July 14, 2022 — Food trucks, a smaller, more mobile form of restaurant, have been making waves across the country, and Florence is starting to feel its presence. While cities like Portland have become known for their abundance of food trucks and food truck ‘pods’, in which several are clustered together in a small area, providing customers with food options from around the world, the phenomenon was relatively unknown around of Florence until recently.
Over the past couple of years, however, more and more food trucks have begun to establish themselves in the city. The now-traditional restaurant Hukilau started out as a food truck and moved into its current space after six successful years.
While some owners may see smaller-scale food truck production as a stepping stone to a more traditional catering space, others prefer the environment and hope to create their own food truck modules.
For the first iteration of a multi-part series, the News from Siuslaw spoke with the owners and team members of three food trucks in Florence and Mapleton, to understand their motivations and what their truck has to offer.
Located in the parking lot of the Mini Pet Mart, across from the Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue building, is the Game Thyme Food Truck, which serves “world-inspired street tacos.”
Game Thyme was opened in March 2020 by owner Matthew Donnelly and serves customers in Florence Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“We have a whole planet of amazing flavors,” Donnelly said. “I just like to take all of these flavors, showcase them, and try to produce exceptional food.”
The food truck often runs through specials but has a basic menu. Currently, Game Thyme offers tempura breaded oyster mushrooms, grown by a small local farm, in both tacos and a breaded mushroom burger. From time to time, Donnelly will put kimchi fries back on the menu: fries topped with coconut chicken curry or Korean tofu with kimchi and sauces.
The battered avocado tempura taco is a staple that will always be on the menu, according to one of Game Thyme’s team members. Other flavors on the menu include Chicken Coconut Curry, Spanish Shrimp, Korean Pork Belly, and Cuban Skirt Steak.
Donnelly has been in the kitchen since he was a child, inspired by iconic chefs like Martin Yan and Alton Brown.
“Instead of going out in the summer to play with my friends, I was taking professional cooking classes,” he said.
For him, working in a food truck rather than a traditional restaurant provides one-on-one experiences with a clientele he would otherwise miss.
“I have a window wide open,” Donnelly said. “People can watch and see what I’m doing. We can talk. This way we can establish a good relationship with the community.
Without the overhead of a traditional restaurant, the food truck is also “a much more financially capable way of doing things,” he added.
The opening of the food truck at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic also caused a few bumps in the road. Donnelly bought the food truck four days before Lane County closed. Instead of waiting for the county to reopen to get the proper licenses, he went north to Lincoln City.
“They put me to work right away,” Donnelly said. “They went out on a Sunday, actually, to get me fired.”
Game Thyme worked in Lincoln City over the summer, returning to Florence when the Governor reopened things.
“And we haven’t stopped slamming since,” he said.
For the future of Game Thyme, Donnelly is working on leasing a building in the parking lot he currently operates out of. He plans to turn it into a beer garden and food truck pod, inviting food trucks to park from all over the county, including a pizza truck from Medford. The food truck pod will bring much more diversity of food with a wide variety of options in a centralized space.
Unlike the current parking lot, plans include on-site seating and propane heating, for colder weather, covered by large tents.
Donnelly also hopes to host live music, if the city permits.
“I think it will be amazing,” he said.
For more information, the Game Thyme Food Truck is most active on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/gamethyme, and can be reached at gamethymeusa.com.
In 2015, Chris and Carol Peterson’s daughter needed a summer job. The family, who lived in Alaska at the time, started making pretzels in their home kitchen. Chris made a pretzel cart and every day in the summer of 2015 they transported the cart to downtown Juneau and sold pretzels.
It was a success and quickly became a family affair.
The town of Juneau loved the Petersons’ pretzels so much that they had an increased capacity. They ordered the food truck they use today from a manufacturer in Portland and moved their pretzel-making process out of their home.
Since then, they have perfected the art of making pretzels.
Before visiting the Peterson Food Truck, most people’s experience with pretzels included two varieties: salted and unsalted. The Petersons have “regular” pretzels, but they also have a lot more.
There are pretzels that are almost a complete meal on their own, such as Cheese Steak or Meat Lovers. There’s meat wrapped in pretzels like the All Beef Polish Sausage Pretzel Dog. There are even desert pretzels like the Deluxe Smortzel, which is a pretzel covered in peanut butter, chocolate, and marshmallow. Combine these choices with all of their dipping options and the possibilities are virtually endless.
Although the side of the truck says “Alaskan Handcrafted Soft Pretzels”, Peterson’s Pretzels does not yet offer “Alaskan Pretzel” per se, but there is hope for the future.
“We thought about buying some reindeer hot dogs,” Chris said. “These would be more or less from Alaska, wouldn’t they?”
Since April, when the Petersons brought their operation to Florence, they’ve tried different locations around town – near the promenade in historic Old Town and at events at Florence Golf Links – but are currently at 37th Street and at highway 101, in the parking lot of Tan République. If they’re not where you expect them, just look for the big red food truck.
Peterson’s Pretzels is open 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, except Monday and Tuesday. For more information, visit www.petersonspretzels.com.
Not all of the food trucks sprouting up in the area are in Florence. The upstream community also gained a great new dining choice when Phat Sherburt’s opened a few months ago in Mapleton.
This new food truck is the brainchild of friends Bob Russell, Patrick and Darla Price. Patrick and especially Bob have spent a lot of time working in and around kitchens in their lifetime.
Bob was executive chef at the Eugene Country Club, cooked for Busters in Cottage Grove, and had his own restaurant on a golf course near Portland. But this is his first food truck experience.
The Prices raised their family on farms in Montana, and at different times in his life Patrick found himself working in restaurants as a second job.
“(Bob) and I just sat down and convinced ourselves to do something food-related,” Patrick said.
They started by selling smoked chicken in partnership with Gingerbread Village and were successful enough to decide to do it themselves.
They bought a food truck. I found a spot next to Mapleton Food Share. Darla did the unique decoration and Bob and Patrick got to cooking.
Phat Sherburt’s has all kinds of dishes for the food trucks.
They have sliders of all kinds: standard burger, Philly beef, fajita and pork, all served with fries and a homemade macaroni salad. They have rice bowls, nachos, and homemade mac and cheese. For those hot summer days, they have your standard selection of soft drinks as well as mango, strawberry, and lavender lemonade. Yes, they also have sorbet for dessert.
However, as Patrick and Bob often have to explain to their customers, the “Sherburt” in the name does not refer to the frozen treat but is the name of the family dog Price, who is part chocolate lab/middle walking bloodhound.
Phat Sherburt’s is hard to miss, just west of Mapleton Food Share at 10718 Highway 101 in Mapleton. The food truck is open 7 days a week from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
To order in advance, call 406-425-1752. For more information, visit Phat Sherburt’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Phat-Sherburts-107967281867745.
Look for Part 2 in a future edition of the News from Siuslaw for coverage on Knuckle Sammich and The Hangry Habanero.