A recap of Atlanta’s first Street Food Festival by Beth McKibben.
What to do on a recent sunny, Saturday afternoon in the gateway to the South? Head to Piedmont Park in Atlanta for the inaugural Street Food Festival. That’s how over 8,000 people from the city’s center to out yonder in LaGrange decided to spend July 14. Families, couples, gaggles of girls, 20, 30, and 40-somethings tucked blankets and lawn chairs under their arms and headed out for a day of food truckin’, Frisbee and frolicking.
Whatever your poison, there’s a food truck for that now, and only the premier trucks flanked the sidewalk at the 10th and Charles Allen entrance of Piedmont Park. From Korean tacos at Yumbii to Puerto Rican pollo emparedados (chicken sandwiches) from Buen Provecho and bacon-stuffed waffles from Nana G’s Chicken and Waffles, it was a ’round the world food crawl in 16 trucks. Specialty tents like Black Tie Barbecue, with their famous grilled corn, Dr. Sweets Cake Emporium and their gluten-free cake shots and Emily G’s Jams lined the sidewalks selling homemade goodies and promoting the power of small businesses in Atlanta.
There was something for everyone to munch on, try or sip at this festival. Local bands played in the background, and even a little live entertainment was provided by the lovely ladies of Silver Classix Crew of Roswell. But the real selling point was the fact that ticket proceeds benefited the Atlanta Community Food Bank, which provides groceries for needy families throughout the community.
It takes a special breed to be a food truckin’ entrepreneur. You’ve got to love food, people, never knowing where you’re headed next and even dealing with pesky city permitting problems. But in the end, it’s all about giving the people what they want. Delicious, fresh-cooked food, served fast. Walking around the festival, you could see the aforementioned breed with big smiles on their faces, happily sharing their creations with the crowd. Every truck and tent owner has a story behind their business venture. Some chose to leave the confines of a restaurant kitchen and embark on a mobile path to culinary greatness. Others, like Black Tie Barbecue and Dr. Sweets, were born from the recession and layoffs that followed. Their loss is Atlanta’s gain, figuratively speaking.
The idea for Black Tie Barbecue came after Spencer Humphrey and Neil Rollins lost their jobs. The old friends were commiserating over how they loved to barbecue for their fraternity at Morehouse back in the day and their wives, Allison and LaToyin (corporate lawyers who soon joined them in the layoff adventure), suggested they take their barbecue to the masses and start their own catering business. They weren’t doing anything else, so thought why not?
The foursome of husbands and wives, fraternity brothers and friends have built one of the most successful catering businesses in Atlanta in just three short years, and are now out to conquer the Southeast. If the extremely long line of patient festival patrons waiting for a taste of brisket, grilled corn and bacon-infused mac ‘n’ cheese was any indication of success, there’s no doubt their quest for Southern domination is achievable. Spencer said the trash talkin’ actually began on Twitter about a week before the festival. A friendly war of words with the other vendors ensued to see who would have the longest line. By all accounts, Black Tie and Yumbii were tied for first place.
As the day went on, the lines to virtually all of the trucks and food tents become staggeringly long, with people waiting 30 minutes just for a taste. Some grumbled about the wait time just to grab a gourmet hot dog, taco or cupcake, but in the end most remembered the spirit of the event. Food truck dining is as much about celebrating the mobile food movement as it is about giving back to those who stand in line just to receive their only meal for the day.
Thanks to the 16 food trucks and specialty vendors who gave so generously of their time and talent at the inaugural fest, Atlanta Community Food Bank will be able to purchase $42,350 worth of groceries for families in need. Many people would be willing to stand in line for delicious food from a truck on a beautiful Atlanta afternoon for that alone.
For a complete list of the food trucks and tents featured at the festival, click here. Next time you’re in the Atlanta area, be sure to check out the Atlanta Food Truck Park and Farmers Market on Howell Mill Road. The park is the only permanent location for food trucks in the area and is open daily from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and until 4 p.m. on Sundays. You can also follow @ATLStreetFood on Twitter.
Beth McKibben is a freelance writer based in Atlanta. She enjoys telling a good story and day tripping with her husband and two kids. To find out more about Beth, see her full bio in our “Contributors” section and read her Atlanta Food & Wine Festival recap here.