QUEEN CREEK -- Food trucks have grown markedly in popularity over the last decade.
At one time, you might have only seen the odd food truck on the street outside busy office buildings or small clusters of them at local events. Now, people often keep tabs on their favorite food trucks, seeking them out when they know they're in the area. There are even a wealth of apps available that allow food trucks to notify customers of their routes and locations, helping foodies find them faster.
Whether it's the open-air dining experiences they often facilitate, their affordability for both chefs and customers or their novel menu items, there are a lot of reasons why food trucks have become increasingly appealing. And their growing appeal is something that was highly apparent on a Friday evening in July at the Queen Creek Feastival, a weekly gathering of local food trucks run by AZ Feastivals.
Even overcast skies and the threat of an oncoming monsoon couldn't deter hundreds of people from showing up to enjoy live music, vendors and an assortment of delicious food.
The Queen Creek Feastival got its start in 2015, launched by chef, food trucker and AZ Feastivals owner Casey Stechnij. The food truck gathering was the second of its kind for Stechnij, who started the Feastivals concept with a similar event in downtown Gilbert.
A food truck owner and operator himself, Stechnij noticed that there was a lack of large-scale events designed for food trucks and decided to begin planning his own.
Today, AZ Feastivals operates three "Feastivals" throughout Arizona. Two are held on Friday nights in Queen Creek and Gilbert respectively, the third on Saturday nights in Mesa.
"The food truck scene has grown substantially over the past few years," said Chloie Frost, director of events. "I think people are starting to realize that food trucks are awesome."
Food trucks with delectable offerings, Frost said, can build strong followings — something else that continues to be a bolstering force for events like the QC Feastival.
Randizzle's, one food truck that event goers of the QC Feastival might see often, is a strong case in point. The truck, owned by ex-professional football player Randy Gatewood, serves up burgers with a culinary twist, like their lobster grilled cheese and surf and turf, as well as Mexican fare like tacos, tortas and loaded burritos.
On this particular Friday night at the QC Feastival, there was a steady line of patrons outside the truck, eager to order. According to Frost, it's a common occurrence for Randizzle's, and much of it has to do with the following they've established.
But beyond the loyal followings, another big pull for locals is what the Feastival has to offer when it comes to quality.
"We only work with gourmet food trucks, so they're all chef driven," Frost said. "So the chefs are driving it, they're also making the food, and they're also doing the scheduling. I think for people that love food, that's what the main attraction is. As long as the truck has good food, then people are out here."
Attendees can expect to see a wide variety of options every week, with about 150 local food trucks being on a weekly rotation between the three weekly events. As Frost points out, that means Feastival goers will see different food trucks each week depending on the schedule.
The rotation, she said, is designed to keep food options fresh and exciting for event goers.
"Imagine if you were a regular customer coming out here every Friday and it was the exact same trucks," she said. "You're going to get bored. You're not gonna want to see the same trucks. You're going to want to see what's different, what are the new trucks."
The Queen Creek Feastival is among AZ Feastival's most popular weekly events, both among event-goers and food trucks, Frost said, with the size of the event being one of the most attractive elements for food trucks.
The fact that Feastivals are hosted outdoors may also be another attraction for foodies. It also proved to be a huge advantage for AZ Feastivals in 2020, Frost said, as the business was one of the very few event companies that was able to remain open amid early concerns about the pandemic.
Feastivals are also a great way for area residents who want to support small businesses to do so, Frost noted, as all the trucks that participate fall into that category.
The event is equally attractive for food trucks, given the amount of business they can see in one night. On an average Friday night at the QC Feastival, trucks can take in anywhere from $1,000 to $3,000, a figure that Frost said has grown tremendously over the last few years.
Hitting that mark is playfully referred to by AZ Feastivals as the "comma club" and, according to Frost, it's even become a point of friendly competition between trucks to see who can make it into the comma club over the course of the night.
The event company also formally recognizes local food trucks that are the epitome of hustle, fantastic customer service, great work ethic and support of others in the industry with the "All-Star" list.
Frost said the criteria to become an "All-Star" includes qualities like having great energy with patrons and a willingness to participate in all the Feastival events.
"We've kind of generated a list that is the foundation of how food trucks run— what it takes to be the best of the best in (terms of) food trucks," she said.
Under AZ Feastivals, Stechnij also runs four food trucks. And on any given night, Feastival attendees might just run into one of those trucks. Stechnij's trucks are divided under two separate concepts — SuperFarm SuperTruck and Udder Delights Ice Cream.
Udder Delights, also a brick-and-mortar located in Gilbert, serves up artisan ice cream, butter and cheeses made from milk sourced from a local dairy. Stopping by the SuperFarm SuperTruck, on the other hand, foodies can expect Southwest cuisine and farm-to-fork fare with ingredients directly sourced from the Superstition Farm in Mesa — also owned by Stechnij.
In addition to food trucks, the QC Feastival also features live music from different local performers every week and a grouping of about eight to 10 vendors, who sell items like prepackaged baked goods as well as honey and handcrafted jewelry.
AZ Feastivals also runs occasional theme nights, like the Battle of the Burger. During theme nights, attendees can vote on which truck served up their favorite theme night food. The winning truck is awarded a trophy.
During the Feastivals' off-season, typically from the end of May until early September, Frost estimates that the event attracts about 2,500 people every Friday. In-season, that figure can easily climb to anywhere between 5,000 and 6,000 people each week.
It's that growing popularity that has likely led AZ Feastivals to consider expanding, with Frost noting that the company has plans to unveil similar events in other cities within the next year.
Since they're in Queen Creek, Frost noted that the town has been supportive of the AZ Feastivals event, with focus being primarily on the community and bringing the community together. And it's that support from communities just like Queen Creek that keeps the Feastivals going.
"We love the support from the towns," she said. "We get a lot of support from them, which is very helpful."