Food unites trailer owners, Canadians in Austin
Addie Broyles, Relish Austin
As much as food divides us just think of the letters I'd get if I dedicated this column to why I prefer chili with beans — it more often brings people together, even strangers.
Two examples? The Austin Food Trailer Alliance and Canadians in Austin.
Celebrate Canada Day, eh
On Friday, Canada will celebrate its 144th birthday, and Canadian expatriates and Canadaphiles will be enjoying Labatt Blue beer and French fries smothered in cheese curds and brown gravy at Canadians in Austin's 10th annual Canada Day party at the Paradise Cafe, 401 E. Sixth St.
Food has been the center of this party almost since it started, says Andrew Bulloch, a software sales manager who moved to Austin from Ontario in 1996 and is the president of the Canadians in Austin group.
"Someone brought ketchup chips to the first party, and now we have a whole Canadian meal," he says. Canadians (and their spouses and Canadian wannabes, like me) can enjoy real poutine with brown gravy (not that cream or chicken gravy that Texans are familiar with, Bulloch says), salt and vinegar chips, back bacon sandwiches, Tim Hortons coffee, Molson beer and chocolates from the Great White North.
Bulloch took over the Canadians in Austin group and annual celebration after the original founders moved away from Austin, and he says the Canada Day party has become the group's biggest event, attracting hundreds of people with varying connections to our northern neighbors. According to the Census Bureau, there are almost 6,000 people in Austin who identify themselves as Canadian.
"They say America is a melting pot, where everyone gets thrown in the mix and melds together," Bulloch says. "But Canadians are like fruitcake. We're a little nutty, sure, but we keep our individual parts. If you get thrown in as a cranberry, you stay a cranberry."
Bulloch says he hopes to more formally organize the group, starting with a meeting at 7 p.m. July 13 at Paradise. In year's past, the group has hosted Boxing Day parties and potluck dinners for Canadian Thanksgiving in October, but he envisions a group that can give back to Austin through philanthropy and one that can help recent expats transition into life in Texas and help them with immigration issues.
To find out more about the group or to RSVP to the Canada Day party on Friday, email Bulloch at canadians firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find the group on Facebook by searching "Canadians in Austin."
Rallying the trailers
With more than 1,300 mobile food vendors opening, closing and moving all the time, it's hard to keep up with the Austin food cart scene, even for owners.
A few months ago, Tony Yamanaka, who runs FoodTrailersAustin.com and is the marketing coordinator for the Better Business Bureau in Austin, launched the Austin Food Trailer Alliance, which had its second meeting last week. (Cincinnati and New York City have similar alliances.)
Yamanaka saw an opportunity to help connect people involved in the industry, but mostly, he wanted to give them a voice.
When the Austin City Council approved changes to the regulations that govern the mobile food vendors last year, Yamanaka says that both trailer owners and outsiders were misinformed. "People weren't really sure what was going on," he says. "I didn't want that to happen again."
Yamanaka says that trailer owners are usually eager to help their peers, but they might not know others in the industry who work on the other side of town.
Trailers are still a relatively new aspect of the food scene, and people who are looking to open one, even those who have worked in the restaurant industry, aren't entirely sure what to expect.
R.J. Oliver, who runs Bufalo Bob's Chalupa Wagon at 600 S. Lamar Blvd., says he talked to a lot of trailer owners before opening his own, but it hasn't been easy. "I'm new to this industry, and I'm trying to network as much as possible," he says. "It's hard to get people to realize what you have."
Yamanaka also sees the alliance as a way to help connect trailers with potential customers. "You might know 10 trailers off the top of your head, but there are so many more out there," he says. He hopes to set up trailer tours and other events to introduce Austinites to trailers they haven't tried.
By building a network of people with various skills and specialties, Yamanaka wants to encourage alliance members to help one another find new locations, learn how to use social media to attract customers or troubleshoot problems that only fellow trailer owners would understand, like how to build a grease trap in an Airstream or dispose of gray water properly.
Yamanaka hopes members will also go in on large purchases together so they can get a discount on things like recyclable cups or grease disposal for biodiesel.
The Austin Food Trailer Alliance, which is free to join, meets once a month, usually on a Monday. You can find out more, including when the next meeting is, by going to foodtrailersaustin.com/food-trailer-alliance.