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Discovering New Routes: Pensacola's Food Truck Scene Flourishes Despite Pandemic

By Dakota Parks for Downtown Crowd

If there is one thing Pensacolians love more than the beach, Blue Wahoos or craft beer, it’s food trucks. Pensacola’s food truck scene has grown exponentially over the last year as more people adapted to take-out meals during quarantine and new restaurant owners took to the streets instead of traditional brick-and-mortar establishments. The perfect combination of mobility, financial flexibility and sprawling cuisine options has increased the demand for food truck owners and patrons. On a national level, food trucks have also be- come one of the fastest growing sectors of the food industry. According to IBISWorld market research, the restaurant industry has a growth rate of 2 percent yearly, while the food truck industry has a 7.9 percent annual growth rate over the past five years.


Over a dozen new food trucks hit the streets of Pensacola in 2020. Pensacola’s illustrious food truck court, Al Fresco, also reopened in July 2020 as The Garden at Palafox & Main and welcomed three new restaurants to its complex with four airstream food trucks, five kiosks and The Perennial Bar operated by Perfect Plain Brewing Co. Several music, art and food festivals hosted in the area also support the bustling scene. Pensacola Habitat for Humanity is hosting its 5th annual Pensacola Habitat Food Truck Festival on March 12 and 13 at the Community Maritime Park following CDC guidelines, mask wearing and social distancing. The festival raises money to support Pensacola Habitat’s mission to build affordable homes, communities and hope. From savory BBQ, tater tots and mac-n-cheese topped delicacies to healthy fruit bowls and trucks dedicated entirely to waffles and mouth-watering desserts, there are so many new trucks to check out. Downtown Crowd caught up with the owners of several new food trucks in the area to learn more about designing their kitchens on wheels and diverse cuisine options.


Tacos Mexicanos

The first Tacos Mexicanos truck opened back in 2016 in Gulf Breeze and filled a need in the food scene for what owner Gabriel Hernandez calls a “simple traditional taco.” When construction began on Chappie James Bridge and hindered the traffic flow and customer base, the truck moved to Pensacola and found its new spot in East Hill. Amidst the pandemic, co-owners Gabriel Hernandez, Kyle Smith and Brian Waghalter opened a second truck branded as Tacos Mexicanos Downtown, located at Perfect Plain. The menu is built around the staple item, the awesome taco, and features a burrito, quesadilla and huarchie as well as fresh guacamole and queso. For the vegetarian and vegan patrons, they serve up a vegetarian taco salad and offer black beans or marinated cauliflower as meat replacements. Tacos Mexicanos East Hill is located at 3000 N 12th Ave and open daily 11am–8pm and Tacos Mexicanos Downtown is open daily at 11am and located at 50 E Garden St.


Wacked Out Weiner

When Kevin Richardson retired out of the Marine Corps, he quickly got bored from all of his newfound free time and decided to become an entrepreneur and restaurant owner. He became a franchise owner of Wacked Out Weiner in 2018 and expanded to a food truck in early January 2020. Although COVID forced his brick-and-mortar storefront to adapt and close indoor dining, he attributes his food truck for keeping his business afloat through the pandemic. “My food truck had been on the road for less than a month when the shutdowns started,” he explained. “My business took an 80 percent cut to sales, and I knew we couldn’t keep up like that. Suddenly, overnight there was this surge and demand for food trucks because they were safer than dining in person. If I didn’t have the food truck, my business probably wouldn’t have survived the shutdown. It was a true blessing in disguise.” Wacked Out Weiner has regional favorites like the Chicago Dog and New York Dog, a customizable bar with 40 toppings and fan- favorite signature hotdogs on the menu, all for extremely affordable prices. The “Wacky Macky” featuring a Nathan’s All Beef Hotdog on a freshly steamed bun topped with mac n’ cheese, bacon and Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce even took second place out of 19 trucks at the November 2020 Food Truck Fest. The storefront is located at 6675 Pine Forest Rd Suite 5 and you can follow Wacked Out Weiner Pensacola on social media for the traveling food truck schedule.


Anna’s Kitchen

Husband and wife duo Tim Phillips and Anna Zudina have often bonded over trying to out-cook one another in the kitchen. When the pandemic forced them to shut down their condo cleaning business, the pair took funds from their SBA grant and purchased a food truck instead. “We have both always loved to cook,” Phillips said. “I was constantly cooking meals from my childhood that my mother used to make for me growing up in the South. Anna is from Russia and would cook Russian dishes to share with me. A food truck just seemed like the best thing for us to do together as we get older. We’ve been married for three years now and still enjoy working together every day.” Named after his wife Anna, Anna’s Kitchen, first opened in October 2020 and has been slowly building a steady fan base. Serving up Southern-inspired dishes with 100+ year old recipes inherited from Phillip’s family, the food truck specializes in BBQ and seafood. Although they are still expanding their menu and building their brand, staple items include pork BBQ, Texas style brisket and rice, fried shrimp and sour cream pound cake. To get updates on menu items and new locations, follow Anna’s Kitchen on social media.


