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Upcoming Festivals in Woodstock and Lebanon Highlight the Growing Traffic of Food Trucks

  • Erik Almestica, left, and Garrett Wilson, both of White River Junction, work together in the tight space of their VT Munchies food truck while parked at Colburn Park in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Almestica has been a cook at Dartmouth College's Thayer Dining Hall, and Wilson grew up in A.J.'s Restaurant, owned by his aunt. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Smoke from the grill pours out of the VT Munchies food truck as Erik Almestica eats one of the truck's maple Korean street tacos before opening for lunch in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Garrett Wilson, part owner of VT Munchies, center left, greets Eddie Moran, part owner of Tacos Tacos, center right, while waiting in line at Boisvert's Country Kitchen at Colburn Park in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. Wilson took a moment away from his food truck to talk with other vendors and try some of their food. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Erik Almestica, left, serves Paula Nulty, of White River Junction, a maple Korean street taco and short ribs from VT Munchies, the food truck he runs with long-time friend Garrett Wilson, middle, at Colburn Park in Lebanon, N.H., Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, May 08, 2018

It’s been only a few weeks since Garrett Wilson and Fernando “Erik” Almestica debuted their food truck, VT Munchies, at Colburn Park in Lebanon. VT Munchies may still be in its infancy but business, as they say, is looking good.

On a rainy morning last week, customers weren’t lining up on the dot at 11 a.m., when the truck opens. But a new opportunity arose. A guy popped his head in the truck asking whether the two men would be interested in setting up their truck at the Vermonster truck rally at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland over the weekend.

There’d been cancellations from vendors — deaths, divorces, you know how it is, he said — and he was on the look-out for people who could fill in.

“You guys are going to make money. It’ll probably be the biggest event you’ll ever do,” he said.

“Thus far,” Almestica said.

Almestica and Wilson looked at each other, weighing what to do. It didn’t seem like a difficult choice, although they’d have to spend all of Friday prepping food for the weekend. They were in.

This is how it’s been since they opened on April 20. They’re already booked for six food festivals, and they’ve garnered nearly 1,000 likes on Facebook already.

“We didn’t realize how much interest there was,” Almestica said.

Food trucks are one of the fastest growing segments in the food industry, according to foodtruckoperator.com. In 2012, food trucks in the U.S. generated $650 million in revenue; in 2017, revenue jumped to some $2.7 billion. They have the ease of mobility, adaptability of menu and can target their customers through their smartphones. They also offer less expensive eating options for consumers.

Both Woodstock and Lebanon have planned food truck festivals, for this month and next. On Saturday, Sustainable Woodstock, an economic, environmental and community nonprofit organization, will sponsor its first-ever East End Eats food truck festival, which has attracted 11 Vermont vendors selling pizza, barbecue, smoothies, ice cream and even cocktails. On Friday, June 22, Lebanon offers up its own food truck festival on the green, at which the VT Munchies owners plan to hold down a space.

The two men, both in their early 30s and sporting closely trimmed mustaches and beards, have been best friends since fifth grade. Both are graduates of Hartford High School, Almestica in 2004, and Wilson in 2005.

“There’s no one better to argue with,” Almestica said.

“I yell at him to stop taking orders so fast,” Wilson retorted.

Wilson was what he called a restaurant baby: his family owned and ran the now-closed AJ’s Restaurant in White River Junction. Almestica worked at Thayer Dining Hall at Dartmouth College for 12 years.

Last year, both men decided they’d prefer to be their own bosses. A food truck seemed a less daunting way to get into the business than opening a restaurant.

They chose Lebanon because they’d seen other food trucks parked at Colburn Park. Originally they had wanted to locate their food truck in the White River Junction area but they said that Vermont regulations, paperwork and the longer wait time for approval proved too onerous.

They found the truck in Holyoke, Mass. and painted it with a red-and-black Buffalo plaid pattern, mimicking the flannel clothing that is to northern New Englanders as dressing in black is to New Yorkers.

The advantage of a food truck is that the food is always fresh and it turns over, Almestica said. They can change menus easily and adapt to customer preferences. So when vegetarians and vegans asked for an item they could eat, the two obliged with a grilled vegetable kebab with a maple and balsamic vinegar glaze. There are eight offerings on the menu so far, which include a variety of fries, tacos, short ribs and shrimp.

The big favorites so far are the truffle fries, with white truffle oil and black truffle salt and parsley, and the maple Korean street taco, which is made from grilled marinated pork, slaw, cilantro and a maple Sriracha sauce. They use local ingredients whenever possible, Almestica said.

Food trucks serve very specific types of food and use quality ingredients, said Ana DiNatale, one of the organizers of East End Eats. Sustainable Woodstock’s East End Action Group is looking to the festival to draw public attention to a part of the village that has not been as well-developed, and which also experienced severe damage during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

“It’s an experience,” DiNatale said in a phone interview. People can try many different kinds of food, bring their families, eat outside and be more casual.

The Food Truck festival in Lebanon in June is also the town’s first, said Meagan Henry, an administrative assistant in the Recreation and Parks Department who organized the festival. Twelve vendors will sell food, there will be music, and alcoholic drinks from Salt hill Pub will be available for purchase. There will be a general admission fee of $8 for ages 13 and up, and $5 for ages 6 to 12.

“We’re looking for more events that we could do for young adults and families. We figured we’d take one on,” Henry said.

Both Wilson and Almestica hope that one day they’ll be able to bring a food truck to their hometown in Hartford. Or, who knows, maybe they’ll command a fleet of food trucks.

For now, they’re pleased with the way things are going. People line up for the truffle fries and they don’t seem to mind waiting 15 minutes to get a fresh batch, either. From Almestica and Wilson’s perspective, it’s better to be in high demand than the opposite.

“We embrace running out of food,” said Almestica.

For further information on VT Munchies, check out its Facebook page. For information on East End Eats go to woodstockvt.com/the-town/blog/everything-you-need-to-know-about-the-first-annual-east-end-eats. For information on Sustainable Woodstock, go to sustainablewoodstock.org. For information on the Lebanon Food Truck Festival, go to lebanonnh.gov/1132/Food-Truck-Festival.

Nicola Smith can be reached at mail@nicolasmith.org.