Rayme Rossello plunked down $100,000 to buy and convert an old DHL delivery van into a decked-out mobile kitchen called Comida, equipped with a propane-powered six-burner range, an oven, a 24-inch griddle, two refrigerators and a computerized order-taking system.
She painted it bright pink, cut a window out of the side to serve freshly made Mexican dishes, slung some fuzzy dice on the mirror and began rolling the truck through the city of Boulder looking for customers. Posting her location on Facebook and Twitter, Rossello watched as crowds lined up to sample her "pollo asado" tacos and "gorditas de rajas y crema."
But within a couple weeks of Comida's May 17 debut, Rossello and her two employees were approached by police as they served food on Pearl Street, west of the pedestrian mall, and told that they were in violation of the city's vending regulations. Move on, the officers said.
Rossello, who now mostly serves hungry lunchtime crowds spilling out of cubicles in Boulder's office parks, said she feels a little perplexed about the city's rules and constrained as to exactly where she can set up shop.
"I'd love to stop in neighborhoods, like an ice cream truck, and sell food," said the 39-year-old co-founder of Proto's Pizza. "When we pull up, people are so psyched."
She said vibrant food truck scenes -- offering a higher-end assortment of cuisines that go far beyond the familiar "roach coaches" that stop at construction sites -- already exist in Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; and Los
Joseph Veltri prepares an order Thursday out of the Comida food truck. Comida has been serving Mexican food around Boulder since May 17. Interest in the food truck businesses is growing and Boulder city officials plan to meet this week to discuss regulations. ( Greg Lindstrom )
"There's an excitement with street food culture and I want to bring that to Boulder," Rossello said.
City looking at food trucks
City spokeswoman Sarah Huntley said there has been an uptick in queries from people interested in starting up food truck businesses in Boulder. On Tuesday, officials from several city departments -- including planning, land use, sales tax, and licensing -- are scheduled to discuss food trucks and the regulations under which they operate.
"We've recently come to the conclusion that we need to have a better understanding of the regulations that exist in the different areas this touches on and do a better job of coordinating the process businesses would have to go through to start up this kind of enterprise," Huntley said.
On its face, the code is clear: No mobile vending is allowed on public streets or parking lots. The city does make exceptions for food carts on the Pearl Street Mall and businesses with delivery routes -- like ice cream trucks -- that are expected to "keep on moving," Huntley said.
Tuesday's meeting, she said, will simply try to get all the departments involved in licensing and regulating food trucks on the same page, with the hope of generating a fact sheet about what is and isn't allowed in the city.
"We recognize it's an emerging issue and we want to get on top of it," Huntley said.
But she said it was "way premature" to talk about any possible changes to Boulder's code.
Hosea Rosenberg , winner of season five of Bravo TV's "Top Chef" reality show and a former chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder, said the food truck movement is not going away any time soon.
"It's a new phenomenon in the restaurant realm and it's how people eat in America," he said. "It's a whole subset of dining out."
Rosenberg and his partner, Laura Rice, plan to launch an Airstream trailer in a couple of weeks as part of a new company they are starting, called StrEat Chefs. The Airstream will stop at Chautauqua, the Louisville Street Faire and the Twenty Ninth Street mall this summer, as well as make lunch stops at local businesses.
Hot dogs and tinfoil hamburgers this is not. Rosenberg is talking about selling homemade tater tots and the Vietnamese sandwich, bahn mi, as well as healthy salads and noodle bowls.
But he said Boulder's regulations on food trucks means he'll have to restrict his mobile food unit to pre-approved locations in the city.
"We will not be roaming the streets selling rogue," he said. "We don't want to start any problems."
Rosenberg would love to see the city loosen its code on mobile food vendors so that the trucks could become part of the fabric of Boulder's culture, where he believes street food would be readily embraced.
He said there are plenty of talented restaurateurs in the city who would love to bring their gourmet cooking out of the dining room.
"It seems very fascinating to diners to eat that way," he said. "You're outside, the location always changes, the menu changes, and the price point is lower."
Rosenberg points to Portland, Ore., as a city that has managed to create an inviting environment for food truck vendors.
The Web site FoodCartsPortland.com describes the abundance of mobile vendors in town and where they are located at any given time.
"Some might call them lunch wagons, taco trucks or even snack shacks, but whatever you call them, they are truly a phenomenon in Portland," the site states. "Set up in parking lots, sidewalks, and even parks (sometimes in large groups and sometimes solo), one might nosh on a fresh tortilla Baja fish taco one day, a rib-sticking bowl of traditional goulash the next, have a coffee and pastry for an afternoon snack, and then take home a giant Indian combo box for dinner."
Rossello, who runs the Comida business, said Boulder is the kind of place food truck culture could thrive and perhaps even break new ground. The range of cuisine is already here, she said, it's just a matter of getting it moving.