Food truck operators still might fall in the category of "itinerant merchants" at city hall, but their popularity in Lexington guarantees they are here to stay.
If you're looking to join the growing band of brothers and sisters in the city's food truck brigade, you first need a truck, or at least something that can be pulled by one.
Head online and you'll find companies waiting to fulfill your dreams, with inventories — mostly step vans or box trucks — specifically designed to be made into food trucks. But those kinds of vehicles are just two of the options.
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In Lexington, a few food truck operators have thought outside the box truck.
The 'canned ham'
When ballerina-turned-barista Rachel Moser agreed to follow her boyfriend from Seattle to Lexington, she knew she wanted to start small in the coffee business — a trailer would be good. A gleaming, all-aluminum, retro Airstream would be ideal.
Unfortunately, "ideal" often comes with a less-than-ideal price tag, so Moser, 26, and boyfriend Kyle Plomin adjusted their sights a bit lower.
In early 2013 they found a 1957, 10-by-7 Garway on Craigslist in Georgetown.
"I think it's a knock-off brand," says Moser of the Garway, a name less familiar in the vintage trailer world than Scotty or Shasta. But who cares if it's a knock-off brand when it's so cute — what's affectionately called a "canned ham" — that would make a great rolling coffee stand.
The trailer was in rough shape, but Moser and Plomin could see it had "good bones," so they bought it for $300 and brought it home.
"We had to gut it all," says Moser. "We just kept the shell."
The floor was rotting, the axle needed replacing, the interior walls needed to be re-covered in thin board that would bend to fit the trailer's curves. Moser and Plomin did the work themselves, replacing one window to fit in a counter and larger sink, finding vintage cabinets at ReStore, and getting a small hand sink from a friend who collects things on the off chance a use will be found for them.
"Those kinds of friends are good to have," says Moser. The countertop was made from flooring removed from their 1830s-era house. The fridge, which runs on propane or electricity, came from Northside RVs on North Broadway.
The trailer's exterior was in good shape.
"I didn't have to do any repairs to the outside shell other than scrubbing it down with SOS pads," says Moser. Tincan's trailer made its formal debut in town at the 2014 Mayfest.
Now the aluminum sheeting sparkles in the morning sun when Moser parks her Tincan Coffee business twice a week outside Old Morrison on the Transylvania campus.
Customer Beth Mitchell, who works in financial aid, comes up to buy a cup.
"Everybody is so pumped that you're here," she tells Moser.
"We wish she could come every day," says Mitchell.
Out with the frying pan
Moser occasionally supplements her coffee with granola and yogurt, but because she does no food preparation onsite, her restoration-transformation was relatively uncomplicated.
Ashley Minton, owner of Minton's 760 on North Limestone, had to gut her food truck, too. In her case, that meant removing fryers, a hotbox and other equipment used by a previous owner to create fried dough and other summer carnival staples.
Minton's trailer isn't a knock-off, it's a one-off, built from scratch by some anonymous but industrious individual.
Unlike some other "itinerant merchants" in town, Minton, 29, had a restaurant with a fixed address when she decided to invest in a food truck.
"I'm probably overly cautious," she says of her business approach.
After searching some online sites, she knew she wanted a vehicle that wasn't typical; when her brother found the wagon near Hazard through Craigslist, she gave the go-ahead.
"I had never seen one that looked like that," she says.
But, like Moser, she recognized good bones when she saw them. Minton paid close to $6,000 for the heavy steel conveyance, christened it "Little Brother" and spent $18,000, she estimates, to renovate it. Bringing it up to code on plumbing was a major expense.
And Minton's "Little Brother" wagon features a 3-foot grill and tabletop burners to prepare specialties like the Little Brother, a pan-fried smoked sausage on a bun topped with mac and cheese.
Nick Ring, 39, owner of the Rolling Oven, says the main reason he got into the food truck business was "I've always loved pizza and made it all the time."
If you've ever been in traffic or stood beside his pizza truck, you know it's built as tough as a bunker. But what else would you expect from something that started out life as a steel container, sturdy enough to survive a rough-and-tumble life in shipyards and on the open roads, rails and seas?
Ring says he was in San Francisco when he saw a similar vehicle and was inspired to get his own. He spent $3,000 for the 20-foot Atlantic shipping container and close to $100,000 in all, including a special oven — "I wanted it to look like a still," says Ring — and heavy tempered glass windows.
"I learned from the San Francisco guy's mistakes," he says. But he's learned from his own, too. If he had it to do again, he'd design an easier entry. "Getting in and out is awkward," says Ring.
The Rolling Oven truck traveled to Key West, Fla., last winter, and this month it managed to accommodate the close-to 100,000 music fans at the Bonnaroo music festival in Tennessee.
"It's two months' income in four days," says Ring, serving customers outside The Break Room on Manchester Street on a recent evening.
Ring says Lexington is a great town for food trucks, but he's hoping to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant, too, in the near future.
Winters in Lexington can be hard on food trucks, he says, even those built as tough as the Rolling Oven.