On the hunt for Sarasota’s new food trucks, I spy them quietly nestled at the intersection of Ringling Boulevard and Links Avenue.
It’s early, about 11 a.m., and I have come to meet with Mindy Kauffman, founder of Ringling Picnic, Sarasota’s first food truck venue.
Surprisingly, there is free street parking and a free parking lot for patrons. Picnic tables are set up and Tiki hut umbrellas magically transform this triangular spit of land into a welcoming place to lunch.
Thinking that we will have a good hour or so before people start to come, I settle in to chat with Kauffman. Ha! Within a minute people begin greeting her, patrons arrive to order their food, and the place comes alive with business people, tourists and neighbors.
We all know that Sarasota is a friendly place, but what surprised me was how open and friendly people are here at the food trucks. Office workers happily offered lunch suggestions to tourists, neighbors greeted the truck owners like old friends and everyone seemed thrilled to have such a variety of options for lunch.
Now open Monday through Friday from 11 am till 2 pm and offering rotating food choices daily, Kauffman invites you to come sample the food and decide for yourself. Some of the food trucks accept Master Card and Visa, others take only cash.
If you're interested in an intro to these trucks, foodies are invited at the first-ever Ringling Picnic Spring Fling party on Friday, April 13, beginning at 5 p.m. Kauffman is planning to have a variety of trucks on site, accompanied by entertainment. will be serving beer and wine. Details will be on the Ringling Picnic’s Facebook page and on the website, www.ringlingpicnic.com
Why food trucks and why here in Sarasota?
“I’m trying to do something fun for the city. I used to live in Austin, Texas and they have so many food trucks," Kauffman said. "Austin is such a cool, vibrant, exciting city, and I am hoping to create that feel here. I looked around for a location and at first was going to use my property in the Rosemary District but then I saw this location here at Ringling and Links and knew it was perfect.”
Weekend food truck rallies aren't in the plans for the Ringling Picnic.
“No, I’m not competing with the farmers market, some of our vendors go there on weekends, and the farmers market has been a great support to us."
Kauffman, who has a MBA and is also a lawyer, has a background in commercial real estate and investments. She spends her time consulting with small businesses and advising on real estate issues, and investments.
As you may know, food trucks have been making the news lately and they are not the old roach coach traps from some of our childhood.
These food trucks are cool looking and offer reasonably priced gourmet selections. Staffed with entrepreneurial foodies dedicated to ensuring your eating experience is divine, I bet you will have a hard time deciding what to choose when you visit. Depending on the day, you could order gluten-free Baja fresh wraps, a variety of mouth-watering sliders, and locally made .
I finally decided on a quesadilla from Baja Boys Grill thinking I would have room for ice cream afterwards. No way! The quesadilla was so large and yummy I had to end up taking half of it home with me. Oh well, it does not break my heart that I have to go back to try out the sliders and ice cream.
Chow and Chat
Within 15 minutes the tables begin filling up and I notice that there is a friendly exchange between patrons. Something about the open air picnic tables and the idea of supporting local small businesses appeals to customers.
People offer to share their table with strangers and soon everyone is talking. Nadine Boulanger, a technical services manager for the Sarasota 911 Dispatch Center and her friend Nancy Botts, a trainer from Intrados, said “it’s nice Sarasota has something to walk to and I like the variety here." Boulanger is a frequent patron and Botts said she is sure to return.
The food truck owners are thrilled by the local support they are receiving.
“I love it here, I love the social interaction, we laugh, we dance, and you get to know people," says Baja Boys Grill co-owner Michelle Jett. "It doesn’t matter if they come to me one day and go to someone else the next day. We all wave back and forth and keep up with each other’s lives.”
B’s Cool Treats owner Brenda Zook bought her 1979 Good Humor truck two years ago. She looked at me and smiled saying, “people come up to my truck with a big smile on their face – who could ask for a better job!” Flying sliders owner Andrew Seeley, along with Greg Campbell and Joseph Rapoza are excited about the success of their sliders. They will add a tapas truck in a few months to their quickly expanding business.
Local residents since 1974, Lisa and Lee Mirman came to Ringling Picnic for the first time this week. Both were impressed with the quality of the food, the ease of mingling with the chefs and the friendliness of the patrons. Lee Mirman said, “What was wonderful was interacting with the chefs, learning about their food and themselves. We love it and will be back.”
Kauffman noted that the Mirman's picked up on an important point. “The food trucks today are not like the old fair trucks – we don’t have funnel cakes – these are mostly classically trained chefs. They use only fresh food and I particularly sought out vendors who provide food that is different than the surrounding restaurants.”
One of the benefits the food truck owners have received from being part of Ringling Picnic is the opportunity to be invited to do other special events and venues. This past Friday night three of the regular vendors, O’Macalicious, Flying Sliders and B’s Cool Treats, were a big hit at iConcept at Art Center Sarasota. Fashionistas raved about the trucks and the ice cream disappeared in the blink of an eye. I sampled a Pop Craft Popsicle there and will be forever stalking them down.
"This is exactly what this town needed - a little variety, a little kick in the butt for some places that haven’t been challenged in a while," said Marty, a repeat customer.
Be sure to 'Like" Ringling Picnic’s Facebook page to get the daily low-down on what trucks will be on site. Kauffman updates the page every morning and the trucks rotate throughout the week so there is always something new to sample.
The food trucks now give out a free loyalty card so be sure and pick one up. For every 10 stamps on your card, you get one free entrée from the truck you frequented most.
This Ain't My First Food Rodeo
Click the links below to see the descriptions of who will be on site this week:
B’s Cool Treats — www.bscooltreats.com
Baja Boys Grill — www.facebook.com/pages/Baja-Boys-Grill/223487364337836
Flying Sliders — www.flyingsliders.com
FoodeeZ — www.foodeezmobilecatering.com
Full Belly Meats — www.fullbellymeats.com
O’Macalicious — www.omacalicious.com