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When Food Truck Horns Meet Wedding Bells

Owning a food truck may sound like fun – it's a free wheeling, superhip, and low-cost way to experiment with food service. But increasingly food truckers are finding that they're up against some unfriendly realities of city streets, namely a shortage of parking spots.

That's why many, like Nida Rodriguez, who steers the helm of The Slide Ride, a Chicago truck that dishes out gourmet mini sandwiches, are now focused on catering events from office parties to weddings.

Rodriguez says that from the start she was getting requests from brides-to-be to serve her Guinness burgers and reubens at their weddings — as late-night fare or to keep guests busy between the ceremony and reception. And she says The Slide Ride is booked for 10 weddings this summer. Catering makes up 20 percent of her total business.

Rodriguez isn't alone. Food truck owners around the country say catering is an increasingly appealing alternative to braving downtown streets at lunchtime. "If I offered any truck that they'd never have to be on the street again and they only had to do catering, every single one would do it," says Matt Geller, co-founder and CEO of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association.

As food trucks have swarmed the streets of cities around the country, some city councils and brick-and-mortar restaurants have fought back, enacting regulations to make it harder for them to linger.

In Chicago, for example, the city mandates that food trucks cannot park within 200 feet of a restaurant—including convenience stores like 7-Eleven that serve food. So some trucks have resorted to "parking a car in the morning in a good location...when it comes closer to lunch they'll swap their car out for the truck," says Richard Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine, an online magazine.

Roy Choi is a Los Angeles-area chef credited with pioneering the country's first gourmet food truck, a Korean barbeque taco operation called Kogi. Choi's story is perhaps the most legendary in the business: From his first truck, whose location was regularly broadcast on Twitter, he has been able to spin off five more. And now he also has 3 restaurants and a catering business in the Los Angeles area. (He also earned the no. 1 spot on Smithsonian's list of the 20 Best Food Trucks in the U.S.)

Catering accounts for about 30 percent of his business, says Choi; his trucks serve everything from office parties, birthdays, weddings, quinceñeras to bat mitzvahs.

One advantage of hiring a food truck for a wedding is the casual mood it projects, says Corina Beczner, founder and owner of Vibrant Events, a green event planning company in San Francisco.

But it won't be for everyone. "I do love food trucks but I think for the traditional wedding approach they don't work," particularly when guests expect seating and a set mealtime, she says. "This is all new and it's an experiment."

What may appeal to many betrothed couples is the price: The Slide Ride, for one, starts its catering packages at $10 a head.

And food trucks' drift into events is cultural as much as economic. The immigrants in Los Angeles who patronized some of the earliest food trucks were used to eating on the street, says Choi. Now lots of other Americans embrace that, too, even on one of the most important days of their lives — the wedding day.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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