The Fat Wagon

Faced with both of their business shut down during the pandemic, Artie and Keely Erd, owners of Infinite Ink Tattoo Studio and Sirens Salon, needed to find a new source of income that could stay open as an essential business during shutdowns and restrictions. Artie had always dreamed of owning a food truck and Keely wanted to open a nutrition shop, so the couple decided to take the leap into both business ventures while the tattoo studio and hair salon were shut down. “I’ve always been the cook in the family, and I wanted to open a restaurant, but that wasn’t practical during the pandemic,” Artie explained. “The food truck was a steppingstone and pandemic-friendly. We got together and wanted to think of a funny name that would stick in your head, so Fat Wagon was born and one of our artists at Infinite Ink drew up the logo.” The Fat Wagon cooks up burgers, fries, chicken and even deep-fried cheesecake, but their specialty item that sets them apart from other trucks are their pig wings. As Artie explained, the pig wings are 4oz of slow cooked tender pork shank that is flash fried like a chicken wing but falls apart in your mouth it’s so tender. The food truck officially opened in January 2021 and Keely said they are currently working on a “Fit Wagon Line” with healthier meal prep options with lower calories that corresponds to the nutrition shop they opened called One Step Up Nutrition and Fitness. Her goal is to offer ready-to-order meal prep plans out of the food truck for clients through the nutrition shop. To follow their plans and see travel locations and catered events, follow The Fat Wagon Food Truck on social media.


All Gas No Brakes

Owners Ainsley Brown and Latanya Andress first met in a culinary class in 2015 and worked together in a restaurant before becoming close friends and branching out to start their own business. It wasn’t until 2019 when Andress dreamt of opening a mobile food truck to save on rent and utilities all while having the flexibility to travel that she recruited Brown and the two business partners began designing their truck. Although the truck finally opened in October 2020, the pandemic delayed the process to build the truck that usually takes nine weeks and stretched it out into a five- month period as factories closed and faced shipping delays. Andress explained that the name for the truck came from the obstacles during the build: “On our way back from Orlando to design the truck, Ainsley said to me, ‘Well, you better enjoy these last few months of freedom, because soon it will be all gas no brakes.’ I yelled, ‘wait, that’s it!’ It was the perfect way to capture everything not going as planned and that there was no stopping us once we got started.” The truck was designed and built by the company One Fat Frog out of Orlando, which was the company that first inspired Latanya to open a truck when she started seeing their designs online. All Gas No Brakes changes its menu daily and offers soul food Sundays, hand battered, spicy chicken sandwiches and steak and chicken nachos. The owner’s favorite menu items include the red velvet waffle, banana pudding waffle and their fusion egg rolls which include the Philly cheesesteak egg roll and buffalo chicken egg roll. Follow All Gas No Brakes on social media to keep up with their schedule and events.


Waffle Boutique

Like many new food truck owners, when the pandemic hit, owners Cindy Salas and her fiancée John Hogen saw an opportunity in starting a food truck where they could bring their restaurant to their customers and offer a safe outdoor dining experience. Both of them have backgrounds in the food industry and merged their experiences to open the business together. Salas was formally trained in the service industry in Lima, Peru and has worked as a food and beverage director in the hotel industry for over a decade. Hogen has a background in business and experience working in the restaurant industry. The couple witnessed a surge of support when the Waffle Boutique first opened in August 2020 and accredit the response to people looking for safe ways to still get out and have fun amidst the pandemic while still being able to follow social distance protocol. While Hogen handles most of the business operations of the truck, Salas designed the menu and runs the kitchen. The menu offers a wide variety of sweet and savory options as they both explained: “We serve sweet and savory stick waffles and bubble waffles. The stick waffles come in several varieties and you can mix and match. Among them are things like the Chicken and Waffle, Salted Caramel Cheesecake Waffle, Pizza Waffle and Churro Waffle. Our bubble waffles have more of a custard flavor and are served as a dessert almost like a cone with ice cream and toppings. Our most popular bubble waffles are probably our Triple Chocolate and our Strawberry Tres Leches.” To find out their weekly schedule, visit waffleboutiquefoodtruck.com or follow them on social media.


