Less than a week after TEDxFortWayne, it’s pretty clear based on the Twitter conversations we’ve been cc:’d into.
We’ve become the taco truck people. Which was not our intention.
We don’t care, at all, if people want to turn Fort Wayne into a food truck mecca. One of our favorite things in Austin was Gourdough’s, a donut trailer that specializes in creations like the Porkey’s (that’s a doughnut topped with Canadian Bacon, Cream Cheese and Jalapeno Jelly) and the Mother Clucker (doughnut with a Fried Chicken Strip and Honey Butter). Trust us, we understand the appeal.
The thing we were trying to get at with the TEDx talk is that we’re extraordinarily wary of the thinking that can lead a community to embrace the idea of food trucks (especially if people are talking about food trucks in the abstract, before there are actual trucks serving actual food.)
Let’s break down the food truck appeal (as we see it), piece by piece.
- Good, cheap food. – As Brown mentioned at TEDxFortWayne, this was the cornerstone of the initial taco trucks. Thankfully, this isn’t something Fort Wayne lacks. Places like Powers Hamburgers, Cindy’s Diner and Coney Island offer exactly the sort of food you would have seen if a food truck culture had sprung up organically in Fort Wayne the same time taco trucks were developing in California.
- Location. – The one thing a food truck can do that a diner can’t is pack up and drive away. When the first taco trucks were developed, this allowed proprietors to go to where their customers were working. A food truck in Fort Wayne would have that same ability, but the ongoing focus on Downtown Fort Wayne (and the continuing critique of places like Trionfale Espresso for having a zip code other than 46802) makes it seem likely that a Fort Wayne food truck would spend most of its time within walking distance of Wayne and Calhoun.
- “Because it’s a food truck!” – Yep, we get it. There’s something inherently appealing about ordering food out of a truck. You wait in line, the menu’s always changing, then you plop down on a curb and enjoy your lunch like a construction worker on the high iron. Things like The Great Food Truck Race have raised the profile of food trucks across the country, and it’s totally natural to want to bring that to The Fort.
We’re not against the idea of a food truck if it exists to fill those first two needs: good, cheap food in locations where people need it. If a food truck pops up in Fort Wayne simply because it’s a “food truck,” we’re a little more wary of it, just like we’re wary of anything that uses that sort of logic.
We’d be 100% behind a food truck that served neighborhoods in Fort Wayne that lack healthy dining options with organic, fresh food at a cheap price. But that doesn’t seem to be what most people talk about when they talk food trucks. The conversations seem to revolve around setting up shop outside of Parkview Field and giving Tincaps fans another option for a pre-game meal.
If you’re not serving good, cheap food in a location that isn’t otherwise served, you’re basing the appeal of your food truck on that last thing. And you’re doing it after they’ve made a reality show about how great food trucks are.
If you launch a food truck in Fort Wayne and have even the slightest bit of business sense, you will make a killing. We’re just a little wary of getting behind anything that only needs to exist because it’s a “big thing” that Fort Wayne doesn’t have yet.
So, now that we’ve laid out our case regarding food trucks, let’s address the most important part: none of this is actually about food trucks.
We’re leery of anything that’s motivated by a desire to grab hold of “the next big thing.” We chose food trucks to mention in the six-minute TEDxFortWayne talk because we thought it would be an effective, catchy shortcut to a larger idea.
Maybe we missed the mark.
But one of the reasons that we think food trucks are such a great example is because there are really strong reasons for them to exist in certain circumstances. When those aren’t present, you wind up chasing the “hip” thing, and that’s where the trouble starts.
Without an organic beginning, you just wind up chasing fads. The mindset that drives “hip” food trucks is the same mindset that drove people to invest in Beanie Babies. If we try to build a community around things that everyone’s fawning over today, without considering what they’ll need tomorrow, we run the risk of building our roads out of POGs. (Please don’t tweet us about POGs, thanks.)
“Early on in 2008 when I barged into these talks, I found that there were some in Fort Wayne with shiny-object syndrome. They wanted carbon copies of what was successful for other cities, almost like they could just drag and drop a big box retailer or entertainment district from another city and it would work just as well here. Some people have advocated waterparks, but here we want to develop our rivers. What will a waterpark say about Fort Wayne that we can’t say with something that is entirely our own to begin with?”
That bold part is the core of what we were trying to say, and what got lost in the taco truck metaphor. Thanks for making it make sense, Kelly.
Our biggest takeaway from TEDx wasn’t about the talks or the discussion afterward, even with Kelly’s awesome follow-up. This whole experience has made us realize we were really talking to ourselves, more than anyone else. Everything we talked about (Be Honest With Yourself, Don’t Open A Non-Profit, Hustle), those are things we needed to hear, more than things we needed to tell anyone else.
So, now that we’ve got the taco truck thing (hopefully) cleared up, we’re going to take some time to figure out what other reminders we really need to hear, and what we can do that’s entirely our own.
And when we figure that out, we’ll post it here