Daily Progress, Jacksonville, TX

October 8, 2012

Mobile food trucks delight area diners, offer options

Jo Anne Embleton
Jacksonville Daily Progress

JACKSONVILLE —



Just call Charla Frisinger the new kid in town. You know, the one with the bright yellow coffee bar located at the corner of Jackson and Larissa Streets.

Jacksonville Joe's, in operation since April 28, is one of 18 mobile food units licensed to operate in Cherokee County, and so far, response has been fantastic, she said.

“Everyone seems to love our coffee and they tell others to come try it,” Frisinger said. “We moved here from the Seattle area in 2009, and we brought coffee with us. When we shared it with people at church, they kept telling us we needed to open some kind of establishment.”

The 10-foot trailer has several sinks, a full-sized refrigerator, two espresso machines and an ice bin. “Then we've got our supplies, the sauces and syrups, coffees and cups, all the things you'd need to run a regular visit,” she said. “It's tiny, but it's laid out so that it works out very nicely.”

Open from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday, and from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Jacksonville Joe's offers hot, iced and blended coffee drinks that range from $1.50 to $4.25. In addition to a “buy 10 and get one small drink free” special, daily specials are offered three times a week.

“This is our only location right now, because we wanted to try it out and see what kind of response we get from Jacksonville to see if we could make it a profitable business,” she said.

According to fellow food truck operators from Taqueria Torres, located half a mile south of the coffee trailer site at 931 S. Jackson Street (in front of H&J Body), Frisinger has nothing to worry about.

After all, the Torreses have been at it the past decade, said Majin Torres, whose father, Noe, first came up with the idea to operate a mobile eatery with his wife Clara as cook.

“We were at Cardinal Health for about nine years, then decided to move here a year ago, it's a great location and we have been getting more and more people stop by,” he said. “The word's getting out, so we've become more popular.”

Unlike the Frisinger business, the 22-foot mobile taqueria is open late evenings. They're closed Mondays, but operate from 6 to 10:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and Sunday.

Weekends are their busiest period, when they are open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

“I’ve never really tried to count, but it’s quite a bit. We serve large amounts of food on Friday and Saturday, but we’ve never run out of food. We usually try to carry enough to last us, and we have Super Gallo right around the corner” if there's a need to restock items, Torres said.

“Pretty much everybody knows we’re here that late, but some people are surprised to see us here,” he added. “You’d be surprised at the number of older of people who show up. And with football season, we’re starting to see people come after the games.”

The menu features $1.50 tacos (a choice of beef fajita, bistec, barbacoa, al pastor, chorizo, chicharon or chicken) on corn or flour tortilla, and other traditional Tex-Mex fare, like burritos, gorditas, tortas and quesadillas at higher prices. There also are hot dogs and hamburgers on the menu, as well as sandwiches (barbecue or chicken).

Like Jacksonville Joe's, the taqueria accepts call-in orders. The coffee shop also makes deliveries upon request.

Both Torres and Frisinger said that as mobile food unit owners, they have lower overhead and less worries than if they operated a fixed-location restaurant.

“Mobile food vendors have been around a long time, and from a business owner's side of things, it does allow us to have a low overhead and we're able to provide a good product to our customers. For the them, it's something unique and convenient,” she said.

Torres agreed.

“If I have a slow night here, I've only got to put gas in the truck,” he laughed. “We don't have to worry about things like having insurance on a building, just the insurance on our truck.”

Individuals interested in starting a mobile food unit are invited to meet with Joseph De Guzman of the Cherokee County Public Health environmental health services department.

De Guzman helps potential owners by guiding them through the planning process and telling them what is needed and how to set up their operation to meet health codes.

“He will come out to view your trailer, so that you're not applying for the permit and we have to turn you down and then you have to pay another fee later. Our whole job is to educate and ensure public health, and we are going to do everything we can to guide you and teach you and train you, as we maintain public health,” said Chris Taylor, public health executive director.

Mobile food units are considered mobile food establishments, with a set of rules that vary from county to county.

Generally speaking, though, a unit must be on wheels and readily movable from location to location; “a true mobile unit is something that cannot be set up on blocks, because then it becomes a permanent building,” Taylor said.

Also, a mobile food unit cannot serve food while in motion, and it must be stored off-site in a commissary facility.

“Not at home, although if there's a separate, self-contained site like a shop that has its own water and electric supply, that's allowable,” Taylor said. “Because by law, we cannot go into your home and inspect it. We have no authority in your home, we only have authority in food establishment, and your home cannot be run as a food establishment.”

Food preparation must be done within the mobile unit in order to meet health codes, he said.

“We're simply trying to take people who are operating a food business and help work them towards being compliant with the law,” he said.  

There is a $50 consulation fee when De Guzman meets with a prospective food truck operator, who then pays a $150 year-round permit to operate his or her business within Cherokee County. A separate $50 fee applies whenever that owner chooses to operate at a separate event, like Tomato Fest.

“ If you do it right, and get our involvement from the beginning, and you know what you're doing as a business person, this can be a highly successful business endeavor. We want to help reach their goals, because it contributes to our economy,” Taylor said. “But we have to do that within those standards (because) they are in place to protect the public.”