Food Trucks thrive by serving Milwaukee businesses

Last updated on July 3rd, 2019 at 07:24 pm

In a few short years, food trucks have gone from something of a novelty to something woven into the culinary fabric of downtown Milwaukee.

Dozens of these rolling restaurants have popped up in recent years, and it’s not just summer festivals and outdoor events where you’ll find Milwaukee’s finest roadside dining. Food trucks have grown in popularity in the city’s workweek lunch hour and in company events, as well.

It’s become part of the summer schedule these days, especially downtown. During the lunch hour, it’s common for food trucks to gather outside the U.S. Bank building on Mondays and Wednesdays, at the Schlitz Park office complex on Tuesdays, at the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Thursdays and at Red Arrow Park on Fridays.

“The demographic that we’re after is strong in this city, that 25-35 (age group),” said Chad Rittgers, owner and operator of one of the city’s newest food trucks, ROLL MKE, which sells a variety of sandwiches with fries and a drink, all for $8. “That’s definitely what drives the food truck industry. They enjoy getting out of the office and trying something interesting in that sort of environment. They don’t necessarily want to go and sit down and wait. They would rather get out and be out.”

Since 2010, Schlitz Park has hosted “Take-Out Tuesday” from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and it has become one of the city’s most popular food truck gatherings. Schlitz Park even uses the event in their marketing materials when they try to solicit potential companies to the office park.

Chef Grayson Schmitz made Street-Za Pizza for nonprofit IndependenceFirst.

The staying power of food trucks like Street-Za Pizza, which has been a regular at “Take Out Tuesday” and many other events around the city, are showing that this is not a trend that will soon disappear. Founded in 2009 by Scott Baitinger and Steve Mai, the Street-Za Pizza truck was named “The Best Food Truck in the U.S” by Bloomberg Businessweek and has also received accolades from Forbes, the Huffington Post, U.S. News and World Report, TIME magazine and The Food Network. Baitinger said more and more food trucks have continued to launch in Milwaukee in recent years.

“A lot of entrepreneurial chefs have launched trucks since we started,” he said. “When we started, we were the first one, and now there’s about 35 roaming the streets.”

Food trucks line up outside the U.S. Bank Center in downtown Milwaukee.

In addition to roaming the streets, food trucks also cater to a variety of corporate events. Street-Za has served its gourmet pizza at corporate events for companies such as Drexel Building Supply, GS Design, Trivera, ETE Reman, Brady Corp. and many more.

“We have done everything form little car dealerships…to catering for Google when they were in town. There are lots of (corporate events). Weekly, I would say,” said Baitinger. “We’ve been doing it since the get-go. It’s a nice option, versus ordering Panera or Jimmy John’s all the time, and the price is about the same with most food trucks.”

ROLL MKE’s food truck

Although it has only been running since mid-May of this year, ROLL MKE has been active with corporate events, as well. It recently held a downtown event with Johnson Controls Inc. where 20 percent of the sales were donated to Hunger Task Force. It was also the first in downtown-based Laughlin Constable’s newly launched “Truckin’ it Thursday” event outside of its Michigan Street office.

“People really get excited about it,” said Rittgers. “The people at Laughlin, that was amazing. There were like 20 people waiting in the lobby when we opened up at 11 a.m. They were so excited. It’s an easy way for a company to do something and get their people really excited and engaged and it’s not going to cost them any more than it does to feed them anything else.”

The Laughlin employees also took to social media to promote the event, posting photos and tweeting about the food truck.

Social media and having an established web presence is an important component of these mobile restaurants. Street-Za Pizza now has more than 10,000 Twitter followers. When starting ROLL MKE, Rittgers reached out to friends Clara Meinen of Fredonia-based One Sweet Design and Nick Collura of Milwaukee-based Collura Creative to help both design his truck and build a website and online presence.

“I definitely understood that, if we’re talking about who we’re trying to sell to, of course you need to have a pretty good website and a real social media presence through both Facebook and Twitter,” said Rittgers. “It’s important that we’re letting people know where we are and what we’re doing.”

When the weather turns in the winter months, business for food trucks changes, but doesn’t disappear entirely. Many of them offer catering options all year round.

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