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A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: Food Trucks Make a Strong Showing at Portsmouth Festival

Jason Moon for NHPR

Food trucks have been a growing culinary trend in big cities for several years now. In rural New Hampshire, the fad has been slower to catch on. But a recent food truck festival in Portsmouth may be a sign that that’s changing.

A parking lot on a gray, chilly afternoon might not seem like the best venue to enjoy local cuisine. But last Sunday, about 3,000 people like Emily Grondon of Rochester thought it worked just fine.

“I think it’s great! And it brings lots of people together – look at all these people eating food, it’s awesome!”

It probably helped that that parking lot was at Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, and that the cuisine on offer was from twenty food trucks from around New England.

“It’s like a food court on wheels!”

Generators hummed and a local band strummed cover songs as people milled around, drinking beer and checking out the eclectic menus.

Ruth Robinson from Windham said the hardest part of her first food truck festival was deciding what to eat.

“We had ice cream, beef pot-pie, grilled cauliflower, and some grilled cheese. A little of everything and now I’m full.”

One truck specialized in Belgian waffles, another in barbeque. There was a cannoli truck, a coffee truck, a taco truck.

It’s a sign of the rapid growth of food trucks over the last several years.

Anne-Marie Aigner is with Food Truck Festivals of America which organized the event.

“Five years ago when we started, we could only find 8 food trucks in the greater Boston area, today we have a list of 500 in New England.”

The festivals may be convenient grazing opportunities for customers, but for the trucks, events like these are a lifeline.

“Oh absolutely, this is where a large part of our income comes from.”

Alex Torres works with the Santé Mobile Farmhouse Café based in Cambridge. He says during the summer, they’ll drive to a different festival almost every weekend.

Credit Jason Moon for NHPR

“On a good day at a festival we’ll make a few thousand dollars as  opposed to a normal lunch hour we’ll make in the 500 to 1500 dollar range.”

It’s also good business for more local truck owners like Clyde Bullen. Bullen started Clyde’s Cupcakes at a traditional brick-and-mortar location in Exeter. But he decided the best way to get in front of potential customers was to invest in a bright pink cupcake truck.

“That’s our color. The store is pink and everyone knows us from the pink boxes and the pink truck.”

Bullen says having a truck also gives him a chance to experiment.

“You can do so much and keep your costs down. There’s a lot of people doing some culinary stuff on these trucks; you have true chefs making some nice cuisine.”

Whether more New Hampshire chefs invest in food trucks may depend on how cities and towns decide to regulate them. City officials in Portsmouth are weighing that issue right now.

Jason Moon is a senior reporter and producer on the Document team. He has created longform narrative podcast series on topics ranging from unsolved murders, to presidential elections, to secret lists of police officers.

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