Food Truck Festivals of New England is coming to Natick next month. The event is part of the Food Truck Festivals tour that is held in Worcester, Boston, Falmouth, and Rhode Island.
This will be the first year the festival comes to Natick. It had been held in 2011 and 2012 at Shoppers World in Framingham. However, organizers said that they were approached last year by then-Selectman Paul Joseph about holding the festival in Natick Center.
Meanwhile, some established businesses balked at the idea, arguing they would lose customers during the day’s event.
“Initially, there was a lot of contention, but I believe that the town Selectmen felt this was a good economic tool to get people to see Natick Center,” said Arthur Fair, president Natick Center Associates. “The food truck people have been very good at reaching out to merchants in terms of giving us an opportunity to show off the down town. We’re trying to maximize our exposure.”
“I can’t speak for individual people and merchants, but the way NCA looked it is that there’s nothing that can be done to stop it, so we have to look at the positive,” Fair said.
Anne-Marie Aigner, executive producer of the festival, said the festival will bring people into downtown who ordinarily don’t venture further no further into town than the Natick Mall.
“This is a terrific opportunity to bring thousands of people into Natick Center, and we’re delighted to be there,” said Aigner.
There are some space constraints that the festival didn’t contend with when it was held in the Framingham Shoppers World parking lot in 2012. However, Aigner said there will still be room at Natick’s Town Common for about 20 trucks, which is average for the festival, in addition to space for musicians.
The festival will feature more than 20 trucks from throughout New England, serving food ranging from gourmet grilled cheese, Vietnamese sandwiches, sliders, pizza, lobster rolls, homemade ice cream sandwiches, whoopee pies, cupcakes and more.
Aigner said the festival was a chance for MetroWest residents to “graze” on a variety of foods without having to venture into Boston.
“It’s not a day for being on a diet,” Aigner said. “The food is good–really good. It’s not the old roach-coaches. It’s highly regulated. The food is creative, and you don’t need a reservation or need to leave a tip.”
Food trucks also have a “novelty factor,” Aigner said, and that makes it appealing to those who live or work close enough to walk to one. “You can get a delicious meal for under $10, and then just walk back to work.”
Shortly before noon on Wednesday at Boston’s Liberty Square, customers began arriving at Benny’s Crepe Cafe, a food truck that will be on hand at the Natick festival.
"The range of the food. It changes every day,” said John Tully, who was visiting Boston on business, and was having lunch at Benny’s. “It’s fresher, and more spontaneous. Part of the excitement is that it changes every day. For example, Wednesday is the crepe day. That’s part of the fun. It’s a special event.”
Peter Willette, who also works in Boston, said he likes the “spontaneity” of the food trucks, adding that “anything can happen on any given day.”
Benny’s owner Frank Shear, a Framingham resident, named the business after his grandfather, Benjamin “Benny” Shear, who was a fruit merchant. “I named it after him to keep his legacy going.”
Benny’s is a relative newcomer, having opened for business about a year ago. Shear, who had been a co-owner in the family’s, got the idea of selling crepes from a food truck after a visit to Paris.
Shear said the crepes themselves are from a traditional recipe, but the fillings, including a chicken curry and bagels-and-lox style smoked salmon.
“I loved crepes anyway,” Shear said. “I thought there could be nothing more relaxing than having a crepe in hand, watching city life go by.”
About two and a half years ago, David Harnik got into the business with partner Naomi Kline, and became chef-owner of The Dining Car, a Boston food truck offering salads and fare ranging from a honey truffle goat cheese sandwich and Korean pork bulgogi sliders to a home-style meatball sub.
“The food truck is a little more immediate” compared to restaurant work, Harnik said. “You have direct access to your customers. As owner and chef, I’m there at the window. I know my customers’ names.”
There are also distinct challenges, however, Harnik said, such as when the truck itself breaks down.
“Here, in Boston, come December and January it’s a much different place than August or September,” said Harnik, adding that his customer base can quickly dry up when a cold winter wind whips down city streets. “We have to make hay when the sun is shining. We are geared to social media, using Twitter to tell us where we are, but a food truck owner can’t just send out a tweet and expect that a horde of people will come screeching out to where you are.”
Three years ago, Aigner said she was debating whether the food truck craze was a “fad or a trend.” Today, Aigner said she settled for “trend,” albeit one that will be around for a while and is still growing.
To succeed in areas outside of Boston, however, many food trucks often need areas of high foot traffic and a clientele with the right pallate.
“We started out in a bunch of suburban industrial parks last fall, and we found that it really didn’t work for us,” Shear said. “We needed a little bit more of a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a lot more foot traffic. The industrial parks are good for maybe an hour’s worth of service, and then the spigot shuts off.”
“There are some concepts in some areas that work, and other don’t,” Shear said. “Tacos are great for just about anywhere.”
The festivals are about spreading the food truck concept in areas that normally don’t see them, Shear said.
Meanwhile, more communities need to start drafting regulations to allow the trucks to operate within their borders, Aigner said.
The festival will be held in Natick Sept. 8, from noon to 5 p.m. Attendees can purchase wristbands to get discounts at every truck. Wristbands are $7 online in advance, or $10 the day of the event. The American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts will receive $1 from each wristband purchased the day of the event.
A shuttle bus will run from Natick High School to the festival. For tickets and more information, go to www.foodtruckfestivalsofne.com.