In Pierce County, food truck days were started as a way to provide an option for dining when local restaurants are closed. It’s turned into a catalyst for building community.
It’s common in rural communities to have one or two days a week when the town’s local restaurants are closed, leaving residents without their usual dining options. In Plainview (pop. 1,440), Food Truck Mondays provided residents with something to eat on those days and introduced some choices to the community. In Pierce (pop. 1,700) the county courthouse has a prime parking location along Highway 13 and recently opened it up to food trucks.
Susan Norris, director of Pierce County Economic Development, is now the scheduler of those food truck days.
Norris says one obvious benefit food truck days provide to residents is the opportunity to try new flavors. Castle Rock Burgers even offers some Filipino dishes. The food truck businesses themselves also benefit by gaining new followers. The social benefit of providing another time and place for families and neighbors to gather is a benefit to the community Norris hadn’t anticipated.
Chance encounters while running errands or at school events provide important opportunities for neighbors in small towns to catch up. In a farming community like Plainview, Norris says this is especially important.
“Farmers are isolated on their farms most of the year busy with different things, so when they do get a chance to run into each other in town, you do find people taking that chance to catch up, or maybe someone passed away so they’re offering their condolences,” she said.
One of the benefits of the food trucks, Norris says, is being another way to bring people together. During the height of the pandemic, the food trucks were still open and served as a safe place to gather outside.
Now in their third year, food truck days in Pierce County are still going strong. Residents have built relationships with food truck businesses they can draw on for other events, like community festivals.
For organizers wanting to host their own Food Truck Days in their town, Norris has some tips:
1. Location matters. High visibility is a must. Locating at the park or some other attraction or inviting space encourages people to interact. In Plainview, where food trucks are set up in the park, meals are more than just grab-and-go. Coworkers will go together to eat lunch in the park and enjoy the weather, families, and neighbors come to the park for dinner and time for kids to play before bed, and people who might only see one another at a busy school event have a chance to visit and catch up.
2. Ask for the menu of the food truck ahead of time and make online flyers to promote the event. Sites like PosterMyWall or Canva help to make easy flyer designs.
3. Post on social media (don’t forget Facebook Marketplace!) and encourage other partners, including the food trucks themselves, to share the post. “We’ve seen husbands and wives tagging each other in the comments, and families tagging other families and friends, saying, “Dinner in the park, let’s meet up!” said Norris. In a town of 1,300, Plainview’s first Food Truck Monday post of the season earned 1,400 views.
4. Make it easy for trucks to come. Give them a good location, and let them hook into the city or village electricity (saves money on gas for generators!).
5. Communicate and follow up with both the food trucks and community members. This ensures that everyone is in the loop and increases the chance of success for the next event.
In Pierce County, food truck days are spicing up the local dining scene during the workweek, but they’re also building a longer-term legacy. One meal at a time, they provide another opportunity for connection, strengthening the county’s civic health.