LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - Little Rock is quickly becoming a "foodie hotbed" with a number of new and unique eateries offering a wide variety of culinary options. Often times, thanks to the growing trend of food trucks, you don't even have to leave the street to find a gourmet meal.
"We are the server, we are the cook, we are the busboy, we're everything," said Southern Gourmasian food truck owner and chef Justin Patterson. "No offense to taco trucks, I love taco trucks, but people were used to seeing those. When other trucks came about that were doing other stuff, that's when people started to pay attention."
"It's not really corn dogs and hot dogs and whatnot. Everyone's kind of finding their niche and getting in it," said Matt Clark, who opened his Waffle Wagon earlier this summer. "I think people are really stoked on people cooking and people doing everything from scratch out of a trailer... There's a lot of people doing a lot of really cool stuff out of a 12' by 20' space. There is no kitchen, that is our kitchen and it has wheels on the bottom, and I think it's awesome."
"It's growing," said BlackHound Bar-B-Q Owner/Operator Quincy Person, who opened his food truck in February. "At first it was a little slow, I didn't think the people around here in Little Rock were really ready for it, but now that they see that we're out here we have more and more people coming around."
"It's a tough business and it's tough to get started and you have to be a good business person, being a good cook with a truck doesn't necessarily get it," said Downtown Little Rock Partnership Executive Director Sharon Priest.
"There are regulations governing where these trucks can go and how they have to behave when they're there," added Priest. "They have to be on private property, they can't be in the public right-of-way, if it's a trailer and a truck they have to be attached, lots of regulations that the city puts on them."
Some, however, would like to see even stricter regulations on food trucks in Little Rock.
"It does affect business," said Eric Tinner, who owns a handful of restaurants in downtown Little Rock. "With the proliferation of food trucks there needs to be more regulation of them. We need to understand the vulnerabilities that they present and protect the public, protect the business interests and make sure that everybody is on a level playing field."
Tinner pointed to the city's Food Truck Friday as one example of what he would like to see change.
"If the city is going to support them financially by providing them a space, cleaning up after them, providing some sort of advertising & promotion, these things need to be on a level playing field," added Tinner. "Let's make these ordinances something that everybody can work with, I'm not asking for them to be totally shut out of the picture I'm just asking for them to be brought in with the rest of us and not given so much latitude to run amok of the system."
Priest said she has approached downtown restaurants about initiating a "Take Home Tuesday" promotion in response to Food Truck Friday, where people would be encouraged to call in take out orders to bring home for dinner on Tuesday nights. She says she is still waiting to hear back from those business owners.
Some in the restaurant industry say food trucks are taking a bite out of their business. Others say they have the opposite effect. John Gaber, a professor of public policy at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, says food trucks are actually a boost to downtown economies.
"It is the same industry but it's two very different sides," added Patterson. "You've got restaurants that are split down the middle. Half of them hate food trucks and think that food trucks are ruining their business... There's chefs who admire what we're doing and are excited about it and then there's restaurant owners who, you know, the economy's not great, restaurant's a hard business to be in anyway so it's kind of easy to go 'oh those food trucks are messing us up'."
Little Rock continues to look at the laws that govern food trucks in the hope of keeping up with the growing wave of mobile chuckwagons on its city streets. Meanwhile, food truck owners will keep on feeding the masses, one walk-up customer at a time.
"As a cook you're hidden away in the kitchen, you never get to see people's faces that are eating your food, you never get to talk to them, this is the total opposite," said Patterson. "They show you their gratitude, you get to see the excitement of people partaking of your hard work... Not only are you this cook who's throwing out food but you're also discussing things with your customers and that makes it a lot more fun, a lot more rewarding I think."
Check out LittleRock.com's featured food trucks: http://www.littlerock.com/dining/featured/food-trucks/