Food Carts Converge on the Flathead

By Beacon Staff

UREKA – Keith and Katie Poe were looking for a new life, one where they wouldn’t have to take orders from anyone but themselves. They found it in the form of an old trailer.

Late last year, Keith and Katie opened the Saucy Dogs food truck – one of many mobile restaurants popping up in the Flathead Valley and around the country. In 2013, nearly 3 million food trucks, carts or trailers were operating in the United States and more than 2.5 billion people eat from them around the world every day, according to The food cart industry grew more than 8 percent between 2007 and 2012, according to an Australian research firm, and is now a $1 billion industry.

“It’s convenient and it’s hip,” said Tim Good, who owns The Cuisine Machine based out of Whitefish.

Good has been running The Cuisine Machine for seven years and is a staple of the Whitefish Farmers Market every summer. His walleye sandwich, sweet potato fries and market fresh salads are always popular items on the menu. He also attends community events, provides food at the occasional beer dinner at the Great Northern Brewing Company and caters weddings. Good and his crew catered 25 weddings last summer, including three in one day.

Just a few months before graduating from college in Minnesota, Good entered the culinary world when he landed a job at a local restaurant. He’s been cooking ever since. But starting your own restaurant is no easy task, which leads many creative cooks to food carts.

“It’s hard and expensive to open a restaurant,” Good said. “Setting up a food truck might cost $50,000, versus setting up a restaurant, which could cost $150,000.”

The concept of a food cart is nothing new. In the late 1800s, the food cart became a staple of cattle drives after a rancher named Charles Goodnight repurposed an old wagon into a rolling kitchen. According to legend, the term “chuck wagon” originated from Goodnight’s contraption. The food cart idea was especially successful on the streets of major metro areas or near factories.

In the late 2000s, the food cart idea took off again as an economic way to open a new restaurant. Many carts, trucks or trailers cater to specialized menus, including Saucy Dogs, which can usually be found parked outside of H.A. Brewing Co. in Eureka.

“The brewery needed food and we needed a venue,” Keith said. “We’re all about local, fresh and organic foods.”

Keith and Katie even make their own ketchup and mustard to top the sausages they’re slinging from their cart. Although they planned for a soft opening – “we didn’t even tell anyone” – the cart has been incredibly popular with brewery patrons in recent weeks.

Good said he’s had the same success with The Cuisine Machine, which is why more people are capitalizing on the food cart trend.

“People are realizing it’s easier to have a kitchen on the go,” he said.

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