July 14, 2022 — Food trucks, a smaller and more mobile form of restaurant, have made waves across the country, and Florence is starting to feel its presence. While cities like Portland became known for its abundance of food trucks and food truck “pods,” in which multiple are clustered into a small area, providing customers with food options from around the globe, the phenomenon was relatively unheard of around Florence until recently.
Over the past couple years, however, more food trucks are starting to establish themselves around the city. The Hukilau, a now brick-and-mortar restaurant, started out as a food truck, and moved into its current space after a successful six years.
While some owners may see the smaller-scale production of operating food trucks as a steppingstone into a more traditional restaurant space, others prefer the environment, and hope to create food truck pods of their own.
For the first iteration of a multi-part series, the Siuslaw News has spoken with the owners and team members of three food trucks across Florence and Mapleton, to understand their motivations and what their truck has to offer.
Located in the Mini Pet Mart parking lot, across from the Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue building, sits the Game Thyme Food Truck, dishing up “globally inspired street tacos.”
Game Thyme was opened in March 2020 by owner Matthew Donnelly and serves customers in Florence every Wednesday through Sunday from 11 am to 5 pm
“We’ve got a whole planet of incredible flavors,” Donnelly said. “I like to just kind of take all those flavors, put my spin on them and try to produce some outstanding foods.”
The food truck often rotates through specials but has a core menu. Currently, Game Thyme offers tempura battered oyster mushrooms, grown by a small, local farm, in both tacos and a battered mushroom burger. Every now and then, Donnelly will put kimchi fries back on the menu: French fries topped with coconut curry chicken or Korean tofu with kimchi and sauces.
The tempura battered avocado taco is a staple that will always be on the menu, according to one of Game Thyme’s team members. Other flavors on the menu include coconut curry chicken, Spanish prawn, Korean pork belly and Cuban skirt steak.
Donnelly has been in the kitchen since he was a kid, inspired by iconic chefs like Martin Yan and Alton Brown.
“Instead of going out in the summer to play with my friends, I’d take vocational classes for cooking,” he said.
For him, working through a food truck rather than a brick-and-mortar restaurant gives the one-on-one experiences with clientele that he would otherwise miss.
“I’ve got a wide open window,” Donnelly said. “People can look in and see what I’m doing. We can talk. We can build a good relationship with the community that way.”
Without the overhead costs of a traditional restaurant, the food truck is a “much more financially capable way of doing things” as well, I added.
Opening the food truck right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic caused some bumps on the road as well. Donnelly bought the food truck four days before Lane County shut down. Instead of waiting for the county to open up again to get the proper licensing, he went north to Lincoln City.
“They put me to work right away,” Donnelly said. “They came out on a Sunday, actually, to get me licensed.”
Game Thyme worked out of Lincoln City for the summer, returning to Florence when the governor opened things back up.
“And we’ve been just slamming away ever since,” he said.
For the future of Game Thyme, Donnelly is working to lease a building in the parking lot out of which he currently operates. He plans to turn it into a beer garden and food truck pod, inviting food trucks to park from across the county, including a pizza truck from Medford. The food truck pod will bring a lot more diversity of food with a wide variety of options in a centralized space.
Unlike the parking lot now, the plans include on-site seating and propane heat, for colder weather, covered by large tents.
Donnelly also hopes to host live music, if the city permits it.
“I think it will be incredible,” he said.
For more information, the Game Thyme Food Truck is most active on its Facebook page, www.facebook.com/gamethyme, and can be reached at gamethymeusa.com.
In 2015, Chris and Carol Peterson’s daughter needed a summer job. The family, who lived in Alaska at the time, started making pretzels in their kitchen at home. Chris made a pretzel cart and each day during the summer of 2015, they would transport the cart to downtown Juneau and sell pretzels.
It was a success and soon became a family affair.
The town of Juneau so loved the Petersons’ pretzels that they had in increased capacity. They ordered the food truck they use today from a manufacturer in Portland and moved their pretzel making process out of their home.
Since then, they have been perfecting the art of pretzel making.
Before visiting the Peterson food truck, most people’s pretzel experience has included two varieties: salted and unsalted. The Petersons do have “regular” pretzels, but they’ve also got a whole lot more.
There are pretzels that are almost a whole meal in themselves, such as the Cheese Steak or the Meat Lovers. There’s meat wrapped in pretzels like the All Beef Polish Sausage Pretzel Dog. There are even desert pretzels like the Deluxe Smortzel, which is a pretzel covered in peanut butter, chocolate and marshmallow. Combine these choices with all their dipping sauce options and the possibilities are virtually endless.
Though the side of the truck does say “Alaskan Handcrafted Soft Pretzels” Peterson’s Pretzels does not yet offer an “Alaskan Pretzel” per say but there is hope for the future.
“We have been thinking about getting some reindeer hot dogs,” said Chris. “Those would more or less be Alaskan, right?”
Since April, when the Petersons brought their operation to Florence, they’ve tried different locations around town — near the boardwalk in Historic Old Town and at events at Florence Golf Links — but currently can be found at 37th Street and Highway 101, in the parking lot of Tan Republic. If they’re not where you expect them just look for the big red food truck.
Peterson’s Pretzels is open from 11 am to 4 pm daily, except Monday and Tuesday. For more information, go to www.petersonspretzels.com.
Not all the food trucks sprouting up in the area are in Florence. The upriver community also gained an excellent new dining choice when Phat Sherburt’s opened a few months ago in Mapleton.
This new food truck is the brainchild of friends Bob Russell and Patrick and Darla Price. Patrick and especially Bob spent lots of time working in and around kitchens during their lives.
Bob was executive chef at Eugene Country Club, cooked for Busters in Cottage Grove and had a restaurant of his own on a golf course near Portland. But this is his first food truck experience from him.
The Prices raised their family on farms in Montana and, at different times in his life, Patrick found himself working in restaurants as a second job.
“(Bob) and I just sat around and talked ourselves into doing something food related,” Patrick said.
They started by selling smoked chicken in partnership with Gingerbread Village and found enough success that they decided they could do it on their own.
They bought a food truck. Found a spot next to Mapleton Food Share. Darla did the unique decorating and Bob and Patrick got to cooking.
Phat Sherburt’s has all sorts of food truck fare.
They’ve got sliders of all kinds: standard burger, Philly beef, fajita and pork, all of which are served with chips and homemade macaroni salad. They’ve got rice bowls, nachos and homemade mac and cheese. For those hot summer days, they have your standard selection of soft drinks along with mango, strawberry and lavender lemonade. Yes, they also have sherbet for dessert.
However, as Patrick and Bob often have to explain to their customers, the “Sherburt” in the name does not refer to the frozen treat but is the name of the Price family dog, who is half chocolate lab/half walker bloodhound.
Phat Sherburt’s is hard to miss, just west of Mapleton Food Share at 10718 Highway 101 in Mapleton. The food truck is open seven days a week from 11 am to 5 pm
To order ahead, call 406-425-1752. For more information, visit Phat Sherburt’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/Phat-Sherburts-107967281867745.
Look for part 2 in a future edition of the Siuslaw News for coverage on Knuckle Sammich and The Hangry Habanero.