Food trucks offer entrepreneurs a less expensive chance to start their business and expand culinary options to the community. Pueblo’s Food Truck Union is hoping the city of Pueblo will help support its rapidly growing organization by extending city services and easing regulations.
The organization is considering transitioning to a co-op model in future years that could help it collectively negotiate for local ingredients. The food truck runners would also like to be able to operate in groups of up to three in parks throughout the city to help alleviate “food deserts” in Pueblo, leaders from the organization said to Pueblo City Council at a work session Monday.
The Food Truck Union started with 11 members this year and ballooned to 55 before the end of the season. The organization helped new trucks navigate the city’s regulations and put on weekly events throughout the summer at Mineral Palace and City parks.
People are always looking for additional food options in Pueblo, said Cooper Watts, the owner of Puff Puffette Pass, a food truck selling Hong Kong-style bubble waffles. Watts also started the Food Truck Union.
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Food trucks pay for supplies at Mineral Palace
The Food Truck Union had to pay approximately $10,000 to $12,000 to rent essential supplies while hosting events at Mineral Palace regularly on Fridays, including dumpsters, porta-potties and tables.
But when food trucks and trailers gathered at City Park regularly on Sundays, they were able to use city resources. That equipment is also available at Mineral Palace Park behind a locked gate, Andrea Naglich told council. Naglich runs a local digital marketing firm and works with the Food Truck Union.
The Food Truck Union also had to pay for closing the street at Mineral Palace Park. Temporarily banning cars from the street boosted accessibility to the trucks and improved safety for the public.
Naglich estimated that the 44 new vendors added this year contributed approximately $80,000 of additional municipal sales tax revenue.
Food truck gatherings are community events that offer a variety of foods at a range of prices, Naglich said.
“Not everybody can afford every meal from every truck, but there is everything from a 50-cent cream corn cup to a $15 barbecue platter full of proteins,” Naglich said.
Union wants to transition to a co-op or nonprofit
Lessening the administrative burden on the Food Truck Union could help the group work on its long-term goal of forming a co-op or nonprofit model, Naglich and Watts said.
Most local food trucks rely on national food distributors to source ingredients. Using nearby ingredients instead could benefit multiple local businesses and generate additional sales tax revenue for the city and county, Naglich told the Chieftain.
“We’re trying to close that food system chain and localize it as much as we can by creating the co-op model,” Naglich said.
By forming a cooperative, the food trucks could negotiate together with local farmers for local food products.
Watts said the original name of the organization was inspired by Pueblo’s labor organizing heritage, but transitioning to a co-op name would be more appropriate.
Most councilors signal support
Naglich said some city staff and elected officials assisted with making sure food trucks were compliant with tax regulations but asked council to think big-picture about how they can benefit the city.
“We hope that you all kind of see the vision that we have for the way that food trucks could really help to bridge the gap with our local city parks and food deserts — and also start to create and generate additional closed economy inside Pueblo with local food providers and local food vendors,” Naglich said.
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Most councilors shared sentiments of support for the Food Truck Union.
“I think the city does have a vested interest in all of you being successful and removing obstacles where we can, making government more efficient,” Councilor Dennis Flores said. He also said he was impressed by the cleanliness of most of the food trucks, which “beat a lot of permanent restaurants around town.”
Councilor Sarah Martinez said the Food Truck Union contributes to Pueblo’s “quality of life” and that the asks of the Food Truck Union would be “very tangible.”
Food Truck Union seeks to connect with the community
Naglich said that many of the food truck owners want to move forward into the next active season “in a way that doesn’t just consider food truck owners,” but also the geography, ethnic background and socio-economic status of the community.
Food trucks could also potentially offer local groceries and/or ready-made meal kits for sale in food deserts around Pueblo.
“We don’t just seek to serve at Mineral Palace and at City Park. We have a broader vision for the Food Truck Union to help meet some of the community needs inside the city of Pueblo, especially in the summertime when we have kids out of school,” Naglich said.
Watts said the city could adjust regulations to allow food trucks to sell grocery-based products from their trucks.
“I serve ice cream and waffles — not the most healthy option, but delicious nonetheless. We could still serve healthy food from our refrigerators,” Watts said.
City regulations prohibit food trucks from operating within 100 feet of local parks without written permission from the director of parks and recreation. Watts and Naglich asked if the city could be flexible with allowing groups of up to three trucks to operate near city parks during the next season.
Watts said if food trucks can gather in local parks, they could form connections with neighborhood residents.
Social media, especially Facebook and Instagram, helps food truck owners connect with local customers and promote each other.
Naglich said the businesses use social media “the way that it was initially intended and designed” — not with sponsored posts and advertisements, but the “grassroots, old-fashioned way” of commenting and sharing posts.
Many of the food truck businesses have at least 1,000 followers on Facebook. The official Pueblo Food Truck Union page was created in March and has nearly 6,000 followers.
The 2023 season of the regular food truck gatherings is scheduled to run from April to October.
Anna Lynn Winfrey covers politics for the Pueblo Chieftain. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter, @annalynnfrey.
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