Tulsa Food Truck Festival or: The Day That Angie Johnson’s Food Truck Ruined My Life

By on October 3, 2012

Last weekend was packed with options and exciting ways to spend time and money supporting small local businesses. A friend and I planned our Saturday carefully: lunch at the festival, then down to the Brady district for the Indie Emporium, followed by drinks/dessert somewhere nearby if time permitted before 4pm, when we both needed to be at work.

We rolled up to the festival around 12:30, found a parking spot and almost skipped with excitement toward the trucks. The first thing I noticed was the glaring absence of the Lone Wolf bahn mi truck. Funny – I’d just read an article in Wednesday’s Tulsa World, singing the praises of Phillip Phillips’ new truck and promising that his delicious Vietnamese sandwiches would be available for all to enjoy at the Food Truck Festival. Ah, well – plans change after press releases are made, I suppose.

A quick survey of the remaining options led us to Angie’s Street Eats, a truck operated by Angie Johnson, chef/owner of Eats2U Catering. The menu looked promising enough to entice us to stand in line for upwards of 45 minutes just to order. They were understaffed, that much was clear – there was a gentleman taking orders and just Johnson inside cooking. But the line was moving steadily forward and so we stayed the course. Our order was taken, payment rendered and it was off to the sidelines to wait.

After about 20 minutes, it became clear that there was a problem – the gentleman out front stopped taking orders and instead turned to fussing around with the arrangement of disposable cutlery and napkins on a table. He got himself some water, went in and out of the truck several times, ostensibly to converse with Johnson, and generally just avoided contact with the ever-increasingly discontent throngs of customers.

Let me pause here to be clear – I do not have a problem with busy food trucks (or restaurants, for that matter) taking a long time to fulfill orders. What I do have a problem with is a basic lack of preparation, planning and communication. More on that in a minute.

Order fulfillment had ground almost to a halt at this point and we continued to wait. One after another, customers approached the order taker and inquired about their food. Informed that the wait would continue, many asked for their money back and left, hungry and disgruntled. My friend and I decided to hang on a while longer. Our wait was approaching the 45 minute mark.

At about 60 minutes, we saw the person ahead of us in line receive food. Excited that (finally!) it was almost our turn, we moved to the front. At this point, the order taker turned to me and asked if I was Aubrae. I answered that I was, to which he replied, “Your order was next, but we ran out of taco product. As soon as he gets back from the store we can make your food.” I was incredulous. We ordered four items, only one of which was tacos. Had it not occurred to them to make the non-taco items in the meantime? To let us know what the holdup was? Or, better, to inform us of the shortage and give us the option to change the order? I asked if they could make the other three menu items and refund our money for the tacos. He did so and at 2:40, a full 2 hours and 10 minutes after arriving at the festival and 1 hour and 25 minutes after placing it, we received our order of: split pea hummus with veggies, black bean sliders and sweet potato fries. Good food? Sure. Worth the wait. Absolutely not.

I’ve run highly successful food trucks in two cities, Seattle and Oklahoma City. While the road is not always smooth, there are a few basic guidelines that will make your life easier and your customers happier:

1. If your menu items take an excessive amount of à la minute preparation, they are not well suited to a food truck. I’d suggest things that can predominantly be made/prepped ahead of time and merely assembled on site, or that can be cooked on site in large-ish batches prior to the actual order.

2. If you’re going to a show-and-sell, or any situation where the number of customers is unknown, as is the case with a festival in its inaugural year, it is wise to overstaff as a precautionary measure. Extra staff can always be sent home early, but not produced at a moment’s notice when you find yourself in the weeds.

3. If you run into a situation in which you are running low on product or know that orders will take much, much longer than is reasonable to produce, let. your. customers. know. Communication is key.

4. If you advertise that you’re going to be somewhere, especially in print media, which cannot be corrected as quickly/easily as a FB or Twitter feed, you’d better show up.

5. And, most important, do not commit to an event if you’re not ready or able to perform at top capacity – the people you piss off through poor service & execution will most certainly spread the word, far wider and more forcefully than any person whom you please.

We left the festival around 3 pm, decided it best to bail on the Indie Emporium, as after the drive we’d be left with only about 30 min to peruse, and hit the bar to wash the bitter taste of disappointment from our mouths before reporting to work. Here’s to next year… maybe.

Aubrae Filipiak: Author

I have always loved restaurants.

As a kid, I would beg to go out to eat almost every night. It was something about the spectacle of it all that got me hooked – the sequence of service unfolding like a plot, four meals hitting the table simultaneously, the servers moving lithely among tables packed with chattering guests. The food was almost an afterthought.

My first job was as a waitress in a small Mexican restaurant at age 16. I’d been bitten by the bug and I’ve never looked back. Fast forward more years than I’d like to admit and I am a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and have made a career out of working in restaurants around the country. The food’s much more important to me now, but the spectacle still has the power to captivate me.

Now, let’s eat!

About Aubrae Filipiak