Food trucks serving up a crowd in Salt Lake City

Story and slideshow by DAVID FISHER

See what food trucks are serving up on the streets of Salt Lake City.

Korean barbeque, gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, slow-roasted barbeque and delectable cupcakes are only a few of the options available during Food Truck Thursdays at The Gallivan Center in downtown Salt Lake City. Hundreds of customers rally in from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. between 200 and 300 South every Thursday afternoon to purchase endless amounts of street food during a weekly local gathering of food trucks.

Creating a social scene, food truck-goers interact with one another as they wait in line for their food. This is a unique dining experience; the diversity of the dishes and the à la carte style of eating is not something that can be found at a typical sit-down restaurant.

Three years ago, food trucks were required to follow a strict set of laws that prevented them from gathering within private properties of Salt Lake City. However, in April 2012 this law was changed to permit food trucks to gather in these areas and serve a wide variety of customers. This has created a totally new scene, and a plethora of newly successful businesses on wheels.

What started as only four food trucks in 2012, has increased to more than 40 trucks that roll through the streets of Salt Lake City.

One such food truck is Cupbop, a truck known for its Korean food in a to-go cup. Beef, spicy pork, chicken, or a meat combo are options available for customers to enjoy over rice, noodles and vegetables. All meat is slow roasted and marinated in a delectable homemade sauce that owner Junghung Song learned to make on a church mission he served for three years in South Korea. Each cup is covered in a savory sauce that ranges from mild to spicy. Song uniquely named the mild seasoning “baby spice” (level 1 spicy). For those who like a spicier dish, he recommends the “melt your mouth spice” (level 10 spicy).

Cupbop’s motto is “Shhhh, just eat,” which Song describes as not asking what Cupbop is, but rather just trying it for yourself.

Song went to a Salt Lake City restaurant convention in spring 2013 and noticed there were not any Korean food restaurants. This was when food trucks were starting to appear within the city. He wanted to start his own unique Korean barbeque food truck to serve his homemade recipe to customers.

Song quit his job working for an advertising company and decided to pursue running his own local business on wheels. It only attracted a few customers at first, but now Cupbop is one of the most popular food trucks in Salt Lake City. A large line of customers always gathers up the steps of the Gallivan Plaza every Thursday afternoon.

Waiting in line for food can be boring, but Cupbop makes it an experience.

Song is known for having his employees who work within the truck come out and sing and dance with the people waiting in line. Korean pop music echoes through the plaza as customers attempt to sing along to tunes that they are hearing for the first time in a language they may not understand.

“If I’m not having fun, I cannot smile to my customers,” Song said. “A bad experience would make you want to leave, and never want to come back. This is your lunch break. I don’t want you to stress out during an already busy day.”

Song always serves Cupbop with a smile, and hopes to bring a smile to all of his customers’ faces. He wants them to come back for more.

“Sometimes the other food trucks find us annoying because we are so loud,” Song says while laughing.

Song communicates with all of the other owners of food trucks because they are beginning to become their own community. Song runs and operates Food Truck Underground, which allows people to vote on locations for food trucks to gather. Food Truck Thursdays at the Gallivan is just one of many gatherings that occur throughout the week.

One truck that participates in Food Truck Underground is Heidi Cakes Utah, a food truck specializing in gourmet cupcakes made from scratch with fresh ingredients. Known for the eye popping, spotted bright pink motorhome, Heidi Cakes Utah has been serving customers for a little more than two years.

Owner Janine Lestwich wakes up every morning at 4 o’clock to start baking hundreds of her cupcakes in the commercial kitchen attached to the back of the motorhome. All cupcakes are loaded and ready to be sold for $3 apiece by 9 a.m.

What started as a bake sale to raise money for an annual anti-drug and alcohol rally is now a large-scale business. Ten percent of profits that Lestwich makes from selling her cupcakes is given to 4TheSolution.org, which educates youth about the dangers of drugs and alcohol.

With sales and donations combined, Lestwich has raised more than $10,000 toward 4TheSolution.org since the start of her business.

“We are one of the few food trucks which only sells desserts and donates profits to a good cause,” Lestwich said. “We have no competition. Our customers want to keep coming back to support the cause and my business. I really appreciate everybody coming together.”

When the Heidi Cakes Utah truck is not at Food Truck Thursdays, it can be found in downtown Ogden or at local car dealerships.

One of the biggest challenges that both Cupbop and Heidi Cakes Utah face is when the truck decides not to work. This includes engine failure or oil leaks and problems within the kitchen.

“Truck issues are extremely difficult to deal with,” Song said. “It can completely shut down our business and decrease profits, especially in the winter. But it’s worth it because it creates a challenge.”

Both Cupbop and Heidi Cakes Utah inform customers of these problems through social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Because both trucks do not have an official website, this is their means of communicating to the public.

For Heidi Cakes Utah, Lestwich posts a daily menu and schedule on Facebook and Instagram as to where her truck will be located and what she will be serving that day. She listens to her customers’ words. If they are requesting a specific flavor of cupcake or for her to be at a certain location, she will respond.

“I share a lot of my personal life on my business Facebook,” Lestwich said. “People don’t get angry when I have to take a week off from my truck because they know I am visiting one of my daughters in Tennessee or Texas. Sometimes you just need to put family before business.”

Lorna Balfour, 21, is a customer of Heidi Cakes Utah who has been following the business for the past few months on social media platforms.

“I try to come down to Food Truck Thursdays as much as possible during my lunch break,” said Balfour, who works at the University of Utah. “It’s a place where the community comes together to try new foods that they may not have tried before. I go to Heidi Cakes because of the cause she supports and her red velvet cupcake.”

Balfour follows a multitude of food trucks on Instagram and Facebook so she can stay up to date as to where they are located. Sometimes she posts photos on Instagram of the food she gets from the truck and her friends always ask her about where she got the food in her photographs. She describes it as being a part of a community that is unique to Salt Lake City.

Song explains that with Cupbop, most of his new customers come because they saw social media posts from friends of theirs. Free Cubop is offered to customers who share images of their food on social media to an abundance of followers or give a great review. It is a type of reward that Song likes to give as a thank you for marketing for his truck.

The food truck community within Salt Lake continues to grow as more food trucks are beginning to gather in public places. This creates a village of a melting pot of different styles of food for customers to enjoy. There’s always something new to enjoy, and a new favorite food truck to be discovered.