Texan B’s BBQ

This family owned and operated truck was the long-time dream and passion project of Bill Davis, grill master for Texan B’s BBQ. Davis was born and raised in Texas and spent 25 years on a competitive BBQ team before moving and retiring to Pensacola. When Davis retired from his career in construction working primarily as a plumber, he needed something to keep himself busy, so he went to Pensacola State College and got a degree in culinary arts. He then embarked on a 14-month long project completely gutting and retrofitting a 25-year-old RV down to the frame to build his own food truck, equipped with an open-air grill deck on the back to mount his smoke pit to. Davis designed the truck and menu, which is still growing and currently features brisket, pulled pork and their ‘Meal in a Peel,’ which is a giant potato loaded with butter, sour cream, cheddar cheese, chives, and your choice of chopped brisket or pulled pork and drizzled with their signature blueberry-chipotle BBQ sauce. His stepson, Gabriel, the event coordinator for Texan B’s BBQ explained his favorite part of helping run the food truck: “My mom runs the front counter and drives the truck, I run the social media and PR, Bill mans the grill and my aunt also helps out. It’s a true family-run business. The great thing about barbeque is that when people see the smoke, they get excited. It creates this special sensation of gathering and community, like a family. I think people were looking for that safe gathering outlet through the pandemic.” To keep up with the traveling locations and menu, follow Texan B’s BBQ on social media.


Mi Su Street Food

Hylene and Alden Garcia decided to take the plunge and open their own food truck after both being laid off from their jobs in the service industry at the beginning of the pandemic. Although, they both got their jobs back after the first wave of shutdowns, they had already started the process of opening their own business, which they had dreamed about for years. Alden’s parents own Salon San Carlos on Garden Street, which gave them a great location for their opening in January 2021 with the food truck parked behind the salon. As Hylene explained, their food truck is influenced by the nostalgic Spanish cuisine they both grew up with, but it’s not a strict label for their truck or cuisine: “Our name, Mi Su, is a reference to the classic saying, ‘mi casa es su casa.’ In our case however, we use the tagline, ‘mi calle, su calle’ or ‘my street, your street.’ We like this name because it is simple enough, but there’s also a quick Spanish lesson we can teach to those who don’t quite understand the name. While our truck has a lot of Spanish influence beyond the name, we don’t really want to put a label on ourselves. Essentially, we are just cooking whatever we want.” Every Friday for instance, they cook up American smash burgers. Their best menu item is currently an untraditional take on the smash burger called the Mi Su Melt, which contains a patti blend of chuck/chorizo, caramelized peppers/onions, white American cheese, chimichurri and a mole aioli (or moli-oli). Their second-best selling menu item are their tacos on soft, homemade flour tortillas. To follow new menu items, follow Mi Su Street Food on social media or visit misustreetfood.com.


Brown Bagger Food Truck

Brown Bagger is owned and operated by Tim Thompson and Ellis O’Neal. Thompson has owned and ran numerous businesses and O’Neal is a veteran of the restaurant equipment industry. The idea was born during a game of disc golf. The two decided to go into business together. An outfitted food truck was found online, and the owner drove it down to them from Virginia to Pensacola last March and the two liked what they saw. The truck was opened officially on January 14th of this year. Brown Bagger focuses on wagyu beef smash burgers, hand cut fries, and brussels sprouts among other things like their famous chicken tenders. “Our chicken tenders are cut fresh every day, and then breaded and fried once you order them.” Thompson wanted to focus on freshness and making sure everything was made to order. Everything from the buns to the beef is sourced locally in Pensacola and picked up fresh every day. “We wanted to create a fun atmosphere, make good consistent food and give back to the community while playing our eco role. That is something that is more important to me,” Thompson explained. Wisteria, which is Pensacola’s oldest bar that opened in 1935, is the base of operations for Brown Bagger. There are picnic tables outside of patrons to eat, or they may go inside to Wisteria to grab a beer and the Brown Bagger Team will happily bring your order to you. Don’t want to wait in line? Scan the QR code on the side of the truck and place your order online. You can find Brown Bagger at 3808 N 12th Ave from Tuesday to Saturday 11am–8pm.


Arlene the Lumpia Queen

Arlene Pomareno has been cooking commercially since 1996. Before the pandemic, Pomareno and her husband, Cesar, would cater every weekend at local music and arts festivals along the Gulf Coast. The dynamic duo would cook under the name “Cesar’s Concessions.” Pomareno, a native of the Philippine’s, has a large menu of home cooked goods as well as famous fair food. Since the pandemic, the Pomareno’s purchased a food truck in August of last year and had it up and running by October to supplement their income. Now, “Cesar’s Concessions” has turned into “Arlene the Lumpia Queen.” Pomareno was inspired to open her own business because of her parents. Growing up in the Philippines, her parents owned a small clothing store, and they would cook fresh food as well. She enjoyed watching her parents run a business so when she moved to Pensacola when she was 25, Pomareno started her own and she and her husband have been cooking ever since. Her daughter, Catherene, also helps the family on occasion. Pomareno’s menu consists of traditional Filipino affair such as Pancit, which is a rice noodle dish with a choice of chicken, shrimp, or beef. Her most famous dish is her Lumpia, which is a Filipino flair on a traditional spring roll. Lumpia is made with a thin wrapper which makes it sweeter. Pomareno’s lumpia are made with a choice of shrimp, chicken or beef and served deep fried. You can find the Arlene the Lumpia Queen food truck at 4826 W Fairfield Dr from Monday to Saturday 10am–6pm.


