The first thing you should know about the food truck scene in the Sarasota-Manatee area is that this is a tight-knit community. They talk, collaborate, commiserate and share everything from a cup of sugar to advice on refrigerator repair to social media marketing advice. And the winner in this equation? It’s you, the diner, of course. We wanted to know what it takes to run a successful food truck here, so we found six of the area’s most popular, from mainstays to newbies.  

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Smokin’ Momma Lora’s

At the beating heart of the local food truck community is Lora Rust, owner of Smokin’ Momma Lora’s. She’s been delighting locals and tourists alike with her barbecue for 13 years. She’s also seen as a de facto matriarch for the food truck community. Need advice on sourcing ingredients? Ask Lora. Need to know if an event organizer is treating you fairly? Ask Lora. Need a plate of smoky, tender, delicious pulled pork? Ask Lora. Rust, a Tennessee native, recognizes that Florida tends to be a bit of a melting pot for barbecue tastes. That inspired her to specialize in sauces. “I make every kind of sauce out there,” she says. “I have an Alabama white, I have a North Carolina, South Carolina, people love the sweet, the honey barbecue. I love making the sauces because I can’t pick the one that I like the most.” Rust is also helping the next generation of food truckers find their footing, including Birria Station owner and food truck novice Bryan Tapia. He says he’s asked Rust and other food truck owners countless questions, every one of which they’ve happily answered. “I owe it to them for paving the way for me,” Tapia says, “and I will do the same to the next person who asks me questions about starting a food truck.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

LESSON LEARNED   A rising tide lifts all trucks.

This page: A visit to Smokin’ Momma Lora’s is a must for local and visiting bbq fans.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Killik’s Kitchen 

It may not be exactly what you’d expect from a self-described “very Slovak/Irish-looking white girl,” but the Asian- and Hawaiian-inspired cuisine coming from Bridgett Killik’s truck, Killik’s Kitchen, is legit. While Killik grew up in Florida, she spent five years working in Hawaiian kitchens, learning the intricacies of some of the state’s traditional favorites. She originally opened the food truck in Colorado in a four-foot-by-six-foot trailer that Killik says could “barely hold three people.” She’s since graduated to a larger space and moved back to Florida a year and a half ago. “Business has been great ever since, really,” she says. That includes one of her most popular dishes, a Kahlua pork bowl. Everything on the truck is scratch-made, including the pork, which cooks anywhere from six to 10 hours. Killik’s number one seller is a bento box of handmade mango salsa, teriyaki chicken, pineapple, Asian slaw, and rice. Killik’s signature cuisine goes far beyond the physical ingredients though. In Hawaiian kitchens, she learned the meaning of the word aloha, which is thought to have as many as 200 meanings depending on the context. “They would always say, ‘You have to put the aloha into your food,’ which is like love,” she says. “You really learn the beauty of understanding food and showing that love.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

LESSON LEARNED   It helps to bring a little aloha to your community.

This spread, left to righ: Left: Rust serves up finger-lickin’ bbq with a smile. Right: Bridgett Killik of Killik’s Kitchen keeps her customers happy with Hawaiin-inspired dishes like Korean beef wonton tacos, bang-bang shrimp eggrolls and her famous teriyaki bento bowl.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Florida Poutine Co. 

It’s no secret that Sarasota is a favorite landing spot for relocated Canadians— both temporary and permanent. One such immigrant is Quebec native Eric Primeau, owner of the Florida Poutine Co. food truck. For those who may not have had the good fortune to dig into a heaping serving of poutine, Canada’s national dish is a simple melange of crispy French fries, brown gravy and melty cheese curds. If you join the majority of humans in having an affinity for all three ingredients separately, you’re nearly guaranteed to love poutine as much as Primeau. A 25-year-veteran of the information-technology industry, Primeau moved here permanently in 2013. He set out to find his beloved poutine only to come up empty. He decided to make it for himself, but there was one glaring problem: the closest place to find quality cheese curds is roughly 1,400 miles to the north in Wisconsin. He took matters into his own hands, starting with the curds. Not only did he have to teach himself how to make them from scratch, but he also needed to learn how to do it in Florida, where the humidity can wreak havoc on the process. Over time, his gravy and French fry recipes evolved. Now, his food truck is a regular destination for relocated Canadians and part-time residents. He’s lost count of how many of his countrymen have connected over his poutine. He’s even introduced this beautiful dish to a generation of American first-timers. Primeau hangs out of his food truck and offers samples — “Costco style” as he puts it. They need to taste it, he says, because “there’s no way that I can explain to you, fries, gravy and cheese and make it sound sexy,” he says. “But then you shove it in your mouth.” He pauses. “Yeah. Wow. Then you understand.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

LESSON LEARNED   There’s a sweet spot between nostalgia and comfort.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Birria Station

Of all the food trucks in this piece, the newest is Bryan Tapia, whose Birria Station launched late last year and found immediate success by focusing on a Mexican favorite: Birria tacos. After spending 14 years enlisted with the Florida National Guard, where he rose to the rank of sergeant, Tapia faced a career change. He remembered making Birria for his colleagues and receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews and he went to work learning the food truck business, networking with fellow truck-based chefs and perfecting his signature recipe. Perhaps most importantly, however, his experience with the Florida National Guard prepared him for the unpredictable nature of food truck ownership. A sergeant once told him, “There’s always a solution for everything.” Tapia has taken this lesson to heart with Birria Station. 

