Midtown Raleigh News

Food truck rodeo rescheduled

Fayetteville Street was filled with people eating food from the 50 trucks parked downtown during the rodeo in downtown Raleigh on June 9.
Fayetteville Street was filled with people eating food from the 50 trucks parked downtown during the rodeo in downtown Raleigh on June 9. ehyman@newsobserver.com

The Downtown Raleigh Food Truck rodeo is gearing up for four more Sunday events this summer, but some restaurants aren’t happy with one of the dates: Mother’s Day.

Downtown Raleigh Alliance president David Diaz will ask the city council Tuesday to reschedule the rodeo’s May 11 date. The date was approved months ago by the police department and the downtown events task force, but the city council is set to vote on the final approval Tuesday.

Diaz stressed that his agency is supportive of the food truck events, which drew thousands of people last year.

“It’s not about the food truck event at all,” he said. “It is about having big outdoor events during a day we feel like is a special day for families. It’s the biggest day for restaurants nationally.”

Diaz’s comments mark a major milestone for a downtown that’s eagerly sought any street festivals that could draw weekend crowds to the once sleepy city center. Eight years after Fayetteville Street reopened to traffic, downtown shops and restaurants stay busy on weekends regardless of special events – especially on Mother’s Day.

“Now we’re at the enviable position of talking about how to manage businesses, events, residents and commerce on a Sunday,” Diaz said. “Big picture, we think this is an important day to think about not hosting a recurring major event.”

Guy Caprioli, the organizer of the food truck rodeos, said he’s working closely with Diaz on a solution, likely switching the event to May 4.

“We’re part of the downtown community, and we’re supporting the Downtown Raleigh Alliance in their efforts to bring everybody together,” Caprioli said.

As last year’s rodeo series wrapped up, most downtown restaurants said the events had a positive effect on business. Empire Eats owner Greg Hatem said his restaurants saw many new customers who’d gotten frustrated by long lines and opted for a sit-down eatery instead.

But Hatem pointed to problems with the first rodeo, which also took place on Mother’s Day. “The rodeo was so poorly organized that the surrounding restaurants weren’t notified, and there were parking issues with people coming downtown,” he said last August.

Caprioli said his events are serving as a model for successful food truck festivals nationwide.

“Raleigh is rated by many as one of the top food truck gatherings in the country now,” he wrote in an email to the city council. “Our use of tables and chairs to create outdoor dining space is being replicated by others, and our use of commercial generators to power the trucks has set the bar for other cities across the country.”

This year’s rodeos are expected to draw about 50 trucks, and Caprioli plans to add live music and family-friendly activities such as chalk drawing and a bubble zone. To encourage diners to sample, he’s asking food trucks to offer smaller portion sizes.

“They’re coming for an adventure, and they want to try things from multiple different vendors,” he said.

To cover startup costs such as insurance and equipment, Caprioli is holding a Kickstarter fundraiser seeking $8,000 in donations by April 10. Donors get special wristbands to visit the trucks before the event officially starts, and anyone who gives $80 or more will be invited to a five-course food truck dinner on May 1.

“We wanted to make the crowd our main corporate sponsor,” Caprioli said. “We really felt that was more in line with the spirit of the event.”