Even with a bracing wind blowing off the lake, the first food truck rally in downtown Coeur d’Alene did a brisk business Sunday. Hundreds lined up for grilled cheese sandwiches, tacos, crepes, sausages, jerk chicken, steak wraps and more.
Six food vendors from Coeur d’Alene and Spokane set up on the edge of McEuen Park next to the city library and cooked their dishes into the evening, or until they ran out of ingredients. The event was a test drive for the Lake City, which may permit a larger collection of food trucks to serve crowds at Car d’Lane, the classic car celebration in June.
“I had no idea what the response would be,” said Heather Riviere, the owner of Coeur de Breizh, a year-old crepe truck that’s usually parked in Coeur d’Alene at 3615 N. Government Way. “I was hoping it would generate interest and get people out here, and we’re having a wonderful day.”
The event was organized by the Greater Spokane Food Truck Association and approved last month by the Coeur d’Alene City Council, which in recent months has mulled new regulations for the mobile food truck industry.
Tony Epefanio, the owner of Shameless Sausages from Spokane, said he’s grateful city officials agreed to give the vendors a shot at an assembly.
“It’s what people love; it’s what everybody is asking for all across the country,” Epefanio said of the food truck movement.
“They told us if this goes well and we get a good response, we’ll have a chance to do something during Car d’Lane,” which marks its 25th anniversary June 19-20. “That’s what we’re working for,” he said.
Epefanio hustled Sunday to keep up with orders in a booth, not a food truck, including his best-selling Hawaiian and bacon cheddar dogs. Flanking him were the creperie and Meltz Extreme Grilled Cheese, from Coeur d’Alene, and The Jamaican Jerk Pan, 3 Ninjas and King of Tacos, all of Spokane.
Maxine and Ray Whiteside, of Coeur d’Alene, came down to eat – she had a tofu rice bowl, he ordered a fish taco with habanero sauce.
“We love the idea of it. It’s great,” Maxine said.
Her husband added, “It does bring people into a certain area. That’s what the merchants really want. It makes sense.”
Their son Travis, a sushi chef, launched his own food truck, Raw Dead Fish, a week ago at Best Avenue and North Sixth Street.
Sunday’s rally fell on National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day, and Penny Marsell, of Spokane, celebrated it with a visit to the Meltz truck. She bought a pulled pork creation for herself and a regular grilled cheese for one of her grandchildren.
“I think it’s wonderful. This is a lot of fun, and everybody likes to eat,” Marsell said.
A few Coeur d’Alene restaurant owners have questioned the city allowing food trucks to use the public lot at the park, but Epefanio said mobile operators aren’t looking for a competitive advantage.
“We’re bringing attention to Coeur d’Alene. We’re not hurting anybody,” he said. “We want to work with local businesses.”
Riviere said the food trucks also can take pressure off packed downtown eateries at the height of major events.
“I think it’s a solution to help with all of the numbers and serving people quickly so they’re happy,” she said.
She said she’s not interested in setting up in downtown on a regular basis, preferring instead her usual spot on the north side.
“In my experience, you build up your clientele by being in a certain place at a certain time,” Riviere said.
The trucks acquired temporary mobile vending permits for Sunday’s rally, and if the city approves more such events, the vendors would be charged for use of public parking spots and also may be required to carry insurance coverage for