A trend that began on the West Coast has swept the nation and impacted the restaurant business in Stillwater.
Within the last four years, food trucks have infiltrated the streets of Stillwater, providing residents with various types of specialty cuisines.
Dan Purdy is the owner of Purdy Q Mobile Smoke Pit, which has been in Stillwater for 11 months.
Purdy said he was attracted to the idea of starting a business out of a food truck because of the low overhead cost and the flexibility of being a mobile business.
“If I were to open a brick and mortar, it would probably be three times as much as it cost me to get into the truck,” he said.
The start-up cost for Purdy Q Mobile Smoke Pit was about $50,000, Purdy said.
He said he built the truck himself, eliminating much of the cost.
“If I were to go out and buy this truck set-up like this, just the truck itself would be $85,000 to $90,000,” Purdy said.
In addition to lower cost, the owner enjoys having a flexible schedule.
“I like having the freedom,” Purdy said. “I’m here today, I’m somewhere else tomorrow. There is an extreme amount of flexibility with operating a food truck.”
Purdy said when the tornado hit Carney last year, he was able to shut down in Stillwater and serve free meals to those affected.
“It is a perfect platform to serve in an emergency,” he said.
Through his unique business style, Purdy has been able to show generosity to his customers.
“We gave away like 3,000 meals last year out of this truck,” he said. That is huge. I couldn’t do that in a brick-and-mortar restaurant.”
Pie on the Fly, another popular food truck, serves one-of-a-kind fried pies and is relatively new to Stillwater.
Stephen Griffin, Alex Campbell and Brady London opened Pie on the Fly in October 2013.
Griffin and Campbell went through the entrepreneurship program at Oklahoma State University, which they believe has helped them start their business.
Like Purdy, the owners of Pie on the Fly were able to purchase a truck for a low cost and build it into a business.
So far, the owners can only describe their experience as just plain fun.
“There is just this stigma of food trucks being really fun,” Griffin said. “That’s kind of what food trucks have become known for, in my opinion, you know, this off-kilter, unique food source.”
The owners use their food truck to experiment with different, creative food combinations.
“We love coming in with crazy stuff that nobody has seen before,” London said.
Jim Hopper, president and CEO of The Oklahoma Restaurant Association, said food trucks are popular because of their originality and mobility.
“(Food trucks) are doing a really great job on their food preparation, their innovation and their menu items, so you add all of that together, and their convenience, their popularity just continues to grow,” Hopper said.
Food truck owners are required to obtain a license from the county in which they wish to operate and are subject to inspection.
“They have to operate under the same food safety standards that restaurants have to operate under,” Hopper said.
As far as the future of the food truck industry, Hopper said he believes that it will only flourish.
“(The trend) will continue to grow. I think it will evolve.”
In just a few weeks, Stillwater will welcome what is projected to be the largest food truck in Oklahoma.
Wade and Angie Mendez plan to open The Saucee Sicilian, a wood-fired oven food truck.
The design of the truck will stand out among others because it will include a seating area and two televisions.
The truck will feature Italian food from original family recipes.
“I think Stillwater is a very open town for trying new things,” Angie Mendez said.
Purdy said he believes the food truck business will continue to expand because the product is so unique.
“It’s food truck food,” Purdy said. “It’s really unique. When you order food from a food truck, you’re going to get something that you do not get anywhere else.”