Back in 2008, the Curbside food truck was one of the hottest mobile eateries in Baton Rouge, slinging burgers made with ground beef sent through a countertop grinder and adorned with fried eggs, praline bacon preserves, homemade pickles and other snazzy toppings. Hand-cut Parmesan truffle fries were further evidence that the concept, founded by entrepreneur Nick Hufft, surpassed quotidian concessions. Its popularity also helped propel Baton Rouge’s then-burgeoning food truck scene.
Curbside’s strong brand helped it later grow into a brick-and-mortar restaurant, opening on Government Street in 2016. Hufft and business partner Lon Marchand also opened several other freestanding concepts, including The Overpass Merchant in Baton Rouge, Junior’s on Harrison in New Orleans, and Gail’s Fine Ice Cream in New Orleans and Baton Rouge.
But Curbside’s food truck origin story remains part of the restaurant group’s ethos. Nicknamed “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” for its wear and tear, the beloved truck was brought back in 2020 to support operations during the pandemic and has since been used for catered events. (As a nod to the original truck, Curbside’s décor features a piece of a truck found at a junkyard, Hufft says.) The restaurant group added a catering truck for Gail’s, too.
Just last month, the company announced it had procured a 28-foot truck Hufft describes as “the size of Cousin Eddie’s RV” from Christmas Vacation. The new vehicle will be equipped to serve items from all the restaurant group’s menus for catered events. Hufft says it could also be used for beta testing fresh concepts in new geographic areas.
“We’re actually reverting back to our roots,” Hufft says.
The evolving relationship between food trucks and restaurants plays out in other interesting ways in the Capital Region.
Electric Depot’s recently opened KOK Wings has food truck origins, too. KOK founders and fraternity brothers Avery Bell, Corey McCoy, Jared Johnson and Tre’Jan Vinson were cooking for college house parties in 2016 while at the University of Louisiana Lafayette. A year later, their wings’ popularity inspired them to sell them via mobile cart.
“We bought a trailer off of Craigslist,” Vinson says. “It got so busy in the first location, we had to move to a bigger one.”
That convinced the founders to roll the dice on a brick-and-mortar location, which they opened on East University Avenue in Lafayette in 2018. Vinson says the truck has since been decommissioned so the team can focus on three permanent locations in Lafayette, Baton Rouge and New Iberia.
Even restaurants that didn’t start as food trucks see the value in branded mobile catering, some operators say. Chow Yum Phat is one. The concept started in the former White Star Market and morphed into a full-service restaurant in the Perkins Road Overpass District in 2019.
Since then, the eatery has added a trailer to support its robust traditional and Viet-Cajun crawfish business every spring. Owner Jordan Ramirez says it’s also enabled the restaurant to participate in special events, including the Soulful Sundays concert series taking place in nearby Beauvoir Park this month.
“The trailer lets us pivot,” Ramirez says. “We like the idea of being able to take it out and do events with favorite items or even different menus.”
WHICH CAME FIRST?
THESE RESTAURANTS NOW OPERATE BOTH FOOD TRUCKS AND BRICKS-AND-MORTAR SPOTS—BUT HOW DID THEY GET STARTED?
This article was originally published in the October 2023 issue of 225 magazine.