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Charleston food trucks team up to form Wonder Trucks collective

Up, up, and away

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The yard will probably never look the same again, but it was worth it. This past fall, I had a popular regional taco truck serve the food at my small town coastal Virginia wedding — they pulled up within 100 feet of the dance floor. It was a hellofa lot more fun (and tasty) than a plated steak or salmon production. My celebration aside, it sure seems that a lot of people are starting to think creatively when it comes to event eats. And when I could access relatively elevated fare in my one-high school town, imagine the level of mobile food services available right here in the Holy City.

Food truck owner and operator Paula O'Reilly knows the potential Charleston has to be on the forefront of the food truck scene. Two years ago, Paula and her husband started Oh So Gelato, serving up hand-made gelato, sorbet, and ice cream out of a custom sleek black and red cart imported from Italy. O'Reilly isn't a professional chef or confectioner, but she appreciates the art of gelato, how it's made — "there are people who make careers as gelato chefs because it is a science, and I wanted to bring integrity to it" — and how it's eaten — "dance for 20 minutes, come back to it, it will still be amazing."

Paula O'Reilly loves how gelato makes a memory for people. - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Paula O'Reilly loves how gelato makes a memory for people.

In her travels, peddling nine flavors at festivals and community fairs, O'Reilly says that often, the effort she and her fellow truckers are putting forth isn't always worth it. "I'm sure everyone has a word for when you go to an event and don't make money that day," says O'Reilly. "No matter what we call it, we all have similar experiences — going to a festival they want $500, I'm asking $3 per gelato. We're all having the same conversations with ourselves and our accountants. 'How do I justify this experience?' 'How does this money work into my business model?'"

And while the guessing game of who will show up to the brewery on a Thursday or the Mt. Pleasant cul-de-sac on a Sunday can be rewarding, at the end of the day they are trying to make a living. Over time, O'Reilly has found that booking private events and weddings is where the consistent money is — $$ that's often paid in advance.

"I live in a neighborhood where there's a wedding venue," says O'Reilly. "So I called the owner and said 'I'd like to do weddings here.'" According to the venue owner, it turns out a lot of brides ask for food truck recommendations when they tour the site. "The lightbulb went off," says O'Reilly.

It's difficult, when completely immersed in your career — especially when it involves preparing and serving food out of a tiny rolling box — to step back and put yourself in the most advantageous situations. "I'm uniquely positioned," says O'Reilly, who only operates the gelato cart seasonally. "I've gotten to sort of stand at the top of the tiny food truck hill — we all need to be purposeful in looking for corporate events, company parties, weddings, any opportunity where anything is being paid for by people hosting it, where we're not handling money and trying to serve food."

Enter: Wonder Trucks, O'Reilly's brainchild officially launching this Fri. March 1. Wonder Trucks will work with wedding planners, event planners, venues, and directly with wedding couples to connect them with the best food trucks around.

Josh Taylor and his popular fusion food truck Root Note are part of Wonder Trucks collective. - RUTA SMITH
  • Ruta Smith
  • Josh Taylor and his popular fusion food truck Root Note are part of Wonder Trucks collective.
"All the people who participate have to have five star ratings at one of their rating sites — that's a minimum requirement," says O'Reilly. The lineup so far includes "savory" trucks Bearded Dogs, Braised in the South, Brunch Holiday, Cast Iron, Dough Boyz, Jonny Poppers, Rebel Taqueria, Root Note, Tamashii, and Two Fat Olives; Oh So Gelato in the "sweets" category; and Mamasita's Margaritas under "beverages."

If the concept sounds familiar, that's because it is. You may have heard of Roaming Hunger, a national food truck event coordinator that lets clients browse a number of trucks in their area, letting you sort through types of cuisine, price ranges, and more. Roaming Hunger deals with negotiating rates, coordinating logistics, and ensures that the food truck will show up with bells on.

O'Reilly says she used Roaming Hunger herself, booking several events through the group. But, according to O'Reilly, "They have no boots on the ground in Charleston. They were bringing planners from other states ... A lot of us were able to book super private big paying events but for whatever reason, that has really tapered off."

With Wonder Trucks, O'Reilly will be hands-on, offering her services free of charge to start. "I'm a mother of five and grandmother of five so their lives [fellow food truckers] — fast forward 20, 30 years. I appreciate that they're taking a skill set and going a direction because there are a thousand naysayers."

One of the truckers that O'Reilly has taken under her wonder wing is Josh Taylor of Root Note, a popular fusion food truck that also recently took over a stall at Workshop. Taylor says he's most excited about "providing people with a one-stop shop for booking the best food truck experience for their event." In addition to the "southern cuisine with a northern Thai twist" offerings of Root Note, the Wonder Trucks collective covers most every culinary concept: American comforts like hot dogs, burgers, and 'cue; UK-inspired breakfast items; and imports like pizza, sushi, tacos, and Italian. "I know most of the owners of the trucks involved with Wonder Trucks personally and I am very excited about getting to grow this project with them," says Taylor.

The one specialized libations Wonder Trucker is Mamasita's Margaritas, the almost two-year old margarita mobile run by Elizabeth Bowron and Elise Mayberry. The biz is not a full bar — tequila reigns supreme — but they do have a rescue donkey named Wilbur who may make a special appearance upon request. Bowron says they only participate in private events (you can't just sling liquor in public spaces willy nilly) and when O'Reilly reached out, the Mamasitas were more than happy to sign onto this like-minded collective. It didn't hurt that "we're both professional women that believe in empowering women," says Bowron. "I think it will actually be beneficial to both sides of the equation for food truck vendors it's a great collaborative to have some bargaining power ... Paula has totally organized and set that up for success for anyone."

To book a five-star rated Charleston food truck for your next event, head to wondertrucks.com.

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