Food trucks to roll into Harvest Ridge for competition

Last year’s food truck competition at Harvest Ridge Winery drew 5,000 people with more expected this year. This year, the winery has also added eight more trucks for a total of 23 — the most trucks ever since their first competition four years ago. (Submitted photo)

MARYDEL — If you ask the food truck operators participating in the fourth annual Harvest Ridge Winery Food Truck Competition today and Saturday, the days of slinging week-old hot dogs and mystery meat burritos out of broken-down hand carts are long over for their profession.

“Food trucks aren’t the roach coaches they once were,” said Mike Stanley. “‘Trend’ is really the right word for what’s happening with trucks right now, it’s not just a fad. There are lots of finer dining trucks that have chefs putting real effort into making fantastic food. Even the more traditional trucks are doing better than ever before.”

Mr. Stanley will be returning to the competition for the third year with his truck WiLDWiCH. The Wilmington-based “gourmet sandwich” truck will be serving up three of its signature sandwiches at the competition — a pulled pork, a jerk chicken with mango chutney and a flank steak, arugula, onion straw and horseradish mayonnaise.

“We make everything from scratch, from the mayonnaise up,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of demand for our fresh lemonades at the competition too.”

Harvest Ridge Winery’s charitable events coordinator, Nan Nunan, said the competition’s attendance has been growing steadily since its first year, both in terms of trucks and patrons.

“We had about 1,500 people our first year and it’s kept growing,” she said. “Last year we had about 5,000 people. We hope to have an even bigger audience this weekend provided that Mother Nature holds out. Also, this year we’ve added eight more trucks for a total of 23 — the most we’ve ever had.”

Food trucks will be coming in from all around Delaware along with Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The victorious truck is selected by popular vote every year, but this year a judged category has been added as well.

The panel of judges will be manned by five local celebrity “foodies” and chefs. Proceeds from the event go to two charities selected by the winery — the Dover chapter of Disabled American Veterans and the Hero-Hunts Foundation.

“We’ve always tried to give back to people who have served our country — the military is near and dear to our hearts, especially being in a military town,” said Ms. Nunan.

“Last year we were able to raise $25,000, and we’re hoping to top that again this year. We helped the Disabled American Veterans chapter buy a new vehicle two years ago and they’re trying to raise funds again for another transport van this year. We hope to help with that.”

The family-friendly event will have live music including Cannatelli Entertainment today from 4 to 8 p.m. and Barrelhouse Blues Band on Saturday from noon to 3 p.m. and Sporadic Static from 4 to 8 p.m.

There also be cornhole games and a moon bounce for the kids.

As for the winners of the competition, the spoils come in the form of bragging rights. It’s a distinction they seem to take seriously.

“Meat Mechanics from Dover has won the competition every single year so far, but they aren’t coming this year so really the first place is up for grabs,” said Ms. Nunan.

Nick Bohenko’s food truck, Nothing Better LLC, serves up mini doughnuts and cheesesteak egg rolls in downtown Smyrna. Mr. Bohenko won second place at last year’s Harvest Ridge Winery Food Truck Competition. (Submitted photo)

The winner receives an honorary magnet to display on their truck. Ms. Nunan said that last year’s second-place winner, Nothing Better LLC, was so proud of placing in the contest that the owner had his own magnet made.

“I just wanted to show everyone that I don’t play around,” said Nothing Better LLC’s owner Nick Bohenko. “We bring our A game when we come to places.”

Mr. Bohenko, a Bridgeville resident, services the Seaford, Georgetown, Harrington and Milford areas with his food truck that specializes in mini donuts and cheesesteak egg rolls with horseradish sauce.

“Mini doughnuts are basically just smaller donuts made in the regular way, but we have over 20 different flavors like bacon, maple, cinnamon, powdered sugar or peanut butter and jelly,” he said. “We’re also bringing our pulled pork tacos that we barbecue ourselves to the competition this year.”

Entrepreneurial launch pad

Food trucks, nationally and in the state, seem to be having a moment. Because of the format’s ability to give entrepreneurs an entry point into the food service industry, some say it’s more than just a moment though.

“I think because food trucks are such a great entrepreneurial stepping stone it’s going to make them much more of a long-term trend rather than just a fad,” said Mr. Stanley.

After spending 20 years working in a variety of positions in restaurants, bistros and bars, Mr. Stanley wanted to go into business for himself. He found the starting capital requirement to be an impediment though.

“I wanted to open a nice little bistro, but it can cost $300,000 or more these days to get a restaurant up and

IF YOU GO
Harvest Ridge Food Truck Competition
Harvest Ridge Winery, 447 Westville Road, Marydel
Today from 4 to 8 p.m. and Saturday from noon to 5 p.m.
Tickets will be available at the event for $10 or online for $15 (extra drink ticket included)
For more information and tickets, visit harvestridgewinery.com.

running,” he said. “When the food truck industry exploded, I realized I could open a restaurant with a very small investment instead.”

After working with the WiLDWiCH truck for about a year and a half, Mr. Stanley ended up breaking his way into the “brick and mortar” side of the industry anyway when he opened a small cafe with the same name in Wilmington.

Mr. Bohenko also wanted to open a restaurant of his own but was turned away by the steep upfront investment. After seeing a mini doughnut cafe in New York on TV one day though, he and his brother bought a doughnut machine and started their business small.

“We got started with just a doughnut machine and 10 foot by 10 foot tent setup,” he said. “But a few years went by — my two kids, my wife and I run it now — and we bought another donut machine and a food truck. This is the start of my second year with the truck and we seem to be getting calls every other day. I can hardly keep up.”

Although it means more competition, Mr. Bohenko is happy to see that the industry is growing.

“For a lot of people who have always wanted to own a restaurant but didn’t have the funds, this is a great opportunity,” he said.

“Sure, it’s gotten a bit harder out in the field because a lot of people are getting into this, but I’m happy to just be doing what I’m doing because it’s my passion — I put my heart into it.”

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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