Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A little hand-to-mouth combat

Food trucks vie for the hearts and stomachs of Manyfesters

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Briana Lafond enjoys some poutine with her family at Manyfest Saturday.

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Briana Lafond enjoys some poutine with her family at Manyfest Saturday.

Mark Langtry is a lover, not a fighter.

So when the question was asked about how much "fight" is contained in the Food Truck Wars commissioned by organizers of the 2013 Manyfest downtown street festival, the owner/operator of Habanero Sombrero pulled his punches Saturday afternoon.

"I've found the relationships between trucks to be great, personally, but I know some situations where's there been some tension," said Langtry, as he and his wife, Shannon, come to the end of their first year in the street-cuisine scene. "What really helped us was being involved with the Fringe Fest this year. We got to know people. Ourselves, Little Bones and Stuff It were all together, so we'd swap food every day.

"It would be nice if everybody did that, but that's not always the way it is," he laughed. "I'm not saying everybody is like that... most are good, though."

Around a dozen food trucks, from green and healthy to poutine and BBQ, are set up on Memorial Boulevard for festival-goers to sample. Consumers vote on best presentation, best bang for the buck and the people's choice award through today, with winners announced at the conclusion of the festival (6 p.m.).

"For the most part, it's pretty cool between trucks," said Roddy Seradilla, owner of the Asian/Filipino truck Pimp My Rice. "We've all been working together on the block on Broadway and at different festivals long enough to know how things work. It is kind of funny how it gets built up like it's a big competition between us.

"Make rice, not war."

The love does shine through on the record, but that doesn't stop some trucks from forming strategic alliances. Winning wars is easier with a little bit of third-party help, a few of the vendors concede.

"There is a bit of that, for sure," said Jordan Zwingerman, owner of the Stuff It sandwich truck. "There's some strategy to this business at times. Some people come into it looking for a fight. That's not cool."

Zwingerman has been serving the street since 2012 and said the competition for dining dollars is more noticeable during the weekly downtown lunch rush. There, trucks are elbowing each other to make the day a lucrative one. At an event like Manyfest, where hungry people arrive by the hundreds, if not thousands, the "food-truck-war" mentality is amnestied.

Where a truck on Broadway will only have a couple hours of heavier traffic to sell its wares, a festival can provide a steady stream of people for 10 hours a day if the conditions are right.

"The environment here is really cool right now," Zwingerman said. "There's something in the air between all the trucks -- people are busy and keeping to themselves. It's a good day when it's like that."

That's pretty much what the vendors experienced Friday night at Manyfest, as the crowds were large throughout the evening at the multi-block party. Langtry said at one point he had up to 100 people in line for his Mexican fare.

Who has time for war when there are tacos to be made?

"It never stopped, not until everyone ran out of food," he said.

This weekend will probably be the last big bounty for the food trucks at Manyfest. The summer festival calendar is now complete, and with the colder weather striding up to Winnipeg's doorstep, the eat-on-the-street season is coming to a close.

"Yeah, other than possibly the Bombers games, this is the last chance to really make some money," Langtry said. "The lunch crowd during the week will still be there for a couple more weeks. Hopefully, we won't have to fight the weather until October."

adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 8, 2013 A3

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