By Kevin Baird
CNJ staff writer
Mobile food trucks are trending across the country, and in Clovis, food truck owners are seeing their businesses grow.
“You can’t move a building, but you can move a truck to work special events, football games, or catering,” said “Catfish Mike” Hiter, owner of Weezy’s Southern Catfish Kitchen. “I plan on doing night clubs in Portales soon.”
Hiter said he has been running Wheezy’s since 1988 in Glendale, Calif. He said Weezy’s has been housed in a building and food truck and her prefers to run his restaurant out of a truck.
Bill Wentworth who is the owner and chef at Mo’ Bills, said he decided to build his food truck because it allows his restaurant to be more accessible to the public. Wentworth said the business community in Clovis has been helpful too, adding some businesses have invited him to park in their lots to attract traffic to the area.
Carol Wight, CEO of the New Mexico Restaurant Association said, “There is an increase in food trucks across the country, but New Mexico is behind the trend.”
Wentworth said, “In the bigger cities they have rows and rows of food carts,” and he can see the number of food trucks growing in Clovis because, “people love to try new food.”
Wight said an advantage to starting a food truck is, “You can find out if people like your food enough. If they do, you can open up a brick and mortar restaurant.” She said if a restaurant wants to add another location it is a great way to test a new location.
According to Wight, food trucks sometimes create animosity from those in charge of brick and mortar restaurants because they feel they have invested more in their restaurants than a mobile food cart that swoops in to do business.
Jenna Pine, a shift manager at Taco Villa, said that Mo’ Bills, set up across the street from Taco Villa on Sunday to sell tacos and burritos, didn’t put a dent in business.
“I don’t think business has changed,” Pine said. “We have loyal customers so we retain them. Sunday we had our best day in a really long time.”
Leal’s Manager Kelly Hernandez said she has not noticed any changes since the Mo’ Bills and Weezy’s opened. The two food carts are often parked in the Burns Hardware lot, which is a short walk from Leal’s.
Hiter said being parked next to another food truck does not bother him. “There shouldn’t be any animosity between businesses. It’s a choice of what you want to eat. A lot of people love tacos. A lot of people love catfish.”
Although both food truck owners said business is increasing, they have their challenges.
Hiter said he has seen positive reviews of his catfish on Facebook, but he says he needs to find a way to increase people’s awareness that his restaurant exists. Hiter said he also needs to get tables and chairs so he can create a patio atmosphere where people can eat.
Wentworth said there is a learning curve to operating a food truck. He said once he did not secure his pots and pans before leaving a site and they flew off the shelves when he was driving. He said when you run a restaurant you also have plenty of storage and preparation room, but not in a food cart.
“You have to be meticulous in your prep work,” Wentworth said. He said otherwise you can run out of water or food supplies.
Wentworth said brick and mortar restaurants and food carts are two different beasts and each have their own set of worries attached to them.