Food & Drink

Food Truck 101

KC Food Truck Mafia’s Jeff Lee gives us a primer on the local food truck scene.

Story by Jennifer Barnett Fox  |  Photo by Jason Dailey

If you’re a fan of outdoor events, concerts and First Friday gatherings, there’s a good chance you’ve experienced the wonder of the growing Kansas City food truck scene. We’re willing to hazard a guess that the food consumed at these events was also on this side of amazing. If you walked away wanting to thank someone for this blessing of culinary happiness, one place to start is with the KC Food Truck Mafia family. While the word mafia might sound extreme, this organization’s mission is noble: to operate the cleanest, most attractive and best-maintained food trucks on the streets of Kansas City.

Unlike the food truck domination glorified on the Food Network, Kansas City is still in its infancy in terms of a food truck scene, according to Jeff Lee, the group’s co-founder. Formed in 2012, the Food Truck Mafia strives to reintroduce food trucks to a new generation of customers. Thanks to the efforts of Lee and other members, foodies in Kansas City are reaping the delicious benefits.

“This is food that’s cooked fresh and you see the person doing the cooking, who is often the owner of the truck,” Lee says. “You’re also going to see the love for the food each of the owners has.”

An emphasis on quality food and cleanliness remains an extreme focus for the group that looks to end any comparisons between “roach coaches” of the past and the quality of food produced by food truck owners today. For older generations, this requires demonstrating the highest quality standards (including multiple health inspections) and rebuilding trust one bite at a time. However, younger generations such as Millennials and Generation Y require no convincing. These groups already
embrace the fresh and casual approach that makes food truck dining unique.

“When people walk up to the window and see the owner, they understand the care and consideration that goes into the food,” Sidney Fish of Beauty of the Bistro says. “This is hard work but so worth it. There’s a level of self-satisfaction in doing this, and the customers
are phenomenal.”

With an emphasis on family, members of the group make a point to eliminate internal competition when multiple Mafia trucks participate in an event. For example, if Lee’s KC BBQ Truck is present, other members of the Food Truck family will not sell barbecue. This respect remains a cornerstone of membership in the group and helps ensure each time the public interacts with anyone from the Food Truck Mafia family it’s a great experience.

As the culinary bar rises and competition in the Kansas City food truck scene grows, the Food Truck Mafia family continues to diversify its offerings with the additions of Cheeesy Pops’ Pizza and Ohana’s Shaved Ice. The Mafia’s website also hints at another food truck soon joining the family.

“The food truck audience is incredibly appreciative,” Lee says. “There is always a level of excitement from those waiting to try the food. Even waiting in line becomes a social event. I see this as its own kind of community building.”

Despite the packed scheduled of the Food Truck Mafia family, there still exists confusion on the best way to find your favorite trucks. For those who want to book trucks for corporate, church, wedding, engagement, or charitable events, be prepared to plan ahead. In many cases, the Food Truck Mafia is booked out two to three months in advance. Details of how to get on the list are available on the FAQ pages of the website.

Now it’s easier than ever to find one of the Mafia’s trucks: El Tenedor has taken up residence at the Little Piggy Food Truck Hub. Located in a former used car lot at 3014 Southwest Boulevard, the Hub offers local food trucks a permanent location and Kansas Citians a chance to grab lunch and dinner in an easy-to-find location.

To keep track of the whereabouts of your other favorite trucks, check out social media, individual food truck websites, and local blogger sites dedicated to the growing foodie scene.