It should come as little surprise to most people that the current food truck craze has its roots in LA, a city of cars. Indeed, loncheras, a staple of Mexican-American communities on the city’s Eastside, have been around since the 1960s. Street food has always been popular, but it has never seemed so glamorous, with gourmet options proliferating in major cities across the country. A strange turn, some might say, for a kind of dining that was first intended as a purely utilitarian mode of providing nutrition.
While mobile carts used for serving food have probably been around for hundreds of years, scholars generally consider Charles Goodnight, a Texas rancher, to be the “father” of food trucks. In the 1860s, he rebuilt a wagon to serve as a makeshift kitchen in order to serve cattlemen out on the range. Meanwhile, in the cities out east, street food vendors began sprouting wheels in search of customers. By the time cars had gained popularity, mobile kitchens were proliferating, especially among Mexican chefs, who found that on-the-road diners could often be coaxed into parking with the promise of a perfect taco.
The growth of today’s food truck industry required a perfect combination of events that clicked into place thanks to the recent recession. First, out-of-work chefs, seeking an easy way to start a business, began looking to the humble food truck, which offered a far cheaper route to serving meals. Next, a food truck industry superstar and evangelist arose. Roy Choi, whose Kogi truck specialized in short rib Korean BBQ tacos, quickly proved that food trucks could be glamorous, thanks to the wonders of social media, which helps food truck owners connect with customers regardless of a truck’s location.