An idea that started out as a chuck wagon to feed hungry cowboys has evolved into one of the best ways to enjoy affordable, tasty food while investing money into your local economy. Yes, I’m talking about food trucks. A model that used to be associated with hot dog vendors and ice cream has morphed into a viable business for entrepreneurs who embrace the idea of serving “street food” as an alternative to fast food or chain restaurants.
A local favorite and winner of Edible Magazine’s “2016 Local Heroes” is Street Food Institute (SFI). They’ve taken the food truck concept to a whole new level, cooking up some of the most delicious food truck fare you’ll ever have the pleasure of eating – and doing it in a sustainable way!
“Empowering young people to succeed as culinary entrepreneurs, creating a new wave in healthy, delicious food truck culture, Street Food Institute is the epitome of a community organization.” – Edible Santa Fe
From Korean barbeque tacos to homemade bagels with green chile cream cheese and AMAZING sandwiches – SFI serves up something for everyone! Eclectic enough for the sophisticated pallet, but not too “froufrou” – food that can be enjoyed with an ice cold local beer, which is perfect because you can often find their trucks at Marble Brewery as well as both Tractor Brewing Co. locations.
The inspiration for SFI grew out of Steve Simon’s (E.D. of the Simon Charitable Foundation) vision of economic development in New Mexico, his love for street food from around the world, and the community building potential of the food truck concept. His short-term goal of helping people start their own businesses has developed into a CNM program that teaches entrepreneurship, builds community, promotes local agriculture and encourages healthy eating. SFI is a non-profit: sales from the trucks (along with grants), help fund the program and the trucks are run by CNM students and instructors, many of them going on to start their own food trucks.
Joe Meyer, a manager and intern in the program, is excited about having his own food truck in the near future and carrying on the tradition of using good quality ingredients by partnering with local farmers and creating recipes made from scratch. He admits it can be challenging. “We have to get creative when the fryer goes out and there’s a long line of people waiting to order, yet somehow it always comes together and we have a pretty loyal following.”
Jocelyn Gutierrez, a graduate of the program and owner of The Pink Ladies food truck says she is proud to be part of the local food truck community. When asked if she applies the same philosophy as SFI in her own business model, her response was an enthusiastic “YES!” Utilizing local vendors and preparing fresh food with seasonal veggies is a great source of pride for her – she wholeheartedly embraces the idea of sustainable business practices and has had great success in the few months she’s been in operation.
Dave Sellers, who runs the Street Food Institute along with Tina Garcia-Shams, says that their main challenge has been in keeping up with the rapid growth of the program and everything that goes with that.
“The rewards far outweigh the challenges – as a powerful workforce training/mentorship program we’ve been able to offer many students better opportunities in the workplace then they might have had otherwise. Our community outreach efforts have been substantial and we have alliances with many different local businesses and farms, providing great resources for our students. We’ve done a lot of events with Agri-Cultura Network during the last three years promoting local agriculture and healthy food choices. As far as the industry itself, I think this is a great time to be in the food truck business, or other small, food-based business startup. So much of our city’s food is outsourced to corporations that don’t contribute to the local economy and Albuquerque has shown a real interest in “going local.” By providing delicious food with ingredients from local businesses, it makes it easier for people to support our local economy – everybody has to eat right?” -Dave Sellars
You can find SFI at many different locations, including Tasty Tuesdays at Hyder Park from 4-7:30pm, a fun event featuring live music and a variety of food truck options. They’ll also be at the 8th Annual UNM Sustainability Expo on Thursday, April 21st from 10:30 – 2:30 on Cornell Mall just east of the Student Union Building – an exciting event featuring live entertainment, growers’ market, local artisans and much more!
-Posted by Pam