“Every hiccup, every hardship, every craziness, everything life throws at you,” he says, “there’s always a solution for everything. Find that solution and reach that outcome. I use that saying in life and the way I run my business.” Tapia’s military training kicked in on his very first assignment. A local festival had a food truck drop out at the last minute, and he had some birria meat leftover from a cancelation the night before due to weather but wasn’t sure if he had enough to meet the needs of this particularly well-attended event. 

“That’s when my military and restaurant experience kicked in and I had to find a solution to the problem,” he says. “I had to prioritize what needs to be done first, which was the meat.” He reached out to the owner of another successful local food truck, Nas’ Philly Steak, to gauge how much food he needed to prepare. “To have made enough food and sell out after a full day of planning and trying to find a solution to the problem, it was an amazing experience as my first event.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

LESSON LEARNED  There’s always a solution.

Left: Left, Eric Primeau offers Canadian comfort food to poutine-loving Floridians. This page: Birria Station owner and taco maker Bryan Tapia prepares delicious slow-cooked tender meat for his Birria taco plates.

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

Dee’z Diner

After about five years of running a successful mobile hot dog cart,  Alexis Jeter and her mom, Dee, were ready to take the next leap: a food truck. So, in December 2021, Dee’z Diner — the food truck — took to the streets. Since then, the Jeters have been serving up some of the best mobile diner food you’ll find from Palmetto to Punta Gorda. You’ll find traditional diner favorites here, like burgers, gyros, patty melts, and Philly cheesesteaks, but they’re anything but average. Dee’z is taking comfort food to the next level with toppings galore, fresh ingredients, and out-of-this world portions at very affordable prices. So crave-able are these half-pound and full-pound (fresh, never frozen) burgers that the truck recently missed being named the area’s best burger at the Sarasota Beer and Burger Festival by a single vote, coming in a very close second place. The truck harkens back to its hot dog cart roots as well. Dee is a Michigan native and has perfected her version of the Detroit-style Coney Island hot dog over the years. It’s an all-beef hot dog covered in mustard, chili cheese, onions and all beef (no beans) chili. “We’re as real as it gets,” Alexis Jeter, who runs the truck’s very active social media presence, says. But the coolest part of running a food truck? Jeter says it’s “getting to travel and getting to put smiles on people’s faces because the quality of the food is so good. We get to bring the restaurant to them, and that’s just a really cool experience itself.”

Photography by Wyatt Kostygan

LESSON LEARNED  Food trucks are a family affair. 

Sarasota Eatz

For years, Vada and Alan Kehrer dreamed of owning a food truck. Turning that dream into reality, however, wasn’t going to be easy. The couple owned a lawncare business together and Vada teaches third grade at Tatum Ridge Elementary in East Sarasota. And she’s pursuing her Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction. It’s not exactly the recipe for a simple career change to food-truck ownership, but this foodie couple was undeterred. “I read as many articles as I could,” Vada Kehrer says. “I talked to as many people who were involved in the industry as I could to learn the do’s, the don’ts, the must-haves, things that were helpful, things that were detrimental, and basically, how could I be successful in this business?” The result of that preparation is Sarasota Eatz, one of the most stylish food trucks you’ll see on the circuit, with its signature sunset photo of Siesta Key helping it stand out from the crowd. 

But Sarasota Eatz is much more than a pretty facade. This food truck is one of only a handful in the area that offers breakfast options (in addition to burgers, Phillys, reubens and hot dogs for lunch). Swing by in the morning and you’ll find benedicts, customizable omelets, steak and eggs, avocado toast and something called The Cure. We’re not talking about British goth-pop bands here. Sarasota Eatz’s version of The Cure is a decadent glazed donut grilled with sausage, egg and cheese with a side of potatoes or cheese grits. 

Vada says that her experience as a teacher has prepared her for the food truck biz by giving her patience, compassion, and a gift for clear communication. It helps when you’re juggling all the demands that come with owning a food truck. “It’s a full-time plus job,” she says. “People think it’s just like a weekend gig; it’s not like that. I don’t think you could do it as a side job. I’m on the phone all the time when I’m not teaching: advertising, connecting with people, responding to people. I mean it, that part is a lot.” Judging by the recent long lines at Sarasota Eatz, the work is paying off.    SRQ  

LESSON LEARNED  It helps to love what you make, love what you do, and love your co-workers.