Mobile Munchies Making A Mark

The food truck phenomenon has taken hold in cities like Los Angeles and Austin with people regularly chasing down their favorite eatery via social media. Now Houston is really beginning to muscle in on the action.

"I’ll take the Substitute and the truffle laced fries."

"What’s your name? "

"Matt."

The lunch rush is well and truly underway at Bernie’s Burger Bus, a brightly decorated yellow school bus sitting in the parking lot of Inversion Café just off Montrose Boulevard. The bus belongs to Chef Justin Turner. He named his business after his grandfather and has spent the last 16 months trying to establish himself as the go to food truck in Houston for burgers.

Judging by the long line of people waiting to order it seems to be paying off and it may be in part because Turner isn’t just any old chef.

"I went to a small culinary school in Memphis, worked under a Danish Master Chef for two years. And then I was a personal chef for one of the Houston Rockets for six years."

There are about 60 “specialty” food trucks in the city of Houston and they are subject to the same tight restrictions as any restaurant in the city when it comes to health and safety. But what makes a food truck’s food different, Turner believes it’s down to the ingredients.

"I grind my own meat. I make my own ketchup, mustard, pickles, mayonnaise. You know a lot of restaurants don’t do the same thing. They’ll buy in their pre-ground beef. I’m literally cutting beef every morning and grinding it every morning just to put out the freshest, highest quality burger you can get and that’s why I only focus on burgers."

Turner sells about 800 of these burgers every week.  He’s got a pretty loyal customer base too with regulars like Andy Powers, who drove all the way from the far south side of the city just to eat out of this particular truck.

"It’s a great burger, flavorful, fresh and unique and it’s off of a bus!"

The beauty of a food truck is being able to move it. As long its parked 200 yards from a bathroom and on a business’s lot legally, they can go anywhere. Many of the 60 food trucks park themselves at different spots throughout the week. They can be located via their Twitter feed, Facebook page or at HoustonFoodTrucks.com

One of the hurdles Turner and his fellow food truckers are trying to overcome is the idea that they’re in competition with other restaurants. Something which he feels is just not true.

"The restaurant association sees us as somewhat of a threat. Not all of them, but there is definitely some of the restaurant association that sees food trucks as a threat, but they need to realize we’re just like a restaurant. They don’t go after each individual restaurant trying to say well Niko Niko’s and Reef are competition. They are not competition. Someone’s gonna eat Greek one day and someone’s gonna go get some awesome seafood the next."

This is one of the reasons why Turner believes the idea of a food truck food court like they have in Austin is a long way from becoming a reality in Houston.  For now the closest they can get to that realization is the Haute Wheels Food Truck festival at Houston Community College last year, that brought over 6,000 people out to try the goods from 20 trucks.

So next time you head out for lunch and you come across a food truck in a random parking lot with an interesting name like “Oh My! Pocket Pies” or “The Rolling Hunger” why not see what all the fuss is about.

Bio photo of Edel Howlin

Edel Howlin

Producer, Houston Matters

Edel is a producer on Houston Matters and reporter for PBS’s Newshour Weekend...