BILLINGS - Billings is perhaps experiencing a boost in the food truck trend. Business owners of mobile eateries say they’re feeling optimistic about opening and operating food trucks even through an unsteady economy.
That’s exactly the case for Mike Hernandez, who owns and operates La Taqueria, an authentic Mexican food truck that specializes in street tacos.
“Billings is going to be a hotspot for food trucks,” said Hernandez.
On a recent warm summer morning, Hernandez was getting ready for the day, opening up the windows to the truck, firing up the grill, and setting out his sign.
He admits he wishes he started his food truck a little earlier in life.
“I like the gratification of seeing their smile and thumbs up,” he said. “If I hear that somebody's never heard of something, I am like, come here, let me give you a sample of this.”
Hernandez grew up in Southern California and as a kid used to spend his lunchtime away from the halls of his school, traveling across the street to where food trucks were stationed. He loved to taste what they had to offer, he said.
“My mom doesn't know that,” he laughed.
But making the cuisine stems from another place.
“Tijuana, Mexico, where I was born, actually,” he said.
He knows how a simple meal on wheels can get people to gather. He saw that firsthand coming from a place where the food truck culture was a common sight.
“It’s like having a huge, never-ending backyard barbecue with friends,” he said.
Food trucks in Billings have been on the rise, showing up at businesses where there’s a vast amount of employees who can spend their lunch break, not traveling to a nearby restaurant but instead having lunch come to them.
“I think in the coming years you're going to have all kinds of cuisines out here,” said Hernandez.
And he just might be right. RiverStone Health, which hands out mobile restaurant licenses, says while the numbers aren’t concrete, officials have seen slow growth in food truck permits in recent years.
In fact, there have been 124 mobile food establishment licenses handed out in Yellowstone County in the last year.
Hernandez believes the next city even slightly close to that is Bozeman.
Still, Hernandez faces obstacles with his business like any other. Inflation is driving up the cost of everything, which he says is a sign of the times.
“I think it's the rise in gas. Of course, that's an umbrella. Once the gas prices go up, I mean, everything's going to start coming up,” he said.
Still, he manages by scheduling events closer in proximity.
“We try to not raise our prices,” he said.
And he says until the economy ripens, he’ll just keep doing what he loves; making authentic street tacos savory and special to order.
“The food truck industry is actually growing and it's going to grow even bigger in the next couple of years, I think,” he said.