Brandy Queen and Meladie Ingram recently celebrated the one-year anniversary of an epiphany that has helped connect mobile foodies across the Lowcountry.
Queen moved from her hometown Charleston in 2003 and has lived in Bluffton since graduating from USCB. The surgical coordinator for Goulas Eye Center is a self-professed “epic foodie” and had seen the influx of food trucks in Bluffton and Hilton Head Island.
“But there was no centralized place to find out where the trucks would be,” Queen said. “We’d have food truck rallies and the trucks are so good at texting and getting the word out in Charleston, but we’re not quite there yet here. We wanted to help that process along.”
That led her to create the May River Food Truck Finder Facebook group. She asked her friend and co-worker Ingram if she’d help her moderate the page.
“I wasn’t going to do it alone. Meladie and I had to do this together,” Queen said of creating the page.
As much as the food truck population has exploded in the past two years – with now more than 50 mobile eateries roaming the Lowcountry Triangle of Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and Beaufort – the marketing of the trucks has largely been segmented truck-by-truck.
“Parking is always an issue for the real trucks and we wanted to give the trucks a central virtual spot to park, where they knew there were plenty of people to promote to,” Queen said of the vision behind the Facebook group.
Truck owners have certainly taken to the page, which now has more than 2,600 members, to promote their weekly schedule and their latest creations. But the page has also turned into a clearinghouse for neighborhood coordinators to find available trucks to fill their weekly vacancies.
“That’s been a cool outgrowth, creating this connection between the communities looking to book trucks and the chefs looking for the next gig,” Queen said. “We were amazed watching the folks signing up. We had 30 before lunch the first day and we thought that was incredible. To have this many folks connecting, it’s becoming the tool we hoped it would be.”
The page has also helped food truck owners connect with one another. When Big Dog Tacos chef and owner Joe DePatty was facing health issues ahead of his grand opening, he took to the page looking for staffers to help him open. The tight-knit group of mobile chefs immediately jumped to his aide.
“That was so great to see, the way they used the page to connect and help Joe out. He’s been one of our biggest backers and promoters,” Queen said.
And she’s not just posting online about the trucks. Queen is out and about as much as possible sampling all the latest menu additions from both favorite and newly-found trucks.
“I love Young’s BBQ. His Mean Ass Plate is culinary magic. I’m practically there every Saturday getting the MAP,” she said of the ribs, brisket and turkey leg combo. “It’s huge, enough to feed a family. I split it with my mom, my husband and my 12-year-old daughter.”
Queen has seen the volume of food trucks grow this past year parallel to the population explosion and Northern migration.
“It’s a whole new world here. The more folks that move in that are familiar with the food truck scene, the more I think the local mobile foodie crowd is going to grow,” she said. “I admit it, this was kind of selfish and personal at first. I just wanted to know where all the trucks were going to be, and it was so cool to quickly see that I wasn’t the only one looking.”
The page is public, so anyone can join. What was once a secret commodity for truck owners and foodies alike has been growing in reach every week.
“I think what’s great is we’re starting to see the Savannah and Charleston trucks come to us. That’s when you know you’re building a scene,” Queen said.
With the creation of gathering spots like Bluffton’s Backyard State of Mind and the Port Royal Community Beer Garden, along with spaces along travel hotspots like May River Road and the island beaches, more and more newbies are being exposed to the trucks.
“We’re really just at the beginning of this evolution. Towns are being more and more welcoming to the trucks, seeing them as a commodity rather than a nuisance,” Queen said. Likewise, brick-and-mortar eatery owners who once saw the trucks as a threat to business are rapidly realizing that high tide raises all ships in the foodie game.
“We’re seeing more and more restaurants create their own trucks to go along with their main locations,” Queen said.
Queen and Ingram hope to continue to grow the page’s following and to give food truck fans more resources to find their favorite chefs.
“Whether it’s on Facebook or creating a web page, it would be great to have an up-to-date locator map,” she said. “We’re thrilled to see folks embrace the group and love talking about all the amazing food being created in these trucks.”
Tim Wood is a veteran journalist based in Bluffton. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.