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Food truck rodeo embraces new trucks, new people and recycling

<p>Past food truck rodeos have brought crowds in cold weather and warm. Sunday's food truck rodeo was sunny and popular.</p>

Past food truck rodeos have brought crowds in cold weather and warm. Sunday's food truck rodeo was sunny and popular.

Carrboro resident Adria Molotsky celebrated a special occasion Sunday—it was her first food truck rodeo in Durham.

“It’s cool to have all these food trucks around,” Molotsky said between bites of her Korean kimchi beef taco.

Durham’s food truck fans came out in full force to Durham Central Park on Sunday for the Labor Day Weekend food truck rodeo. There were 55 food trucks at the event, said the park's Executive Director Erin Kauffman, ranging in tastes from Philly’s Cheesesteaks to Cousins Maine Lobster.

Hordes of people crowded around every truck, making it nearly impossible to find one without a long line. The feel of the last days of summer was floating in the air. Families sat on the grass, laughing over Italian ice, and there were almost as many dogs out as humans.

The park holds rodeos five times a year, with the next one planned around Halloween.

Most of the food trucks have been around the block before. Pie Pushers, a Durham favorite serving pizza, has surpassed at least its 20th rodeo, said co-owner Becky Hacker.

Hacker said the rodeos serve a unique purpose for new food trucks breaking onto the scene—they allow the trucks to “introduce themselves” to the rest of the food truck community.

But it’s also important for the food trucks to get some experience first before diving into a crowded rodeo.

“If a food truck really opened last week, we wouldn’t want them to be at the rodeo a week later because it’s a lot of people to handle,” Hacker said. “It’s almost better that they get their feet wet and then come get their butts kicked.”

For long-time food truck owners, the rodeos are a way to meet not just new trucks but new customers.

“The rodeos are a great opportunity for new people,” Hacker said. “As much as we see some familiar faces, there are a whole lot of new faces at this event.”

This Sunday’s event focused specifically on sustainability, Kauffman said. In one manifestation of the theme, volunteers helped to sort recyclables from trash on attendee’s plates.

To Durham Central Park, the rodeo is also a chance to raise money. Each food truck must pay a $150 participation fee to cover the event’s costs. Although the land is owned by the city, the nonprofit that maintains the park, Durham Central Park, Inc., does not receive city funding.

Although people come from all over to attend Durham food truck rodeos, Kauffman said the park strives for the local touch.

“We want to focus on what local food trucks are doing,” Kauffman said.

So if you go to the next food truck rodeo, don’t be surprised if you see a few familiar faces—or trucks. Visitors are already looking forward to the Fall—as one woman leaving the Kona Chameleon coffee truck cheered gleefully, “Happy Fall! I just got the first ginger pumpkin spice of the season.”

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