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Urbana Food Truck Rallies showcase diverse food scene

Food Trucks parked at the Urbana Food Truck Rally on Tuesday at the Urbana Civic Center. The Urbana Food Truck rally takes place on the last Tuesday of every month from now until late October.

Food Trucks parked at the Urbana Food Truck Rally on Tuesday at the Urbana Civic Center. The Urbana Food Truck rally takes place on the last Tuesday of every month from now until late October.

Bianca Reyes

Bianca Reyes

Food Trucks parked at the Urbana Food Truck Rally on Tuesday at the Urbana Civic Center. The Urbana Food Truck rally takes place on the last Tuesday of every month from now until late October.

By Taylor Wegner, Staff Writer

Food trucks offer a distinct dine out experience. They provide guests with an option that is more personal than what one may receive at a fast food restaurant, but with similarly short wait times.

For this reason, from April 25 until late October, the City of Urbana celebrates the local food truck culture by hosting the Urbana Food Truck Rallies. This event is held every last Tuesday of the month and takes place in the parking lot of the Urbana Civic Center, at 108 E Water Street.

Sterling Bollman, the Marketing Coordinator for the City of Urbana, said the Food Truck Rallies began two years ago when the previous coordinator wanted to have a “fun lunch event.”

She expressed why these vendors deserve such recognition.

“Food Trucks give you the opportunity to get gourmet food quicker and cheaper than your typical sit-down restaurant,” Bollman said. “You get the chance to go up to a truck on the side of the street, avoid waiting on a seat at a restaurant and eat delicious food that was passionately prepared by the truck’s owner. It’s a great way to get lunch or dinner quick or even have an off-the-wall dating experience.”

Many larger cities, such as Chicago, Portland and Minneapolis, dedicate stretches of roadway to hosting local food trucks. In order to showcase the diversity of the local cuisine, Champaign-Urbana is following these examples.

Bollman cites the large variety of cuisine available as a benefit for the community.

“Something great about living in the C-U area is the availability of a diverse food scene,” Bollman said. “Food trucks feed right into that. Many times, on one street you can have the choice of Caribbean, Italian, Mexican and spins on classic American cuisines.”

The most recent installment of this event was this past week on June 27, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The time is targeted toward the lunch crowd.

At these rallies, one can expect to find several local food trucks stationed along the fringes of the parking lot, with tables lined up along the lot’s center to allow guests a place to sit and enjoy their meals. Music plays, courtesy of a tent run by the Urbana Free Library.

The food trucks in attendance at June’s Rally included Piato Cafe, Fusilli Tony’s Italian Food, Dragon Fire Pizza, Chester’s BBQ, The Snack Shack, The Empanadas House, Betsy’s Bistro, The Pop Stop, Inc. and NitroCup. All specialize in a particular style of food or beverage and provide this event with an eclectic assortment of cuisine and drink.

Because each food truck operates on its own schedule and can be found at different locations around the Champaign-Urbana at any given day of the week, these rallies provide food truck fans with a chance to order various styles of food, all in one convenient setting.

These major differences in the food trucks’ locations and hours of operation also inspired the creation of the Urbana Food Truck Rallies. Bollman and her fellow coordinators wanted to make these distinctive venues more accessible to the public by gathering the food trucks within the heart of downtown Urbana.

“We wanted a chance to increase the awareness of the trucks and the hard work their owners put into this business,” Bollman said. “Because all the trucks were so spaced out throughout Champaign Urbana, many people weren’t aware of the variety of trucks available. This gave a chance for those trucks to increase popularity and awareness.”

Outside of this event, food truck goers can usually access a food truck’s time and location schedule via social media.

Caribbean Grill was scheduled to be in attendance but was forced to take a break from this month’s event in order to further establish their new permanent location.

Piato Café is one of the few trucks that also has an accompanying permanent location; but unlike Caribbean Grill, Piato’s permanent location, in Lincoln Square Mall, preceded the mobile one.

The co-owner of Piato, Francisco Andres, who is married to the cafe’s primary owner, Kelly Jo Lamb, was running the food truck while his wife supervised the Lincoln Square location. He explained how their permanent restaurant opened in 2006, and that they bought the truck two years later in order to expand.

Andres noted how they “started going to Carle and elsewhere, and it just made things a lot easier and more accessible.”

There is a particular appeal to the mobility that food trucks grant restaurant owners.

Brent Chester, the owner of Chester’s BBQ, explained how having a food truck grants him the freedom to expose people outside of the C-U area to his cooking.

“We mostly do festivals, rather than stay in one particular area,” Chester said.

Chester recalled how he “started barbecuing under tents” at outdoor events, and eventually, about five years ago, realized that he needed to get a truck.

Along with his food truck, Chester runs a restaurant called Project 47, which is permanently located in Mahomet. Food of a similar fare is served here, though the menu is significantly more expansive.

Despite these few exceptions, most of the food trucks operate exclusively through their mobile kitchens.

For those who have missed the previous events, and for those who plan on returning, there are still ample opportunities to catch the local food trucks in one place.

“We wanted to keep it at a month to try and not take the vendors away from their typical spaces and clientele too often and also deal with staffing issues,” Bollman said. “There have been discussions of increasing it to every other week, but for now, it will stay at once a month.”

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