The Success of Food Trucks in Charlottesville

By: Suzanne Wilson Email
By: Suzanne Wilson Email

April 30, 2013

Food trucks aren't new to Charlottesville. We see them at festivals, Fridays After Five, and even parked outside wineries and breweries.

But, more and more food trucks can be found parked downtown and around Charlottesville during lunch and dinner.

One of the most noticeable food trucks is that of Carpe Donut. Matthew Rohdie and his family pride themselves on their organic, homemade donuts.

"We started in early 2008 going downtown across from the library to a private parking lot and just setting up on Wednesdays every week," said Matthew Rohdie, owner of Carpe Donut. "That was very instrumental in people coming to know us. We wanted something that would be much better served hot and fresh."

Food trucks have become so popular around town that that city council is moving forward with new laws that state where trucks can and cannot serve food.

The next question that comes about is, how successful can a fleet of food trucks be in such a small city? There are 14 food trucks in Charlottesville and 16 trucks in Albemarle County.

"We act like a much bigger city than we are sometimes and it feels like a much bigger city than it is," Rohdie explained. "But there are not as many people here that would be necessary to support that kind of daily street-vending operation."

Husband-and-wife duo Justin and Keshia Wert just opened up their food truck, Mouth Wide Open, in January 2013.

"One of the things we looked at when we were trying to figure out if it would be a viable business was when we looked around, there really weren't any food trucks," Justin Wert said.

The Werts have lived in and visited some of the country's biggest food truck cities. Mouth Wide Open's menu brings slider sandwiches inspired by their travels.

"We want to bring it all here to Charlottesville," Keshia Wert said. "We know it's a foodie town and we just want to bring our own flavor to Charlottesville."

After just five months of operating, they see their business as having endless opportunities with the growth of the local food truck culture.

"I think the sky is the limit," Justing Wert said. "I see that this is a town that really fosters small businesses."

Another new food truck to Charlottesville is the Hanu Truck. The owner, Patrick Kim, is a Los Angeles native. He opened up his truck 10 weeks ago. The truck's specialty is Korean barbecue. Los Angeles is a city where food trucks rule the streets and Kim thinks Charlottesville is the perfect platform for a food truck community.

"Because of the university and the diversity of people here and the density of the city, I think a food truck is a really cool thing to bring to the city, Kim said. "I definitely want to see a food truck culture happening here."

In the beginning, business was slow. Kim said many people seemed apprehensive about eating food out of a truck.

"What we try to do is try to keep things open to let people see inside and know that it's clean just like a restaurant on wheels," Kim said. "It's a mobile kitchen. The most important thing is that we give them some food."

The Health Department explained that just because these restaurants are on four wheels doesn't mean they have different standards than brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Carpe Donut has been in business for more than six years and it has figured out how to keep the wheels in motion. They have branched out into whole sale, a brick-and-mortar, and have even launched a Carpe Donut New York.

"Trying to find a method where the food truck vending from the street can be successful here has to do with figuring out where the people are," Rohdie said.

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