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January 24, 2016 Staff

Food Truck Documentary: Food on Four Wheels Video Review

This upbeat, sincere documentary short explores food trucks in Durham, North Carolina from food truck customers’ and owners’ points of view for 12:57. Made by students at The School of Doc, a free summer filmmaking camp open to high school students in Durham.

The film opens with a customer expressing happiness with the casualness of food trucks. “It’s fun to try something new.” “There’s no commitment before choosing and ordering,” as there is in a restaurant. Casual, familiar and conversational are characteristics repeated and emphasized in this entertaining little movie.

Only Burgers’ food truck owner expresses his reason for opening a mobile food business as an inexpensive way to start a food service business. His favorite part of the business is the interaction with customers. His banter is easy and natural, encouraging customers to engage as they order and are served their food. The happy faces of the customers enjoying a bite at Only Burgers is the result of the ease and comfort of this natural flow.

Porchetta’s owner and employee both mention their customers’ impression of their truck’s visuals. With huge animals seemingly sketched on the sides of the truck, it’s a conversation starter about the meat on the truck’s menu. What are those animals on the side of the truck and why? The owner tells us that the animal graphics “can be whatever you want them to be so long as you walk up to the truck and check out the menu.”

Food Truck Documentary Background

Food trucks were only a year or so into operation in Durham when the documentary was made, and customers have gotten used to their presence. “We came out here one night and there were no food trucks, and we didn’t know what to do!” laughed a customer enjoying the choice of trucks another night. Durham is a glowing example of customers getting used to food trucks in their neighborhoods very quickly. Nimble businesses getting overwhelmingly positive response from residents is all the proof we could want for the question of food trucks moving in, according to this film.

The footage includes trucks being washed and loaded, food prepped in commissaries and cooked in food trucks, as well as serving customers. The pride of ownership in the trucks is apparent. The lumbering nature of the big food trucks driving down the streets of Durham neighborhoods emphasizes the metaphoric weight of starting and operating a food truck business, as well as the literal weight of the vehicles, loaded as they are with heavy cooking equipment, supplies, food and staff. The mobility of the businesses echoes the mobility and casual nature of those following them, finding them and enjoying the food.

The flexibility of location, the ease customers have in checking out all the trucks’ menus before making a choice are especially natural to young customers, but middle aged and older customers are there, too, enjoying the nuances of street food versus a traditional restaurant experience.

When the featured trucks first opened there were no food trucks in Durham, only construction site roach coaches. Only Burgers’ owner talks of really working to clean up that image, to create a business based on good food and good customer experiences. After winning the Indy Week award for Best Burger, he is obviously proud of winning the vote of the people in his community.

Why “Only Burgers?”

The names of the trucks are mentioned, along with the unknown of the names. Why “Only Burgers?” It’s a mystery, but each customer had their own idea. Porchetta is defined and discussed as an Italian version of barbeque. Every food truck tells a story, and every food truck customer hears or defines that story in their own way. The mystery of location, name of the trucks and menu items add up to an adventure for the community, a community that wasn’t well served by food businesses before these food trucks opened.

The final scene in the film is shot from between two buildings, with a view of a food truck driving down a quiet street. It appears to be a mixed neighborhood of residential and small businesses. The food truck goes forward, then backwards and forward again. The food truck is big. The buildings are just one or two stories tall. The sight of the truck moving both forward and backward amongst buildings not much larger than the truck taps into the efforts and enthusiasm of food truckers and their customers, with very happy results for all.

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