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Food truck fever

Orlando's mobile food scene sheds its training wheels

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Photo: Photo by Jason Greene, License: N/A

"I saw food trucks for the first time in San Francisco and New York," Baratelli says. "I loved the idea that you could follow them on Twitter … and that the food could go to any neighborhood, so a small business owner could take their creativity from neighborhood to neighborhood."

The Crooked Spoon is one of the newer trucks to turn up in town. The gourmet burger truck/trailer can usually be found parked in the Chevron parking lot at the corner of East Colonial Drive and North Fern Creek Avenue on weekdays during lunchtime. The trailer looks new - its pristine exterior and shiny interior gleam with pride of ownership - though Steve Saelg, chef and owner, purchased it lightly used from a woman who was using it as a breakfast truck in a rural area. Food from the Crooked Spoon is made to order, and all the prep work happens in the trailer. On a sunny day at the beginning of March, Saelg leans over to talk to a customer through the small, screened order window. He's geared up for the lunch crowd. It's his third week working as a food truck chef.

A customer, who also happens to be Crooked Spoon sous chef Allie Henschel's fiance, orders from a menu that's anything but stereotypical truck food. There's the Crooked Spoon Burger with chipotle aioli, onion marmalade, swiss cheese, marinated tomato and lettuce; fish tacos with red cabbage and celery root slaw; gourmet mac 'n cheese; and a Mediterranean chicken wrap.

And then there's Saelg himself, who seems anything but the stereotypical food truck proprietor. He previously worked as a sous chef at Tavern on the Green in New York, and as a chef at Citrus Club and K Restaurant in Orlando. He's worked in restaurants for 10 years, but always wanted to own his own business. He chose to open Crooked Spoon because food trucks have lower overhead and startup costs than traditional restaurants, he says. Since the business is new, he hasn't got all the bookkeeping updated, but he figures he has broken even or turned a small profit during the truck's first three weeks.

"We had an extraordinary late-night last night," Saelg says. The truck had been parked outside Stogies cigar bar on Sand Lake road, and business was booming. "I was surprised, being that it was the day after St. Patty's day. I didn't think a lot of people we're going to be out."

Many proprietors open their trucks because they want to be their own bosses, but the trucks are also a good way to expand an existing business or start a new one for less money than it would cost to open a stationary restaurant. That's not to say that it's easy to just start up a food truck - the permitting process is, in fact, pretty extensive.

Food trucks in the City of Orlando must have a Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation mobile food dispensing vehicle license, a mobile peddler license from the city and a local business tax receipt from Orange County in order to do business. Trucks are not allowed to stay in one location for more than 48 hours, according to the city's Economic Development Permitting Services office, and they cannot park on any public streets, sidewalks, rights-of-way or in any public parks. The trucks also are subject to unannounced inspections each year by state sanitation and safety inspectors, just like stationary restaurants. In the case of trucks selling prepared baked goods, they are inspected by the Department of Agriculture.

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