Evan Mancini looks out from his Casa Del Taco food truck on Riverside Drive in Auburn recently. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

What’ll it be today, chowhound? Are you in the mood for tacos again? Hankering for poutine the way they make it up in Canada? How about a deep-fried turnover of the kind that can normally be found only on the streets of Philadelphia? 

These days, when you have a craving for something savory, your mission isn’t necessarily about heading to that same old restaurant in its same old spot. These days, all you have to do is figure out where your favorite food truck is parked and chase it down. 

Food trucks are turning up more and more these days, in case you haven’t noticed, and there are plenty of reasons for their rise in popularity. 

For the customer, it’s about options and convenience. 

For the culinary entrepreneurs operating on four wheels, it’s about mobility. Flexibility. Liberation. 

“For me, not being stuck in a brick and mortar restaurant, and being able to experience a mass of people,” says Katie Lemieux, operator of the popular L/A Taco food truck. “I can travel anywhere. I can go where the people are. That’s where I get my joy from.” 


“It’s fun, say Evan Mancini, who runs Casa Del Taco in addition to his managing job at Cure Cannabis. “It’s exciting. It’s fast paced.” 

For Emanuel Owens, owner of Mannie’s Philly 2 Me., running a food truck is a best-of-both-worlds kind of scenario. He can spend part of the summer in a fixed spot at Martin Stream Campground in Turner, but if he needs a change of pace, why he can just hook his rig to the back of a pickup truck and go elsewhere. 

“I do a lot of business out here, Mannie says, as a legion of campers swamp his truck out at Martin Stream. “On down time, I plan to take it into the city and test the waters there.” 

If it seems like there has been an explosion of food trucks in the state and on the Lewiston-Auburn scene the past few years, you’re not imagining things. The business has taken off and there are a few theories on why that’s so. 

Some of those theories are perfectly logical. If you want to get into the food game, the idea of opening a restaurant can be daunting, not to mention expensive. You’ve got to buy a property, renovate it for your specific plans and shell out for all the equipment needed to run a restaurant. You’ve got to hire enough cooks and servers to keep your business running seven days a week. Starting a restaurant is a pricey enterprise and if your location isn’t good, you might fail before you get off the ground. 

Going the food truck route eliminates the location problem right off the bat, and the overall risk is much less hairy for a variety of reasons. 


“It’s a lot less overhead,” says Lemieux. “With a food truck, you need yourself and maybe one other person to run things. You don’t have the stress of trying to manage wait staff and all those different things that come with a restaurant. Your regular followers come and find you. When you pop up somewhere, they come running to you and that part is exciting for me. You watch them eat your food and it feeds your soul to know that you’re doing something good.” 

Randy Smith, owner of Pinky D’s Poutine Factory, has been in the food truck game for well over a decade now. He has taken to catering corporate events over parking his truck in a particular area in hopes that customers will come. It’s just one of many food truck strategies and for Smith, it eliminates the guess work — the fretting over whether enough people will come to his truck to justify the $60 per hour it costs to run it. 

Corporations will pay Smith to serve his goods on employee appreciation days or other staff events. Colleges will hire him to park his truck nearby to feed ravenous students at campus events. 

“We show up and we know we’re going to feed 100, 200, 500 people,” says Smith, who estimates his business has 450 corporate accounts at this point. “When you know the number, you can staff it, you can prep it, you can be ready to pull in and serve X amount of people. They’re going to pay us whether we do one meal or 500.” 

The menu board at Katie Lemieux’s L/A Taco food truck. Dot Perham-Whittier photo


If you’re not too particular about definitions, the origin of the food truck can be traced back to the Roman empire, where food carts rolled across the rough gravel streets selling food to the hungry masses. The New York Times will tell you it all started in 1872 when a vendor named Walter Scott cut windows into a small covered wagon and parked it in front of a local newspaper office in Providence, R.I. 


Others will argue that the original food trucks were the chuckwagons that bounced along the prairies, whipping up chow for cowboys, loggers and prospectors during the country’s westward expansion. 

Whatever version you prefer, the history of food trucks is long, indeed, but the boom we are seeing right now is believed by many to be the result of more recent occurrences: in particular, the recession that befell the world between the years 2007 and 2009. 

“The great recession caused a lot of chefs to be laid off, and with so few restaurants looking to hire, these chefs opted to take matters into their own hands,” according to an online meat business know as The Bearded Butchers. “This was when the food truck craze officially started, and the popularity of mobile food trucks soared. Before long, they were present in street corners and a staple in different events, like music festivals, parades, and outdoor community events.” 

Some believe the popularity of the trucks took another leap forward after the pandemic started in 2000, but according to Smith, things were plenty busy in the industry before any of that. 

