April in Charlottesville is when the food truck business kicks into high gear. For Ignacio and Maria Becerra, the warm weather typically signals the return of long lines of customers snaking around the perimeter of the Charlottesville City Market, waiting for their Mexican Tacos. But there’s nothing typical for the local food industry this spring. Mexican Tacos now operates Thursday evenings in the Becerra’s neighborhood, as well as at IX Art Park on Saturday mornings, says truck manager Luis Becerra.
Food truck proprietors have had to be inventive to keep serving customers who crave anything but another home-cooked meal while honoring Virginia’s distancing guidelines. Whitney Matthews runs the seafood truck SpiceSea Gourmet, and says the timing couldn’t be worse. “Spring is when wineries and breweries start to host events with food trucks and music,” she says. “All events have been canceled or postponed…and corporate lunch spots have also stopped food truck visits because workers are home.”
The Angelic’s Kitchen truck parks at the high-profile Freebridge area of Pantops, where 250 meets High Street, and it’s still bringing in customers. But owner Angelic Jenkins is scrambling to make up for other losses by adding new delivery options and increasing her marketing. “I had to sign up for DoorDash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats,” says the soul food chef. “I also put together a family meal plan special to pick up from the food truck, and did lots of advertising on social media.”
Sussex Farm food truck owner Jen Naylor ensures her customers can access her mobile food by sending regular emails to let everyone know about availability. All Sussex Farm items are preordered and paid for in advance to ensure less contact at pick-up.
Kelsey Naylor (Jen’s daughter) and Anna Gardner opened the Pye Dog pizza truck last fall. “We’ve switched our business model from wood-fired pizzas to take-home Chicago deep-dish pizzas for now,” says Naylor. “And we’ve been donating all our profits from our sales to the Charlottesville Restaurant Community Fund to try to help out where we can.”
Despite food truck owners’ best efforts, sales have taken a huge hit, and coronavirus fears have transformed how business is conducted.
“My business has been cut by 80 percent,” Matthews says. “I’m also trying to be cautious about my own exposure to the virus. I’m working alone in my truck doing everything. If I get sick, the business stops completely. So I try to limit my time and exposure to being around others.”
Farmacy food truck’s Jessica Hogan and her husband have lost their day jobs and are now solely reliant upon Farmacy’s income. They’ve adapted quickly to the new reality, creating family-sized meals and using the truck to deliver to people’s homes. Hogan looks at the ability to continue connecting with the community as a silver lining.
“We are having to adapt and flow with what the universe is telling us to do,” she says. “We have been wanting to do the food truck full-time for a while now and just couldn’t because of our other jobs. Now we are forced to, but in a way that’s kinda cool. I respect the change. And embrace it. Nothing wrong with getting creative.”
Here’s how to track down your favorite food truck
Spice Sea Gourmet (seafood)
Farmacy Food Truck (Mexican fusion)
Pye Dog (pizza)
Sussex Farm (Korean kimchi and prepared foods)
Tacos Gomez (tacos)
Or call 953-5408
Little Manila (Filipino food)
Ignacio & Maria’s Mexican Tacos (tacos)
Angelic’s Kitchen (soul food)
Devil’s Backbone Mobile Carryout (pub fare)
106 Street Food (gourmet sandwiches)
106 Grilled (pressed sandwiches/panini)
106 Eastview (traditional and fusion Japanese fare)
Catch the Chef (burgers, cheesesteaks, chicken, fish, breakfast)
El Tako Nako (tacos)
2405 Hydraulic Rd., 305-8918
The Pie Guy (Australian-style savory pies)
Blue Ridge Pizza (wood-fired pizza)