By Rob Peterson
Food truck rallies, previously found only in downtown Kalamazoo, are branching out to the surrounding communities, including two sites in south county.
“We wanted to try something new this summer,” said Becca Shemberger of Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center, the organizer of the events. “So many events have been canceled, and people are hungry for something to do.”
The rallies make for a unique dining experience. Shemberger and her staff invite five food vendors with different styles of street food to make sure patrons have options. The vendors rotate, so each rally offers a new combination of cuisines. It’s not uncommon to find a dish from a mobile food vendor that can’t be found at a local restaurant.
The June 30 event at Chem Link in Schoolcraft included Motor Mouth BBQ; Coffee Rescue hot and cold beverages; American fare from Freddy’s Food Hut; churros from Eli’s Doces; and paella from Fire & Rice.
The mobile food businesses are typically chef-driven enterprises. Owners are eager to talk about their food.
Nick Neveau, owner of Fire & Rice, was happy to describe his paella, a traditional Spanish rice dish that is hearty enough for a meal. “The rice we use comes from Barcelona, and we make it with vegetables, meats, or seafood,” said Neveau. “We use imported saffron to season the rice. It’s the most expensive spice in the world.”
Due to the implications of COVID-19, the events have been carry-out only so far. “We are hoping, as restrictions ease, that we’ll be able to have on-site dining, games and even live music,” said Shemberger.
The vendors and staff are following the safety guidelines provided by the CDC and the Kalamazoo County Health Department. All trucks are spread out 15 feet or so, hand sanitizer is on site and the ground is marked with “X’s” to ensure those waiting in line can maintain a safe distance from each other. They also encourage attendees to wear masks so that everyone feels comfortable at the events.
The food truck rallies are just one part of the work that Kalamazoo Experiential Learning Center does. The organization’s goal is to provide hands-on learning for college students to give them entrepreneurial experience. The students, many of whom are studying event management at WMU, work with non-profit groups to put on events and fundraisers.
The rallies will return to south county for three more Tuesday events this summer, each from 5-8 p.m. They will be at Chem Link on July 28, Oswalt Park in Vicksburg on August 11, and back to Chem Link on August 25.
By Rob Peterson