“Pre-COVID, we turned down 25 events for every one that we took,” Smith says. “It was insane how busy we were. Food trucks were everywhere and everybody wanted to be a part of it. Now it’s kind of saturated. I think there are 700 food trucks in the state of Maine and now it’s like, if there’s a good event, you better be on it quick because someone else is going to snag it.” 

It’s hard to count how many food trucks are presently operating in the Lewiston-Auburn area. A truck operator parked here one day might be trying his luck in another part of the state tomorrow. That’s part of that flexibility we’ve talked about. 


The Sun Journal’s recent “Guide to Food Trucks Rolling Through Maine” came up with 77 trucks currently prowling the area, although that is unquestionably a conservative number. And with so many trying to scrounge up business right here in the Twin Cities alone, there’s one particular problem: where to locate — whether to individually cater to the local food demand or to park with other trucks to create a gathering spot? 

“Lewiston-Auburn has really struggled with that because of the lack of foot traffic and lack of space to put us somewhere,” says Lemieux. 

Food truck operators rely a great deal on social media to stay in touch with their customers. They’ll post where they are going to be on any given day so that their followers can find their way. But beyond that, it’s kind of a hit-or-miss situation. There has been no centralized location in the area where the trucks can park between gigs or just to make themselves easily accessible to the downtown crowds.

It’s a pickle, all right. But there is hope. Literally. Lewiston is in the process of designating space near the “Hopeful” sign at Main and Mill streets. It’s a wide open space and highly visible to anyone traveling in and out of the city. 

“Over 30,000 cars pass that area making it an ideal spot for food trucks and guests to park,” says Angelynne Amores, the city’s director of marketing and communication. “It’s easy for trucks and for attendees to go since there is ample parking.” 

So far, the foodies in their trucks are hopeful that this will turn into a solution for the lack of dedicated space. 


“I think the biggest thing that’s up and coming for Lewiston-Auburn is the ability to park where your followers can find you,” Lemieux. 

Customers wait in line Thursday at the Jeff’s Jamaican Cuisine food truck. Jeff’s is generally set up alongside the Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Shop on Lisbon Street in Lewiston. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal


Food trucks clearly have a lot to offer, both for the people who run them and for those who gobble up their offerings. It’s a money-making business, if done right, but is it that easy to get off the ground? 

Not easy at all, really. Although there’s much less overhead than trying to start a brick-and-mortar restaurant, the trucks themselves aren’t cheap. First you have to find one — old FedEx trucks seem to be popular in the industry, and one of those puppies will set you back between $7,000 and $15,000 — and then you’d have to pay to have it equipped with grills, fryers, whatever you to happen to need. That’ll cost roughly $30,000, sources say, on top of the price of the truck — more if you have more demanding needs for the particular food you plan to sell. 

“Every truck is unique to its product,” says Smith. “If you’re doing sausage subs, you need pretty specific equipment: a big griddle or this or that. We do poutine so we’re heavy on fryolaters. We do gravy so we have to have this particular stove. It’s very specific to what you’re making.” 

Once you get all those dollars and cents sorted and you can start serving food, it’s not as simple as parking somewhere and becoming a millionaire. You’ve got to figure out where your customers will be, what they want and when they want it.  


“You’ve got to learn your markets, learn your customers and adapt,” says Smith. 

It’s hard work. Never think it isn’t just because from an outsiders view, operating a food truck looks kind of fun. 

“Staying on top of product ordering is a full-time job in itself so you definitely have to know your numbers,” says Nicole Clavet, of the pizza-centric mobile business Cruzin Slice. ” Some days are really long and physically challenging; standing for hours and working at an extremely fast pace in the heat, so you have to invest in some good shoes. We installed an air conditioner this year so we’re excited to test that out this summer.” 

And before you hit the streets at all, there are rules and regulations. There are licenses, permits, inspections. You have to deal with state agencies, county agencies and towns. There are codes that pertain to food and there are codes that pertain to vehicles. Plus fire inspections. The list goes on.

“The administrative side of food trucks is relentless,” says Smith. “It’s never ending.” 

In Lewiston, city officials are plenty involved in the food truck safety business. Every truck needs to be licensed and all matters that might affect public safety and health are considered. 


“It’s important to license mobile units for all things safety,” says Louis Lachance, a city public health inspector and code enforcement officer. “Inspectors verify foods are being stored, prepared and served in a sanitary environment with food safety and life safety as the priority. Here in Lewiston, we go one step further requiring approval from our fire prevention team.” (See more on Lachance’s take on food trucks in our related story.) 

