FOOD TRUCKS ARE on the move throughout the country. Unique menus and portability have the trend speeding up in Michigan, too, although a special focus on healthy and sustainable ingredients from local sources is driving it.
From Kalamazoo to the Upper Peninsula, Michigan food trucks offer up healthy “fast food” in cities, on college campuses and at special events, redefining grab-and-go for a new generation.
Up in Marquette, Dia de los Tacos offers an entirely gluten-free menu. After being diagnosed with celiac disease in 2007, founder Mike Walker became more sensitive to food allergies. “Eating out all of the sudden became more and more troublesome,” he shares. Pairing his passion for accessible food with years of experience in the restaurant industry, Walker revved up his truck in 2013.
Utilizing fresh ingredients and focusing on bold flavors, Walker is also thoughtful of other food allergies — eggs and nuts aren’t allowed on board — and offering vegetarian options that can be easily made vegan. He even crafts his own chorizo. “I love making sausage,” he says.
“The whole experience, being that we’re mobile, lends itself to a lot more menu flexibility.”
— Bridgett Blough
Just south, Traverse City’s first food truck, Roaming Harvest, also offers healthy, convenient meals on-the-go. With a mantra of “local, sustainable, organic,” founder Simon Joseph started up his truck in 2011. Taking advantage of boundless fresh produce offered by Northern Michigan farmers, Joseph brought his healthy, unique options to the streets.
“People are looking for an alternative to fast food,” he says. By offering Korean tacos with cabbage from Traverse City farms and homemade curries on Indian fusion dishes, he’s doing just that.
Along with its residents, the State of Michigan has taken notice of the food truck scene, too. In 2014, Nick Mika — founder of Grand Haven-based Electric Cadillac — signed a state contract that commits the Grand Haven State Park to his food truck cuisine as well as to The Wandering Cow, a frozen yogurt truck. Through 2016, Mika’s locally-sourced menu will feature fun twists on classic sandwiches with meat and cheeses from Boar’s Head in Holland and produce from Visser Farms in Zeeland. By crafting “everything from scratch,” notes Mika, health and convenience can now go hand-in-hand at the lakeshore.
At the heart of the state, The Purple Carrot in East Lansing has been serving up its fresh, Michigan-focused menu to professionals, politicians and college students alike since 2011. With a mission “to source as much as we possibly can from Michigan,” says founder Nina Santucci, The Purple Carrot comes close to obtaining 100 percent of their products — including produce, meat, dairy, honey and cornmeal — from farms in the Mitten.
Working directly with 30 local farmers to gather their ingredients at the peak of perfection, Santucci and husband and co-founder Anthony Maiale offer American sandwiches with global flair and favorites like tofu banh mi with a lentil and walnut pâté.
“It’s always changing,” says Santucci, whose menu is inspired by the season.
Meanwhile in West Michigan, The Organic Gypsy, a Kalamazoo start-up, is serving up “seasoned, organic, unrefined and local” dishes. Frequenting Grand Rapids streets, too, with her 90- to 95-percent organic items, owner Bridgett Blough seeks to support local commerce while enhancing patrons’ health.
“The whole experience, being that we’re mobile, lends itself to a lot more menu flexibility,” she says. Working closely with local farms and staying nimble in order to create menu items that use what’s in season and available at any given time, Blough treasures the “bounty of unbelievable produce” in Michigan: “We live in such an amazing place.”
Freelance writer Lauren Fay Carlson resides in Grand Rapids.