Food & Drink

Have Sacramento food trucks reached the end of the road for large-scale events?

Within 15 minutes of SactoMoFo 10 being underway, the line at the Koja Kitchen truck already stretched dozens deep. Thirty-five mobile food vendors parked Saturday in a large U-shaped section of the Sacramento Railyards near downtown, with 10,000 hungry folks attending Sacramento’s largest annual roundup of food trucks.

But as the smells of bacon, paella and burgers tantalized the crowd, a sense of finality also wafted in the air. Saturday’s SactoMoFo 10 marked the final large-scale event hosted by Sacramento Mobile Food, a company that helped launch the local mobile food craze.

Fear not, Sacramento fans of mobile food. SactoMoFo will continue to roll along and produce events, but instead focus on smaller gatherings and catering contracts that have proven to be more profitable. That means doing away with its semiannual marquee event that draws thousands, but has become a drain on the company’s resources.

“It’s been quite the ride, but we’re maturing,” said Paul Somerhausen, director of SactoMoFo. “It’s the end of (one) concept but we’re working on new concepts that make it worth the company’s time.”

SactoMoFo debuted in 2011 and was an out-of-the-box success. More than 10,000 attendees swamped downtown’s Fremont Park to sample eats from 12 mobile food vendors, with some lines stretching nearly the length of the park.

Once novel to Sacramento, food trucks are now the status quo. Mobile food vendors are a fixture of outdoor events, including Republic FC soccer matches, music festivals, neighborhood gatherings and more. Some food trucks, such as Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen and Koja Kitchen, have since branched into brick-and-mortar restaurants.

Other companies, such as San Francisco’s Off The Grid, have also entered the market to capitalize on the food truck industry and host events.

But large-scale events like SactoMoFo 10 are especially costly to run. The tab for producing one of SactoMoFo’s yearly roundups generally runs about $75,000, which includes securing permits, security, portable restrooms and other costs.

That whopper of a bill caused Somerhausen to rethink the company’s business strategy.

“Most of our events take a week to set up and administer, but the big one (like SactoMoFo 10) takes six to eight months,” Somerhausen said. “It’s tremendous pressure and the event has to go as perfectly as it can go. We’re spending six months on an event where we’re lucky to break even.”

SactoMoFo produced 1,500 events in 2016, including weekly roundups at office parks around the greater Sacramento area and “Food Truck Mania” community gatherings in Vallejo, Vacaville, Woodland and other cities. SactoMoFo also brings food trucks near the state Capitol each Tuesday and inked a partnership to service the Downtown Commons with four food trucks for “Long Lunch Friday.”

SactoMoFo earns the bulk of its monies from taking a percentage of sales from the food trucks it books for events. But the expense of its yearly marquee event proved to be a drag on the company, especially with a lack of corporate sponsorship to help underwrite costs.

It’s already been a rough year for the local food truck industry, given the exceptionally wet weather of the last few months that’s resulted in the cancellation of catering gigs and other outdoor events. SactoMoFo 9, which was held in May 2016, grappled with its own attendance drop-off due to inclement weather and lost about $20,000 from the event.

“In a business my size, that’s a good slap in the face,” Somerhausen said.

Andrew Blaskovich, owner of Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen, geared up for a busy SactoMoFo 10 and expected to serve 1,000 orders. His truck was included at the inaugural SactoMoFo in 2011, just a baby of a mobile food business then, but has grown into a company with three trucks, including an upcoming Drewski’s Twisted Tacos. It has also been booked for major events, including Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara.

As the line snaked ever longer in front of his truck, Blaskovich couldn’t help but think how far his business – and the local mobile food movement – had evolved.

“The day-to-day events we do are great, but big events like this are awesome,” Blaskovich said. “I’m really sad to see these kinds of events go away, the larger ones. This is where it all started.”

Chris Macias: 916-321-1253, @chris_macias