MELT

After closing their franchise Boneheads Pensacola amidst the pandemic, Rachel and Kendrick Hobbs were cooking dinner at home and thinking about the future, when they stumbled across a new food concept. Rachel was cooking dinner in their new instant- pot and soon the couple started brainstorming all the ways to bring luxury cooking to a simple Southern staple: mac n’ cheese. Within a few short months, this idea spawned not one, but two food trucks. The Hobbs closed Boneheads Pensacola in May, opened their first mobile MELT food truck in June and by July opened their second food truck at The Garden on Palafox & Main. “My wife came up with the name and together we worked on the menu” Kendrick explained. “We had so many ideas that we didn’t even create some of our original dishes. There is so much you can do with a simple dish and it works extremely well in a food truck where your ingredients need to be multipurpose for storage and space restrictions.” After creating signature mac n’ cheese dishes, The Hobbs created a variety of sandwich melts using garlic sourdough bread. One of the top sellers on the MELT menu is the pulled pork mac n’ cheese and pulled pork melt with pork slow cooked for nine hours. If you ask Kendrick though, combinations are the way to really have fun with the MELT menu. His favorite dish combines the buffalo chicken mac with chicken, cream cheese, sharp cheddar and buffalo sauce on top of a pulled pork melt for a very hearty and cheese-filled dish. You can catch MELT from 11am–9pm daily at The Garden and follow their social media MELT Pensacola for the mobile truck locations.


Got Tot’s?

Got Tot’s was founded by Christine Zulager. She had an idea of opening her own coffee and sandwich shop, but the idea transformed into a food truck. Got Tot’s? specializes in tater tots and there are a few creative dishes on the menu. “I chose tater tots because, who doesn’t like tater tots?” Zulager said. The food truck is run by Zulager with the help of her husband and daughter. The two most popular dishes on the menu are the “Rowdy Rob,” which is tater tots, buffalo chicken, mac n’ cheese, ranch, buffalo sauce and green onions. The “Pac Man,” has tater tots, mac n’ cheese, ranch, bacon bits and jalapenos. Opening her business during the pandemic has been difficult for Zulager. “It was the most difficult and expensive thing I’ve ever done,” she explained. “Right after I purchased the trailer, the world shut down. The offices that issue licensing were shut down for a little while. I also needed to obtain a ‘commissary.’ Somewhere that I could wash my dishes and get clean water. It took months of asking different business’s if I could do that, and finally I found one at Beardless Brewhaus.” The Got Tot’s? operation has also already outgrown its current truck, and Zulager is currently on the hunt for a replacement. You can find Got Tot’s? in Milton at Beardless Brewhaus at least once a week. Location, date and time can be found on the Got Tot’s? Facebook page.


Who Dat Po’Boys

When Corey Knight first moved to Pensacola from New Orleans over 20 years ago, he missed the authentic cooking and po’boys from his hometown. While some local restaurants offered an occasional seafood po’boy on the menu, he couldn’t find anyone serving up po’boys with authentic meat, bread and sauces, so he decided to open his own food truck to fill that void. Who Dat Po’Boys officially opened in June 2020, aptly named after the ‘Who Dat chant’ sung by fans of the New Orleans Saints. As Knight explained, he decided to open a food truck to build his fan base before committing to a brick-and-mortar restaurant, which he has plans to expand to in the near future. The truck allowed him to open at a permanent location at 3391 N Pace Blvd during the weekdays and travel to events and festivals on the weekends. “Opening during the pandemic was crazy, but amazing,” Knight explained. “We had over 300 people alone come out to buy our food on our grand opening, which really surprised me.” Knight has always loved cooking, which runs in the family. His grandmother owned a restaurant, and his brother has worked as a chef in New Orleans for 40 years and offered to help with logistics of opening the truck. The menu offers a wide variety of po’boys including seafood and fresh off the grill. The seafood consists of shrimp, fish and oysters and the grilled side offers sausage, hot sausage, roast beef and cheeseburger po’boys. The signature Who Dat Po’Boy is Cajun fried shrimp drenched in the homemade Who Dat Sauce and served on toasted New Orleans French bread and fully dressed with mayo, lettuce and pickles. Follow Who Dat Po’Boys online to learn their specials offering gumbo, shrimp stew and red beans and rice.

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