It’s Friday night in Rochester and you’re all dressed up and ready to go out to visit some art galleries downtown on First Friday. You’ve been anxiously awaiting this day for three weeks and there’s no time to spare for sitting down at a restaurant with so many galleries waiting for you. Luckily Rochester has your back.
Since 2011, Rochester has a rapidly expanding array of food trucks. “It gives people another option to what they want to eat,” said Matt Petrillo, owner and head chef of The Meatball Truck Company. “I’m not gonna wake up one morning and say ‘Tonight babe lets go find the poutine truck and eat dinner there.’ Usually it’s, ‘Hey babe, we’re already going to the art gallery show and I heard they got a food truck. Let’s eat dinner there.’”
Petrillo is no stranger to the restaurant and food business. He has some formal culinary training but most of his experience comes from working under many different chefs in several cities. “I’m Italian. My last name is Petrillo and Petrillo Bakery is down on Lyell and it’s been here for 100 years,” he said. “My grandpa owned Helluva Good Cheese and he started Yancy’s Fancy cheese.” His family also owns an Italian restaurant downtown called Antonetta’s where he works as a chef during the food truck offseason over the winter.
“I felt like a sellout. I was leaving my passion which was high end dining and plating dishes,” Petrillo said. “I liked to smoke my own meats, cure my own meats, everything from scratch and I was going to start a food truck and I obviously couldn’t do all that on the truck.” However, food trucks today aren’t the same as the food trucks of yesteryear. “20 years ago they were like New York City vendors. It wasn’t a whole kitchen with a hood and work services and you couldn’t produce as much or store as much,” he says. “Some of the food I’ve seen and I personally make on the truck is just as good as any fancy restaurant like Good Luck.”
The quality of food isn’t the only reason why the food truck business is booming. Social media has had a huge impact on the success of food trucks. “Before social media. Before Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Foursquare. How are you supposed to tell people where your food truck is?” Petrillo asks. “You put up a flyer and run around and tell people ‘I’m here! I’m here! I’m here!”
Another food truck favorite is Le Petit Poutine. Le Petit Poutine was started in 2011 and was the first food truck in Rochester. But why poutine? “My father is Canadian so that’s why poutine,” says Elizabeth Clapp, one of the owners of Le Petit Poutine. At first, poutine wasn’t an easy sell. “We started at the public market with our first truck and we sold a lot of French fries and I gave away a lot of poutine,” says Clapp. “Thankfully nobody asked for their money back.” One of those happy customers is Claire Fleming, a fourth year student at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), who says, “I never tried poutine before I came here and I’ve never seen a cheese curd on food but it’s pretty delicious.”
Poutine is fries covered with hot gravy and cheese curds. “It’s kind of a trifecta of comfort food,” Clapp says. There are few better places than a city like Rochester with so many colleges and young professionals. “I definitely think there is a huge interest in food trucks and I think the college age is the peak of that,” Clapp notes.
RIT is a popular stop for them and Clapp says they love it and are always thankful when they are able to come to RIT the few times each semester. “Food trucks are exciting to students on any college campus because not only is it a new, exciting food option but also an opportunity to experience something off campus without having to leave the grounds,” says Rebekah Geller, a 4th year student at RIT. “Being able to go to our customers and to participate in events on college campuses and the like is very fun,” Clapp says. “We really get to be part of the party and we like to bring the poutine party with us wherever we go.”
Le Petit Poutine and The Meatball Truck Company are just two of 24 food trucks that are a part of the Rochester Food Truck Alliance. The Rochester Food Truck Alliance is an advocacy group fighting for better regulations for food trucks. “We were the first food truck in Rochester and there were no vending laws at the time so we started a group called the Rochester Food Truck Alliance which is a business association to lobby for better laws,” Clapp says. Since they started the group the number of approved locations for food truck vendors in downtown Rochester jumped from two to 10 and they are still fighting for more.
Beyond advocating for food trucks, they are also the official business association for the food trucks of Rochester. They will plan your event for you and help you with getting the permits for them. “The food trucks can cater anything and everything under the sun. I’m talking about Christmas parties, graduation parties, christenings, bar mitzvah’s. I’ve done hundreds of weddings,” says Petrillo.
If you’re having trouble finding food trucks you can see where they are at www.wherethatfoodtruck.com. So next time you’re running low on time and heading out in Rochester, keep a look out for one of the 24 food trucks currently on the road!