Mobile restaurants are gaining traction in Rochester, as business owners look to expand without overextending themselves.

“It’s cheaper than opening another restaurant,” said Steve Dunn, co-owner of Taco JED.

The popular taco restaurant rolled out its truck last year. It has opened up new locations for the popular taco stop, extra pop-up hours, and special event and catering opportunities.

However, staffing the truck can be a challenge.

Connecting to power, or a generator and operating propane burners, takes more work than readying a regular kitchen.

“You want to put your MacGyver on the truck,” Dunn said, referring to the resourceful titular character of the classic 1980s television series. “It does get hot in that truck.”

Gerry Greaney hands a customer their order through the window of Bleu Duck Kitchen's Duck Truck Friday, July 10, 2020, outside the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Gerry Greaney hands a customer their order through the window of Bleu Duck Kitchen's Duck Truck Friday, July 10, 2020, outside the Hy-Vee location on Crossroads Drive Southwest in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Taco JED has its truck out three to four times per week. Even when orders aren’t flying out the window, the truck can help business by just gliding down the road. Dunn called it a "rolling billboard." Even a run to pick up propane can mean dozens of people will see the restaurant logo and evolving artwork by Amy Dybing.

For catching people’s attention, Flapdoodles Homemade Ice Cream's truck is eye candy. The 1961 Ford "vanette" was restored by Brendan Habberstad of Habby’s Inc. automotive restorative business in Rochester.

“Whenever we want to do something, we want to do it right,” said Matt Tierney, Flapdoodles owner. “We wanted something that’d really stand out.”

The truck was previously owned by a Twin Cities business that had plans for it. Those plans never came to fruition, and the truck sat unused in Byron until Tierney bought it in 2015.

Most of the time, a van that old in the Midwest is unsalvageable due to wet weather and harsh winters. This truck came from the arid climes of New Mexico. It needed a new engine, and restoration was an expensive and arduous process. The result was worth it, Tierney said.

Although it’s a bit easier to run than a full mobile kitchen, Tierney won’t let just anyone drive and run the truck, which first hit streets in June of last year.

“It’s a short list (of people), I’ll put it that way,” he said.

Matt Tierney, who owns Flapdoodles Ice Cream with his wife Vicki Tierney, with their ice cream truck on Monday, July 13, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)
Matt Tierney, who owns Flapdoodles Ice Cream with his wife Vicki Tierney, with their ice cream truck on Monday, July 13, 2020, in Rochester. (Joe Ahlquist / jahlquist@postbulletin.com)

Like restaurant trucks, the truck has opened opportunities for vending, special events and other remote sales. However, sales aren’t where he would like them to be yet. The COVID-19 pandemic hit business pretty hard generally, and the summer events Tierney planned to be at have been canceled.

“Honestly, we’re just kind of finding our way,” he said.

He and his wife considered ways the truck could help with sales during restrictions put in place to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but no scenario has presented itself so far.

Flexibility to sell food while restaurants were restricted might have fueled more interest in mobile food vending.

As of July 10, there were 13 licensed mobile food units in Rochester, up slightly from 11 last year. Four of those are new this year, and there are more going through the licensing process.

Where to find them

July 14

2 to 8 p.m., Flapdoodles, Home2Suites by Hilton/Red44 Apartments, 839 16th St.. SW

July 15

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Thesis Beer Project, 1929 2nd St. SW

July 16

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments, 217 14th Ave. SW

2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Flapdoodles, Campus Drive Southeast

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events, 522 6th Ave. NW

July 17

5 to 8 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Little Thistle Brewing, 2031 14th St. N.W.

5 to 9 p.m., Taco JED, Kinney Creek Brewing, 1016 7th St. NW

July 18

9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Flowers by Jerry, 122 10th St. NE

3 to 8 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Thesis Beer Project, 1929 2nd St. SW

5 to 9 p.m., Taco JED, Kinney Creek Brewing, 1016 7th St. NW

July 19

9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Flowers by Jerry

July 21

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments, 217 14th Ave. SW

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events, 522 6th Ave. NW

July 22

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments

3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Government Center, 151 4th St. SE

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events

July 23

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments

2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Flapdoodles, Campus Drive Southeast

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events

July 24

11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Taco JED, One Discovery Square, 202 4th St. NW

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck

July 25

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events

July 28

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events

July 29

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments

3:30 to 5:30 p.m., Government Center, 151 4th St. SE

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events

July 30

11 a.m. to 2 p.m., Flapdoodles, Berkman Apartments

2:30 to 4:30 p.m., Flapdoodles, Campus Drive Southeast

4 to 9 p.m., Bleu Duck Truck, Majestic Events