Meals On (Truck) Wheels
Is Eau Claire’s food truck revolution already underway?
When you think of your favorite neighborhood haunt, it’s likely the place down the road where you get your hangover grease on Saturday mornings or that cute, local restaurant a couple of blocks away that’s your go-to for a special dinner. They are the places that are your own version of the Cheers bar – where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came.
Two of Eau Claire newest eateries – Davis Dogs and Gordo’s Food Truck – are boxing up that experience and taking it to the streets, creating a different kind of restaurant community that exists both in real life and online. The food trucks set up in various locations around the city, so they don’t belong to one neighborhood, but to multiple hungry patrons all over town who rely on Facebook to find out when and where they can get a fix.
“Eau Claire has needed a food truck forever. So it seems like I’m in the beginnings of what is going to be a big thing.” – Jim Davis, proprietor of Davis Dogs food truck
“Because we go to different parts of town it, it makes it more convenient for people who work in different areas or live in certain neighborhoods,” said Jessica Ortiz, one half of the husband-and-wife team that operates Gordo’s. “So we might see some people a couple of times a week every time we go to their specific area.”
Jessica and Jorge Ortiz are looking to bring their authentic Mexican fare to this corner of Wisconsin using fresh ingredients sourced from local farmers – the meat comes from Pigeon Falls and the veggies are bought from the farmer’s market in Chippewa – and everything that can be made from scratch is. The couple figures the best way to get folks to try the traditional elotes (Mexican street corn) and chicharron gorditas (stuffed, extra-thick corn tortillas) is to physically bring it to potential diners, who can also opt for more familiar treats such as tacos and quesadillas.
Mainly, Jorge prefers the food truck business because he’s out and about, meeting people and customers in a way that just isn’t possible in a regular restaurant. “It’s a lot different than a restaurant where your regular customers are mainly the ones you get to interact with,” Jorge said. “But here we get to interact with each and every one of them whether they come back or not. I love that.”
Both Jorge and Jim Davis of Davis Dogs agree that Eau Claire is the ideal place for a mobile lunch or dinner movement, not just because the city simply seems to grow trendier by the day, but also because there is a decent stream of foot/cycle traffic and perpetually hungry students to appreciate the meals on wheels.
And as both trucks gain a following, they form a sort of virtual neighborhood with their Facebook pages and posts – a new-school version of the specials board you’d see outside your local joint. The mom-and-pop place has gone mobile.
“Eau Claire has needed a food truck forever,” Davis said. “So it seems like I’m in the beginnings of what is going to be a big thing. I do believe that, and I think I’m in a good spot to lead the battle.”
Davis Dogs is regularly set up at Harbor Freight on London Road, and the New York-inspired dogs, brats, and Italian sausages have attracted at least two handfuls of regulars who will make the trip for a Chicago dog (one of more popular menu items) and a chat.
Jim built the truck himself so he could share his love of the ol’ meat-in-a-bun from the East Coast with the Midwest, and he makes the most of his mobility by setting up shop everywhere he can – from the hardware store to Water Street.
Ultimately, the food truckers would like to come together for a mobile night or a big city-style parking lot takeover where fans and first-timers can sample all the fare in one spot. The hope is that by next summer, the food truck community will have expanded and locals will get to choose from a world of cuisines and flavors.
In the meantime, as the leaves start to change color and summer officially becomes a memory, Gordo’s prepares for its seasonal menu change, and Davis Dogs hits up the last of the outdoor events before closing once the snow comes. Winter might be the only disadvantage of running a food truck. But it seems likely that by the time the flowers bloom again, Eau Claire will be in for a tasty revolution.