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Rochester’s Food Truck Rodeo is back

provided by Kelly McBride | Rochester Public Market

The Food Truck Rodeo is back at the Public Market.

The event, held on the last Wednesday of the month through September, runs from 5 to 9 p.m., but even with this event and others returning, navigating the pandemic has been quite the journey for some local food trucks.

Nicole Nitti, who owns KONA Ice of Genesee Valley, said she scaled back during the pandemic, turning to online orders instead of relying on events. 

Her trucks serve shaved ice desserts that customers dress up by pouring flavor syrups over the ice scoops using taps on the outside of the truck. In a way, she said it was like an upgrade from the old-school ice cream truck cruising through neighborhoods.

Credit Noelle E. C. Evans | WXXI News
Nicole Nitti is the owner of KONA Ice of Genesee Valley

“We used to do it traditionally but you could always be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Nitti said. “So when curbside came around it was perfect because people were signing up and so you knew you were going to a (good) spot. It was a benefit if people on that street saw us because then they would come out.”

The transition, because of the pandemic, worked out for her. 

“We’ve touched people we hadn’t seen before because everyone was at home,” she said. “So we’ve benefited because now we’ve gotten phone calls from schools and companies that we’ve never dealt with in the past.”

Chuck Andrews, who owns Macarollin’ food trucks, had a similar experience. Macarollin’ specializes in gourmet macaroni and cheese, offering more than 15 different varieties.

“It was probably the best and worst times,” Andrews said, adding that he had to scale back by laying off everyone but the manager. “It was kind of a two-man band for the year 2020.” 

Macarollin’ pivoted to visiting neighborhoods in Rochester and Syracuse, rather than the usual music festival circuit some trucks follow.

“We made the assumption that most people went to festivals and that simply is not true,” he said. “So last year we went to them and benefited accordingly.”

In Andrews’ case, there was a silver lining to running a food truck business. While restaurants had to adjust to capacity limits, and find creative ways to social distance with outdoor seating, he didn’t have to worry as much.

Credit Noelle E. C. Evans | WXXI News
Chuck Andrews (left) and Tyler Schuber (right) of Macarollin' prepare for the Food Truck Rodeo at their warehouse.

“Food trucks are at an advantage without spending money because they’re already outside and they can have social distancing without busting down a wall,” he said.

But with events and festivals shut down last year, on top of public health restrictions, not every food truck survived the pandemic. 

“Just like every business and restaurant they all had to find different business models. It’s been a tough year for everyone,” said Jim Farr, director of the Rochester Public Market.

Ten years ago, Farr started the first Food Truck Rodeo, inspired by a similar event in Orlando, Florida. 

“I talked to a couple people and they thought it would never work,” he said.

But it did work. On the best days, he said they’ve had 45 food trucks and thousands of people. For Wednesday's event, there will be about 18 food trucks, though Farr still expects a crowd.

“We’re a little bit afraid that we may get overwhelmed with folks because there’s just so much pent up demand to get out and do things,” he said with a laugh.

For Andrews and Nitti, the return of the rodeos is a beacon of hope.

“In the food truck owner’s mind this is the first step toward getting back to normal,” Andrews said.

“I mean, that’s why we’re so excited for the food truck rodeos to start again because everyone wants to go out and be part of it again,” said Nitti.

If you’re going, you might want to carpool and bring your own chairs, and if you’re not vaccinated, bring a mask, Farr said.

Credit provided by Kelly McBride | Rochester Public Market

The food truck vendor lineup includes:

  • Bay Vista Taqueria
  • Big Al’s Empanadas
  • Chef’s Catering
  • The Dainty Doughnut Factory
  • Dukes Doughnuts
  • Flour City Bread Wood Fired Pizza
  • J & S Fried Dough
  • KONA Ice of Genesee Valley
  • Macarollin
  • Neno’s
  • Paola’s Burrito Place
  • Rob’s Al Dente
  • Rob’s Kabobs
  • ROC City Sammich
  • Rollin Deep
  • Wraps on Wheels
  • Sweet Sammie Jane’s
  • Tuscan Wood Fired Pizza
Noelle E. C. Evans is WXXI's Murrow Award-winning Education reporter/producer.