Lewiston’s Deputy Fire Chief Mark Anderson will also inspect the trucks, making sure that gas lines are secure and that fire extinguishers are placed where they need to be.

“There is a punch list he uses too,” says Amores. “Luckily, he is quite efficient at his work so the inspection is quite seamless.”


All over the country, there are a variety of shows and conventions where thousands of food trucks and their operators will gather to discuss and celebrate the business. There are television shows about the industry. There are online groups and there are chat boards where owners will get together to discuss strategy and other matters germane to the lifestyle. 

But if you want to check out big ol’ clusters of food trucks in action, you need to no further than your favorite fair. 


“If you go to the Cumberland Fair, the Fryeburg Fair, Litchfield or wherever you’ve got a fair, you know what you’ve got? It’s a giant food truck show,” says Smith. “Fairs are all about the food. There are some rides over here, some games over there, but mostly everyone is walking around and eating. It’s an old-school food truck festival.” 

Of course, in Lewiston-Auburn, you don’t even have to go that far to clap eyes on a food truck, or even several of them depending on where you are and what time of day it happens to be. 

And with that in mind, here’s a little bit of history about just a few of the key players on the local food truck scene.  

Nicole Clavet of Lewiston stands in front of her Cruzin Slice food trailer with boyfriend Jared Webster in this photo from 2020. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal file photo



Nicole was a bank supervisor for 23 years and with the job came increasing responsibilities and rising stress. 


“This was not how I wanted my work days to be until I retired,” she says. “I simply wanted a job that I loved and that paid the bills. I started researching food trucks — what did I know about food trucks?  Absolutely nothing — but I set up an appointment (for advice) in Auburn to discuss all aspects. They were extremely helpful and gave me the tools to build off of: product pricing, all the various expenses, advertising, etc. My boyfriend, Jared Lee Webster, and myself built the menu from scratch and we knew we needed one special product that would make us stand out from other food trucks. 

“I wanted to create a unique pizza, something new but also have it be something from my French background,” Clavet says.  “I grew up eating creton like many other French Canadian people in this town, so I thought since I love it so much, why not try it out on pizza? We knew immediately that we had a crowd favorite. From there we became ‘Home of the creton pizza.'”

Clavet has been focusing more on catering than street service this year. They started booking early in the year and by May, they were receiving three to five requests per day. “This being our third year,” she says, “we’ve graduated from taking any place that would have us to being more selective about our locations.” 

Like so many of the others, part of the thrill of operating a food truck for Clavet is the one-on-one interaction with customers. 

“We participate in a variety of events and everyone is always happy, especially if they’re getting pizza,” she says. “Every time I make a creton pizza, my heart swells with happiness.  I’m just so proud of what we’ve built.” 

Nicholas Alexander cuts a burrito in half inside the Casa Del Taco food truck on a recent day on Riverside Drive in Auburn. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal



Mancini had been managing the Auburn marijuana store Cannabis Cure when he decided he wanted to do a little more. He first bought a truck — an 8-by-12-foot Diamond cargo rig — during the Skowhegan Fair. After that, it was a matter of equipping the rig and deciding what to serve out of it. 

“Lewiston-Auburn has become quite diverse with food,” Mancini says. “We just wanted to put our own spin on something. We tossed around a couple of ideas and decided to go basically with a taco truck.” 

He also brought in talent, including cook Nick Alexander, from Mac’s Grill in Auburn and one young lady from the Green Ladle culinary arts program at Lewiston Regional Technical Center in Lewiston. 

It’s a pretty big career change, but so far, Mancini has no regrets. 

“It’s been a learning curve for us going from cannabis to food,” he says. “It does go hand in hand, but they’re completely separate industries. Now we’re looking to expand the hours, potentially even go to like a breakfast menu and stuff like that. Our goal is to try to just provide food all summer. Good street eats. So we’re looking to build the team and try to get to a bigger schedule.” 

Katie Lemieux makes some food truck magic inside her L/A Taco truck. Dot Perham-Whittier photo



Lemieux has worked in food a long time. For years, she was manager and supervisor at the cafe at a local hospital. While managing that job, she started working with Randy Smith on his food trucks. That was about 10 years ago. Smith had been in the game a while, so he had plenty to teach Lemieux as she eventually prepared to go off on her own.  

“You have to understand what the business is like before you go into it,” she says. “How do you get events? How much do you charge per event? It’s those type of questions that are really vital.” 

Once she had those questions answered, Lemieux took over one of the trucks and then faced the decision that all food truck operators will find themselves up against: What am I going to serve out of this rig? 

“For me, tacos were always a family tradition,” Lemieux says. “You all get together once a week and make tacos, right? So my love for tacos was always there and there’s a good market for them.” 

