Several years ago, Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest hired three food trucks for a state government department meeting. Marriott Conference Service Manager Marie Lenhardt says the vehicles lined up in front of the property’s conference center with seating available on an adjacent patio where attendees could relax and enjoy their meals. Offerings included vegan options, tacos, hot dogs, and fixings.
Patti Ingleson remembers it well. As national sales manager for Destination Ann Arbor, she joined the hotel in brainstorming with the client on how to pull the food truck-supplied meal off. “It was fast, it was outside, and it was for dinner, so it wasn’t like we were in a time crunch,” she says. “They loved it. It was the first event we’ve run there where we had food trucks and, since then, they’ve done it again.” The hotel charged a fee to host the trucks, Ingleson notes, “so it wasn’t a loss for them.”
Ingleson also brings in a coffee food truck as part of arrangements for the Iron Workers Annual Instructors Training event. “We bring in Bear Claw Coffee every morning when they’re getting on the bus at 6:30 if they want to grab a coffee or croissant,” Ingleson says.
Kim Taylor, who runs a food truck out of Gaylord in northern Lower Michigan, says it’s common to take his K&J Grill menu of upscale burgers—including a macaroni and cheese version—along with wraps, pretzels, and sides, to business events. Besides offering variety, he says the appeal is that trucks take care of everything: the food, dishes and silver-
ware, setup, teardown—even hauling away the trash. “You don’t have to worry about anything; we’ll take care of all of it,” he says.
Debra Levantrosser, who operates the 100% vegan and gluten-free Shimmy Shack in Livonia, echoes Taylor’s sentiments. “A food truck pulls up, cooks, serves, and leaves.” Lara Kathleen Webster is owner of the Ludington-based Brunch Babes Food Truck, which was a runner-up in Season 10 of the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race.” With a from-scratch menu that includes original items like Great Lakes whitefish tacos in key lime butter, Cuban-loaded tots, chorizo and egg tacos, and from-scratch gourmet doughnuts (strawberry cheesecake and s’mores are among the flavors), spring and fall are Brunch Babes’ busiest seasons for events.
“It creates a fun, laid-back atmosphere,” she says. “The guests are able to choose their meal prepared to order, and so many trucks now are doing amazing, unique food menus that are extremely high quality. It also encourages an outdoor event, which is always well-received for corporate events where many staff work indoors.”
In metro Detroit, longtime event planner Julie Cassens asked her business partner in My Food Truck Event, engineer Robert Georgeff, to design a three-window truck after she found hiring other trucks with one window led to longer lines and wait times than she wanted. Now 85% of her business is with corporate clients who hire My Food Truck Event to bring its truck with three stations offering gourmet tacos, smoked beef brisket or pulled pork sandwiches, and specialty hot dogs—and sometimes other items. “I can do 400 meals an hour out of this truck,” says Cassens, who also just added a second truck to keep up with demand.
In nearby Ferndale, Chris Matthews and Tracy Antenucci operate multiple food trucks, including The Mean Weenie. “Corporate and other private events are the backbone of our catering business model. From late March through December, we are out several times per week,” says Matthews, noting that employee and client appreciation events, team-building meetings, corporate picnics, retirement and holiday parties, vendor showcases, and auto industry ride and drive events are its bread and butter.
Lindsay Krause, chief operating officer of Special D Events in Detroit, likes the interactive nature of food trucks along with the fact that they provide options so attendees can choose their favorites. “You get the mall food court vibe, but outside,” she says. Special D has hired food trucks for corporate off-site parties and employee picnics, she says. “From the planning side you must ensure you have enough food trucks because while people love a variety of food to choose from, they do not like long lines,” she says. “One way to mitigate this is to offer catered food for the main course at your event but offer dessert or specialty food trucks to supplement the buffet food.”
For example, Melissa Diem’s Grayling-based The Dessert Wagon food truck specializes in sweets—the decadent kind. Deep-fried versions of cupcakes, brownie bites, cookie dough, and cheesecake are among the options. She says clients typically narrow her menu down to a couple items for private events, allowing attendees to choose from this smaller selection. As Ingleson says, “It’s something different, and people like it.”