Food trucks are all the rage in Northwest Arkansas. Whether they are parked at Shulertown in Fayetteville, on the side of U.S. 71 in Springdale or off Walnut in Rogers, these large, independently mobile vehicles can jet from one side of town to another, selling their unique entrees morning, noon and night.
Food trucks, however, are anything but a new concept. According to the American Chuck Wagon Association, they have been around since the before the Civil War in the form of chuckwagons. Pulled by a horse across the expansive prairie, these carts were filled with easily preserved foods like beans, bread, potatoes and salted meats, as well as kitchen utensils, cooking devices, firewood and water.
By 1890, these mobile kitchens became staples in large cities, and with the invention of motorized vehicles developed into mobile canteens in the late 1950s. The first food trucks became easy to move wherever there was demand.
And the mobile vendors of Northwest Arkansas are doing just that.
Popular Shulertown food truck Baller can often be found at local events, like the Block Street Block Party, where large crowds mean big business. Off the Rail BBQ sets up shop every Saturday morning in Fayetteville at the Farmers' Market, selling breakfast until 10:30 a.m. Ying Chang's Hmong and Chinese Hot Food and Chez Mae at Mae Farms have found their niche with hungry Lake Fayetteville visitors.
But it's not just the food trucks that are changing the way Arkansans eat. Food carts and trailers, moved via hitch, are finding their way in between their larger counterparts and making a big impression.
"I became a mobile vendor because I wanted to move around," says Steve Frutiger, owner of the Atomic Dog food cart. "There's an idea that you can pull up to any street corner, with some restrictions. I think that's where we're headed."
Frutiger and wife Susan Beesley opened Atomic Dog earlier this year after researching alternate income sources to supplement their retirement.
"Consulting just didn't sit well for me," Frutiger says. "Then, my 16 year-old son Blake was looking for a job. I thought a hot dog cart would be perfect for him, and for me. Then I started looking at startup cost and thought, 'I can do this.' It's low start-up, and the benefits are huge."
With an estimated cost of $5,000, the couple opened the classic, yet funky, hot dog stand and immediately went to work creating unique dogs to please every taste, he says. Atomic Dog offers classic hot dogs -- vegan, turkey, brats or all-beef -- but is best known for local favorites the mac-and-cheese dog topped with bacon and the atomic dog, made with jalapenos, siracha, grilled onions and peppers on a bacon-wrapped dog.
"People here really like the spicy," Frutiger says. "And bacon really goes well with a hot dog." The couple hopes to add a Portland dog, suggested by their daughter Katie, to the ever evolving menu as well. "It's cream cheese on a dog with cole slaw. We are always developing our menu, bringing out our crazy, fun side."
And while food vendors are finding new ways, and new foods, to serve the community, local shop owners are finding the mobile market to be just as profitable for their nonedible wares.
Freckles and Sunshine, owned by mother-of-two MiKael Hassebrock and her sister, opened earlier this year as a mobile fashion truck catering to some of the busiest women in Northwest Arkansas.
"I was a stay-at-home mom, so I know that it is not always easy to shop with kids," Hassebrock says. "So we go to moms who can't always get out to the boutiques to shop. My dad came up with the idea on New Year's this year. He knew we wanted to open a store but that opening one cost a lot of overhead. He saw a show about a fashion truck in New York City, and the idea took off."
After investing approximately $13,000 for a truck, paint and logos, insurance, redoing the inside and clothing and accessories, the Hassebrocks debuted the truck at Mudtown Days in Lowell in May to excellent, and unexpected, results.
"We have been blown away by the reception people have given us," Hassebrock says. "I have heard them say 'genious.' They think it's a great idea. We've had nothing by positive feedback. We could never have imagined how it would take off."
Although the shop's concept centers on an affordable way to make women feel good about themselves, Freckles and Sunshine aims at giving back to those who don't necessarily shop at their store.
"A portion of every sale will always go to a local charity or organization," Hassebrock says. "There are needy people around. If you start giving back from day one, you're not going to miss the profit. It's all about giving back and helping others."
Hasseback hopes to expand the business to a store front, but she asserts that she would keep the truck for special events, girls' nights out, festivals and boutique shows based on its sudden success.
"It could go beyond that," she says about the success of the truck. "God really has taken over this thing. It has been insane. We love to see people in our clothes. It's all been beyond our expectations."NAN What's Up on 07/11/2014