She started making and selling tacos and the response was good. Her customers liked them and she liked making them. But of course, part of the allure of the food truck business is the flexibility, and at one point, Lemieux thought she might try preparing a different type of food. A noodle bar might be nice, for instance? I mean, why not? 

“The hype for my tacos was unbelievable,” she says. “My customers were like, ‘We want the tacos back.'” 


Because she’s a smart business woman who knows that the customer is always right, she went back to tacos. 

She has no regrets. 

“The creativeness I can get with a taco,” she says, “and the amount of people I could reach around town, it was just a no-brainer.” 

Emanuel “Mannie” Owens stands outside his Mannie’s Philly 2 Me. food truck. Mark LaFlamme/Sun Journal


For two years now, Owens has spent his spring and summers parked out at Martin Stream Campground in Turner. There, he serves up a variety of food, but is most known for his panzarotti, a turnover type sandwich typically exclusive to Philadelphia. 

“Mannie’s going to bring Philadelphia to you,” Owens is fond of saying. 


Running a food truck has been his dream since he graduated college in 2013. Owens eventually made his way from Philly up to Maine and this is where he launched Mannie’s Philly 2 Me., a name that can be read in two different ways, if you think about it.

Since he already knew Zack Vanier, owner of Martin Stream Campground, that seemed like the smart place to start. 

“I do a lot of business out here,” Owens said last Saturday, as his crew doled out Philly-style food to the campers.  

“It’s good stuff,” said seasonal camper John Riordan. “I wasn’t used to Philly cheese steak. It’s different from what we have around here. My wife loves his fries.” 

The partnership works for Vanier, too, who had been wanting a way to provide his campers additional food options. 

“It gives them the option to be able to not cook dinner at their campsites,” Vanier says. “We like being able to support a local, up-and-coming business right here at the campground.” 


Mannie’s truck is tow-along style. Until recently, he didn’t have a pickup truck capable of hauling it, so he was stuck in one place most of the time. With a new truck at hand, now he’s going mobile, and could appear on the busy streets of Lewiston-Auburn any day. 

Randy Smith of Pinky D’s Poutine Factory serves up some poutine from his food truck in this photo from 2021. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel


In 2014, Smith was named chef of the year by the Maine Chapter of the American Culinary Federation for the second time. Shortly after, he retired from the Ramada Inn in Lewiston after many years of serving up food there, in order to devote all his time and energy to the food truck enterprise. 

Smith bought an old FedEx truck at an auction and then spent $50,000 and eight months converting it into an 80-square-foot traveling eatery, the fully equipped kitchen wrapped in stainless steel from almost top to bottom. And like that, Pinky D’s Poutine Factory was upon us. 

Smith had been in the food game, either in restaurants or distribution, since graduating high school. Ask him now, and he’ll tell you he’s never regretted slipping away from the more traditional side of things where staffs are sprawling and there’s always a chain of command. 

“You love the people you work with, but those people could also become your biggest headache,” Smith says. “You spent more of your time playing psychologist and chasing people down.” 


One of the things he loves about the food truck game, Smith says, is the more personal interaction with customers; something a typical restaurant chef is rarely going to get. 

“I like cooking food and seeing people’s reaction to it, so this is like going back to basics,” he says. “You hand somebody food and then you watch him eat it. That’s what we do. It’s fun to see the reactions, the expressions and all that. People who work in a restaurant, they work on the line in the kitchen. They cook the best they can and put the food in the window. They don’t know if the customer loved their food or hated it. They don’t know if they ate every bite and licked the plate or if they took one bite and made a weird face.” 

In a food truck, Smith says, “I’d say 75% or so of people are going to grab their phone and take a picture of the food you gave him. I think that’s even more prevalent with food trucks than in restaurants.” 

Since Smith is one of the most veteran food truck operators around these parts, he is often sought for advice on the business. In essence, his main advice is this: learn the markets, learn the customers, learn to adapt. 

Some food truck strategy is just pure common sense. You go where you’re most apt to find people who are hungry for your particular product. For instance, “We do nothing athletic,” Smith says. “If it’s a 5K, 10K, tennis match, soccer or whatever, we don’t go. Those guys aren’t pounding back poutine. But if it’s a beer fest or a motorcycle rally? We’ll crush it.” 

Another piece of advice? Ask yourself a question. 

“How do I get better every day? Not just as a person, but as a food truck or any business,” Smith says. “You don’t have to go out and spend $5,000 every day to get better. It’s like maybe you put a squirt bottle on the left versus the right because you’re left handed, and that made efficiency better, made today better. I try to live that model as much as I can.”

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: