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Temporarily banned from many locations due to coronavirus restrictions, food truck operators from the Jacksonville area are on their way to offer their popular tariff to customers who want their mobile meals.
Food trucks and restaurants, recognized as essential retail and commercial operations, can continue to operate safer-at-home under the order of Safer-at-Home issued Wednesday by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.
To stay open, these companies must adhere to previously imposed restrictions, including social distancing mandates.
The mayor’s order, which will come into effect on Friday at 12:01 a.m., states: “… catering services under this exemption must not allow food to be eaten at the place where it is provided or at one other meeting place. “
Governor Ron DeSantis followed shortly afterwards on Wednesday with a similar statewide Safer-at-Home assignment.
Despite this exemption, which allows them to continue serving, food trucks – like their colleagues from the stationary restaurant – are struggling to survive, say their operators.
The dish at Urban Food Park on Hogan Street in downtown Jacksonville – a major food truck venue – will remain open for the time being, said Mike Fields, co-founder and manager of the location.
“We have been open to stay at home since orders began as we are still offering take-away meals to the important staff staying downtown,” Fields said in an email to the Times-Union on Thursday. Hence, it is difficult to make definitive statements about the current business hours etc. “
Food truck owners are venturing into residential neighborhoods, doing more catering and relying on restaurants to make up for the business lost to the virus.
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The owners of three popular food trucks – Umami Food Truck & Catering, Vucca Street Food, and Cackylacky’s – told the Times Union that this challenge is unlike any other they have faced before.
Gus Budayana only had one client during the typically start of a crowded lunch rush on Tuesday.
“We’re slow right now. It’s not good, but we’re just trying to make something instead of doing nothing, ”said Budayana, chef and owner of Umami, which specializes in hibachi, sushi Asian fusion on wheels.
Umami was in an office complex near Gate Parkway and JTB on the south side of town. Some of the nearby offices are still open, he said.
The void was eerie. It showed how tough the food truck business has been since the coronavirus pandemic hit Jacksonville.
“It affected us drastically. I would say about 80 percent of what we would normally do, ”said Budayana, who has owned the truck for three years.
That’s a huge lunchtime loss for a Jacksonville food truck model like Umami, he said.
Fortunately, he said, they have more shops for dinner. They usually go to the St. Augustine area and other St. Johns County parishes.
Customers there worked at home during the day but came out in the evening to get something to eat from the food truck, he said.
“We have been blessed that a lot of people come to the truck regularly. I feel really happy about it, ”he said of her loyal customers.
The crowd at dinner helped make up for the lunchtime loss.
So far, he has not had to lay off any employees because of the slowdown in business. But he changes shifts so everyone can keep working.
Budayana, the Food Truck Community, said: “It’s really strong. We all help each other and I am very grateful for that. “
“The food truck owners here in Jacksonville are stronger together. We have become a family and we help each other, ”he said as they share tips and advice on locations.
“ROLLING WITH THE PUNCHES”
Vucca Street Food, specializing in local Italian and Italian-American street food, is a relative newcomer to the Jacksonville area’s food truck scene.
“Overall, we’ve seen a huge increase in neighborhoods contacting us to come out,” said chef and owner Damian Marc Del Pizzo, who launched his food truck in early July.
“We’re rolling with the punches,” he said on Tuesday.
Neighborhoods as far as Yulee contacted him to bring them the food truck.
“They say we want to try to feed our neighborhood, but we want to do it safely with social distancing and other guidelines,” he said.
Vucca “orders online and everything else they can” to safely provide people with access to food they are used to eating in restaurants and outside of our truck without harming anyone’s health, he said .
Food truck owners are both very resilient and innovative people – assets in troubled times like now, he noted.
“Our stores are all designed to be self-sufficient,” said Del Pizzo.
They have all the tools to be hygienic and clean, and they are inspected just like stationary restaurants, he said.
Cashiers always wear gloves and continually clean and disinfect the truck to show the public their commitment to food safety, he said.
You are currently trying to limit cash transactions. By trying to keep it strict on credit or debit cards and by encouraging pre-orders, the truck is trying to reduce potential exposure to the virus, he said.
For now, Vucca continues to look for crowds for lunch. It is less than half of his business, he said.
The situation, he said, requires them all to adjust and hurry to find out where and when people will be.
“If you don’t conform. If you have to rely on someone to book you a place and manually provide you with information about where people are, you are in trouble, ”said Del Pizzo.
Del Pizzo said one thing many owners are struggling with is the supply chain.
“We’re not restaurants so it’s a lot harder for some of us to order food, especially given the inconsistencies in the business,” he said. It was a bit of a strain to find ingredients.
“We are dealing with the fact that we have to be one of the consumers who buy for their home. Which is fine, but it can definitely limit your menu, limit your creativity and limit what you can offer, ”said Del Pizzo.
CUSTOMIZE TO SURVIVE
Anthony Bushee, owner of Cackylacky’s Food Truck, said Tuesday that “the way we do business has changed dramatically”.
“A lot of people don’t just have to work from home, schools are closed, including universities, and every major event we had planned through 2020 has either been canceled or postponed,” said Bushee, who has been running the food truck for three years owns and operates.
“For us, it means a lot of the business has been taken away, including the Players Championship where several local companies lost tens of thousands in revenue,” he said.
The PGA Tour’s cancellation of the TPC on March 12th generated millions in revenue for restaurants in northeast Florida, including food trucks, hotels, and other businesses.
Due to social distancing regulations, any events that the trucks previously held for business purposes – rallies, bouncy castles, disc jockey parties, and other gatherings – are no longer permitted.
Bushee said, in order to survive, food truck operators must learn to adapt like any other company should.
“Customers have been with us for the past few weeks and I am extremely blessed to have this and support,” said Bushee.
He has taken several steps to make it easier for customers to put the award-winning Angus beef burgers and other products on his food truck menu.
“We’re offering call-ahead ordering, touchless payments, promoting social distancing, and running an express menu to not only streamline operations but also give our customers quick access,” he said.
Bushee said they are working to find a more permanent location to run a drive through service out of the truck.
But the unfortunate reality, Bushee said, “is that there will be an enormous death due to this pandemic. Loss of life and death to our economy. “
“We all need to be prepared in some way to lower this toll and do everything we can to adapt and overcome,” said Bushee.
The end result, food truck owners said, is more than dollars and cents.
“I would hope that consumers understand that we are doing our best to offer the best possible product that we can even in this difficult time,” said Del Pizzo.
Teresa Stepzinski: (904) 359-4075
This content is being made available free of charge to our readers as a public service during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Times-Union / jacksonville.com.