Tucked alongside the parked vehicles lining College Avenue is an inconspicuous white trailer hitched to the back of a truck. The black boldface lettering printed on the trailerʼs side reads simply, “French Crepes.”
Donʼt keep walking. Stop here. And if youʼve moseyed on past, itʼs time to backpedal. Inside the trailer, chef Amri Prince is whipping up authentic French crepes.
Pull up to the window of the trailerʼs exterior and hungry spectators can observe Princeʼs cooking technique, as he smooths out his original recipe batter on hot plates heated to 450 degrees. If you ask, Prince will tell you the story of how he learned to make crepes and built this trailer with his father-in-law.
“Iʼm from Tunisia,” he will tell you. “There is a heavy French culinary influence there, and when I moved to Kaukauna, I wanted crepes but no one was making them. I decided I would be the one.”
Prince and his food trailer, Le Prince French Crepes, are part of a gourmet food truck revolution that has rolled into the Fox Valley, a community known for its proud supper club traditions. As the area’s dining scene evolves, residents can now step outside their comfort zone and choose from an array of mobile eateries that are moving us forward and into the future as a community.
Gourmet food trucks, trailers and carts, though well known cultural icons in large cities like San Francisco and Chicago, are a new, welcome addition to the Fox Valley.
According to Karen Harkness, Appletonʼs director of community development, the food truck trend is a modern and novel approach to dining that is adding a significant cultural experience to the city.
“This is such a fun and unique experience,” Harkness says. “Youʼve got all kinds of community members outside, eating gourmet meals together on the street. It adds a level of social interaction—with the vendor, neighbors, coworkers—that isnʼt always a part of the experience of a traditional restaurant.”
The movement is crossing boundaries within the cities departments as well, infusing them with the spirit of collaboration.
“When something like the Fox Valley Food Truck Rally comes forward, it creates an environment of economic development that gets multiple departments involved,” Harkness explains. “The health department, public works and parks and recreation all come together to help the vendors make these events possible.”
Food Truck Rally
Last year marked the inauguration of the Fox Valley Food Truck Rally, a community event featuring 10-plus trucks from around the region at Appletonʼs Pierce Park.
The trucks, ranging from BBQ and wood-fired pizza to kettle corn, authentic Mexican tacos and shaved ice, are splashed with colorful mosaics. Some dangle whimsical charms from their hoods that blow noisily in the wind, beckoning you to step to the service window.
“The Food Truck Rally has already become a sign of spring and summer for our community,” Harkness says.
Having been a huge success in 2015, the organizers have added additional dates and locations to this yearʼs lineup. Four Thursday night events are scheduled to take place at Pierce Park in Appleton and four Tuesday night events will take place at Jefferson Park in Menasha.
Visit the rallyʼs Facebook page for dates and to view a roster of trucks that will be in attendance at each event.
In the Valley
Kyle Fritz of Looyʼs Dogs, a mobile hot dog business, is perhaps best known as the Fox Valleyʼs food truck pioneer. He was one of the first on the scene back in 2009.
“I purchased a trailer and two carts before the city even had regulations or licensing in place allowing them in downtown Appleton,” Fritz says. “In fact, the carts were the first two to be licensed in the state of Wisconsin.”
Kyle worked with the city to get the necessary permits to allow his carts to set up shop during bar close on Friday and Saturday nights. His business took off, fueled by the relationships he developed with regular customers.
“We were able to greatly expand, because we became part of peopleʼs routine, something they looked forward to. Today, we have five hot dog carts, a trailer and a food truck. Weʼre also selling drinks, kettle corn and frosted almonds,” says Fritz, who also owns Bagelicious in downtown Appleton.
“The food trucks, they give people a taste of the big city,” he says. “They see the umbrella of the hot dog cart, and itʼs like stepping out of Appleton for a moment and onto the streets of New York City.”
Beyond the Valley
Just south of the Fox Valley, you can find some of the areaʼs best BBQ. Take a short jaunt over to Oshkosh and nestled into a downtown neighborhood, youʼll discover Rodneyʼs Café, a brick and mortar restaurant.
“Itʼs my motherʼs recipe,” owner Rodney Frazier says proudly. “I grew up in the South with seven brothers and sisters and mom taught us all how to cook.”
Rodneyʼs Café started out as a sandwich shop, but expanded to using a food trailer to spread word of his BBQ at the Oshkosh Farmerʼs Market. He also uses the trailer for catering services.
“The Farmerʼs Market, company catering, family events, you name it,” Frazier says. “The trailer makes it so I can bring the BBQ to people.”
At Frazierʼs brick and mortar location or at the service widow of his food truck, youʼll find heʼs working to carry out a mission not only to offer the area something delicious, but also to give people an opportunity to work.
“I employ people who havenʼt had the ability to develop the critical job skills they need to move up,” he says. “Here, anyone can apply and learn how a food operation is run, how to cook, and serve, so that they can secure long-term employment and succeed in life. Thatʼs my mission.”
Follow that truck!
The beauty of food trucks is their mobility – it can also make them tough to track. Make sure to follow your favorite trucks on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see where they roam on any given day. Find a list of trucks under the notes section on the Fox Valley Food Truck Rallyʼs Facebook page to start.