HARRISONBURG — Returning for its fifth year, Open Doors’ Food Truck Fest was one of the first events in the Shenandoah Valley focusing on bringing all different kinds of mobile eateries together as food trucks exploded nationally.
This year, 16 food trucks will operate from noon to 6 p.m. April 20 at On Sunny Slope Farm to showcase cuisine for attendees to sample, with the proceeds benefiting Open Doors, a seasonal emergency homeless shelter.
“We do have more food trucks than we’ve ever had before,” said Rachel Howdyshell, executive director of Open Doors. “One of the unique things about the food truck business is that they’re mobile, but that means as customers, we don’t always know where to find them. I think it’s just a great way to see them all together in one place.”
New to the Food Truck Fest this year is Broad Porch Coffee Co., Pigs With Wings, Grillizza and Angelic’s Kitchen, Howdyshell said.
Returning food trucks include Mashita, Tacos El Primo, Paella Perfecta, Flavor Savor BBQ, Waffle Yum and Old School Burgers. Bluestone Vineyard, Old Hill Hard Cider and MillerCoors will be serving libations.
“We have a really great variety of food,” she said. “It’s just a place for people to try different things.”
The Hackensaw Boys, Strong Water and Many Nights Ahead — all local acts — will perform throughout the afternoon. More than 20 local vendors will also set up display booths at the event.
Veronica Avila, the owner of Tacos El Primo, says she opened the first food truck in the city of Harrisonburg in 2006 on Reservoir Street. Her taco truck has participated in Food Truck Fest since the beginning.
“I’m always excited about that festival,” Avila said. “It’s always a pleasure being invited every year. It just changed the way festivals are done. People try to incorporate food trucks [into events] as much as they can now.”
Tacos El Primo will be serving their regular Mexican fare — tacos, burritos and quesadillas, etc. Avila said they’ll also provide a special $5 plate, which includes two tacos.
“We do ask all the food trucks have a small menu item so that people can try all the different food trucks,” Howdyshell said.
Mikey Reisenberg’s Mashita Food Truck is also one of the businesses that participated in Food Truck Fest every year.
Mashita, parked in the lot at 716 E. Market St., serves Korean-style cuisine, including steamed buns and Korean lettuce wraps called ssam. Although Reisenberg hasn’t decided what his sample dish will be, he said he’s offered pork belly and brisket in previous years.
“We always try to go above and beyond a little bit,” Reisenberg said.
Coming together for a good cause is what keeps Reisenberg returning to the festival each year.
“The food truck fest has been fun,” he said. “It’s a really interesting and nice way for a lot of small micro-businesses to get together at a locally owned venue. … It gives us an opportunity to expose ourselves to a large crowd and have fun with it.”
Although the Food Truck Fest has been “wildly successful,” spawning other similar food truck rallies and competitions in the Valley since 2015, Reisenberg said the food truck business is a tough industry and has taken some hits locally.
“The event itself, as far as attendance, has definitely grown. As far as the food truck industry and the participants, they definitely fill out their lineup but I wouldn’t say there’s more food trucks now than then,” he said. “I would say there was probably more food trucks in 2015 than there are in 2019.”
Some have gone out of business in the last year or so, Reisenberg said, which he attributes to excess.
“The area here is large enough to support food trucks, but I don’t think it’s densely populated enough to sustain it the way they want to,” he said.
Reisenberg’s food truck, Mashita, is expanding to a brick-and-mortar restaurant on North Liberty Street by the summer. But Reisenberg doesn’t plan to ditch the mobile unit anytime soon.
“We’re still going to keep the food truck and make sure we can participate in these sorts of events,” he said.
Tickets to the Food Truck Fest are $15 in advance or $20 the day of. On Sunny Slope Farm is located at 1825 Sunny Slope Lane. For more information, visit www.valleyopendoors.org.