created a sensation in making food sexy again and offering people a fun, unconventional way to enjoy delicious food in an unconventional setting, she said.
The ROAM Mobile Food Conference will be held at the Embassy Suites Hotel at 125 E. Houston St. Conference organizers are looking for exhibitors, sponsors and attendees.
For more information about ROAM Mobile Food Conference, visit www.roamconference.com.
*Featured/top image: A line of people waiting to order Pakistani Street Food from the Rickshaw Stop, parked at the San Antonio International Accordion Festival. Photo courtesy of the Rickshaw Stop.