Dine / Food trucks on a roll: Fukuda joins South Side round-up

Steer & Wheel's debut last week adds to the food truck fleet: Oh My Grill, Franktuary, BRGR, Pittsburgh Pierogi, PGH Taco Truck ...

Pittsburgh's mobile food businesses are growing.

Fukuda in Bloomfield has its inaugural run at today's food truck roundup in the LifeStone church lot on the South Side (157 S. 26th St.) from noon to 3 p.m. The truck will join Oh My Grill, Franktuary, BRGR, Pittsburgh Pierogi, PGH Taco Truck and Cake Eaters Sweet Shoppe for the event.

The Fukuda Truck (on Twitter @FukudaTruck) will feature Japanese street food such as okonomiyaki (a savory cabbage and seafood pancake) and takoyaki (a type of fritter), as well as handrolls and other items.

Last week, Jamie McLeland rolled out The Steer & Wheel (on Twitter @steerandwheel), a burger truck that offers a half-dozen combinations and double-fried Russets. He sells "little" and "big" burgers such as the Andre, with bacon, lettuce, tomato, avocado, smoked gouda and grain mustard. The Muy Bueno wears a taco rub and is served with tortilla chips, iceberg lettuce, tomato and chipotle mayo on brioche.

Patties made with organic, hormone-free beef from Penn's Corner Farm Alliance and bread from Mediterra Bakehouse elevate his take on street food. Mr. McLeland grinds beef right on the truck.

This brings the total number of such food trucks to eight.

Still, the city of Pittsburgh lags behind others in offering a variety of food trucks and food truck gatherings, partly because of laws that make it difficult for the mobile food vendors to set up near restaurants and stay in one location long enough to cook and serve food. The first roundup in the city was held last July in Lawrenceville with four trucks operating from 6 to 10 p.m. on 43rd Street.

Mr. McLeland said he was inspired to start a food truck from a friend, a New York transplant living in Pittsburgh, who marveled over lines for $16 lobster rolls from trucks such as Red Hook Lobster Truck in Manhattan.

After meeting with Megan Lindsey, a partner of the Downtown and Lawrenceville locations of Franktuary and its food truck, Mr. McLeland researched the city's legislation and decided to roll on anyway. For his debut last week, he parked The Steer & Wheel on a lot in Braddock, which does not have laws regulating food trucks. He hopes to locate inside Pittsburgh city limits at times.

"I took into account the changes proposed by [city councilman and mayoral candidate] Bill Peduto and I thought the timing could be perfect," he said.

Current city law requires food trucks to relocate every 30 minutes, ostensibly to protect brick-and-mortar restaurants. The law also prevents sales after midnight, despite that it's after the hours that most restaurants sell food.

Councilman Peduto is developing legislation that would address where trucks can and cannot operate as well as whether they can sell near restaurants at all or only during special events.

Starting a food truck for an independent operator such as Mr. McLeland is more daunting than it was for chef Brian Pekarcik from Spoon and BRGR in East Liberty. Mr. Pekarcik said his brick-and-mortar restaurants ease the labor of running the BRGR food truck.

"We add production right into our prep and our cost," he said. His BRGR truck has refrigeration for up to 350 burgers. If the truck is swamped by customers at a festival or an event, "it's just a phone call away to bring another 100, 150 more burgers. For most food trucks, when they run out, they're done for the day."

Here in Pittsburgh, food trucks affiliated with a restaurant lend legitimacy to the effort.

A pioneer of Pittsburgh Mobile Food Coalition, Mr. Pekarcik said that his presence, along with Hoon Kim of Fukuda and the Franktuary partners, convey support for the growth of food trucks. A petition with signatures from dozens of local restaurants helps.

"I haven't come across any pushback from brick-and-mortar restaurants," he said. "Owners generally want to see food trucks thrive here."

Unlike other food trucks in the area, Mr. Pekarcik said that 90 percent of his food truck business comes from inside the city limits, the result of partnerships that allow him to park in two Downtown lots for weekday lunch service as well as corporate rentals.

Aside from events and roundups, Mr. Kim said he will likely end up selling outside the city.

"Because of the legal structure, we need a host with a private lot," he said, citing the Coffee Buddha on the border of West View as the host for PGH Taco Truck.

Should Mr. Kim find a host, he would consider parking "three, four or five times a week," he said.

Mr. Kim recalled a day last week during which he helped James Rich, proprietor of PGH Taco Truck, as he operated in the Coffee Buddha lot.

"There were lines of people waiting for tacos," he said. "The turnout demonstrates that people want more trucks here. To drive around the streets and to sell food in town? That's the hardest thing to do in Pittsburgh right now."

Melissa McCart: 412-263-1198 or on Twitter @melissamccart.


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