Hamilton has a new love; a love for food trucks.
Whether it’s gorilla-friendly grilled cheese or a cupcake-serving diner, these tasty trucks cannot be missed.
And if closing down an entire street to host a food truck celebration is not a testament to Hamilton’s devotion to this reinvented way of eating, I’m not quite sure what is. So why is Hamilton so obsessed with food trucks? Before we can ponder the why, we need to first explore the how; how Hamilton got here.
Food trucks were once synonymous with greasy spoon favourites. You know, the usual food suspects; burgers, fries, the odd poutine, and, of course, ice cream. There was nothing particularly exciting about patronizing these trucks but it was a good old standby that guaranteed to satisfy hunger pangs for fairly little. . . . and then there was fire.
The revival of the food truck scene was set ablaze in Los Angeles giving life to the evolution of food trucks.
The grease-trap vehicles of yesterday have transformed into the gourmet restaurants on wheels of today. The next generation is sophisticated without being pretentious, cutting edge, and unapologetic. They are what food carts want to be and what restaurants fear: the cool kids. The wild fire spread throughout the United States, stoked by shows such as Eat St., and made its way across the border with Hamilton at the forefront.
Food trucks for the more discriminating palate now abound in Hamilton. Foodies and curious folk alike devotedly wait in long lines braving the elements for a taste of unconventional food truck fare such as pulled pork grilled cheese sandwiches, chicken tacos, southern style brisket, and caramel apple pie cupcakes.
Over the past year, Hamilton has quickly established itself as one of the frontrunners of the Ontario food truck industry. Case in point, Hamilton is home to Sew Hungry, the largest food truck event in Canada, hosted on Hamilton’s eclectic Ottawa Street.
Since Sew Hungry was cooked up in 2011, Hamilton has had three helpings of Sew Hungry; the third to be served up on Sept 21.
Compared to the last Sew Hungry festival in May, the fall edition will host more than double the number of participating food truckers (from nine to 22), most of which are Hamilton-based, and is anticipated to exceed the 12,000 food enthusiasts who ate their way through the sea of food trucks in the spring.
Here’s another way to look at it. There’s a whole lot more food trucks in Hamilton than in Toronto. Hamilton has 12 food trucks serving half a million people while Toronto has 14 food trucks serving over two and a half million. So why do Hamiltonians have such deep feelings for roaming food?
Patty Hayes, Executive Director of the Ottawa Street Business Improvement Area who brought Sew Hungry to the streets, credits the enthusiasm to Hamiltonians’ appetite to try something new.
More importantly, she attributes the success to Hamilton’s undying loyalty, endearingly referring to Hamiltonians as “Hamilton cheerleaders.”
Graeme Smith, co-owner of Gorilla Cheese, adds credence to this by saying that Hamilton’s food truck triumph is a result of Hamilton’s pride in supporting something that is their own.
The coolness factor may also account for this love affair made possible by social media.
Twitter, Facebook, blog, whatever; a buzz is created and everyone wants to see what the hype is about.
Smith believes that social media has played a significant role in creating and influencing the refined and redefined food truck experience.
“It’s like an egg hunt; a new way of getting food.”
Smith says that people either wait for the food truck to enter their area or they hunt for it using social media. In fact, social media has been such a powerful tool in establishing Gorilla Cheese that close to 80 percent of Smith’s customers have found him through either Twitter or Facebook.
And let’s not forget about the social aspect.
When food lovers come together something magical happens. Smith says that his dedicated customers sometimes wait in line for more than two hours but are willing to overlook a horrendous line-up because they share a common denominator: a love of good food.
This commonality has turned the experience of lining-up into a social gathering building the anticipation and helping to pass time; a unique part of the contemporary food truck experience.
Whatever is true, partaking in this food phenomenon is helping to reshape and rebuild part of Hamilton’s lost economy and, in the process, showing how food can bring a community together. Or maybe the bottom line is the most obvious; good times. Hayes couldn’t have said it better, “It’s actually kind of fun.”