Like many transplants to Savannah, entrepreneur Ryan Giannoni has found a lot to like about his new home away from Athens, a lot except for the conspicuous lack of food trucks anywhere in the city.
Giannoni is the Savannah rep for King of Pops, which opened its first popsicle stand on Tybee Island about a year ago and whose colorful cart and umbrella can be spotted frequently at outdoor festivals in the area.
Despite the success Giannoni’s had establishing the punchy Atlanta-based popsicle brand in Savannah, he still wondered if there was a way to get the city on board with a trial run of food trucks.
“I’ve researched this for 10 months because I did it wrong the first time,” he said after the city shut down his King of Pops cart outside Forysth Park during a soft open.
What he found is although there are strict rules forbidding food and beverage vendors from renting any of the parks, squares or other city-owned property, nonprofit events can. Those nonprofits can also have food vendors, so long as they are benefiting the event.
Teaming up with The Humane Society for Greater Savannah for the 15th annual Doggie Carnival on Sunday, May 3, Giannoni has helped line up three food trucks in addition to his King of Pops cart and is crossing his fingers this could open more doors, or add more wheels, to the mobile cuisine movement.
Making their debut in Forsyth are food trucks from Molly Macpherson’s Scottish Pub, Lowcountry Rocks Lobster and Tavino’s Wood Fired Oven from Bluffton. Southbound Brewing, Sweetwater and Miller Lite will also be on tap at a sponsored beer truck.
Becca Bruni, the Humane Society’s director of development, said while they had typical fare of burgers and hot dogs last year, they knew they wanted to do something different.
“Savannah is such a foodie city and supporting local businesses is really important, so we knew this year we wanted to make a change,” she said.
Bruni, originally from Augusta, said she, too, was a little surprised that food trucks weren’t a thing here.
Offering to handle the paperwork, permitting, promotion and everything else food truck related, Giannoni has spent the last several months making sure he’s crossed his T’s and dotted his I’s.
Each food truck required a 28-page application with detailed description on how products such as meat and cheese will be held to temperature.
Both Bruni and Giannoni are quick to point out that the city and health department were helpful throughout the process.
“The city wants to preserve our beautiful historic town, and the health department wants to ensure any event is completely safe,” said Giannoni. “If your event meets their requirements, then anyone can obtain a permit. They are a great group of people to work with and do a wonderful job.”
Chris Foran, who handles rental permits for the city’s Leisure Services department, said his only concern is to ensure permits are obtained and regulations followed. He said the reason there aren’t more food trucks is because they present such a logistical problem in a tight downtown.
“We’re not for or against it. There’s just not a lot of room to do it, and there are a lot of established events already downtown,” he said.
For this reason, Giannoni had to seek out permission from The Mansion on Forysth, which operates the Forsyth Park Café, and get the OK to use their small parking for the trucks.
His goal is that if all goes smoothly, other nonprofits will hire his apparatus, dubbed Savannah Food Truck Festival, to help with their fundraising events.
“I think Savannah needs more outdoor festivals and events,” he said. “By having a festival set up like ours, local farmers, business owners, the city, nonprofits and our residents are the beneficiaries.”
Daniel Cloutier, owner of Molly Macpherson’s, said he’s excited about having the truck out at the Doggie Carnival.
“We built Molly’s food truck about three and a half years ago, so it’s not new to us, but trying to utilize it in Savannah has been very painful,” he said.
He said he’s mostly used the truck to cater events outside of the city, including Scottish games in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida. The truck regularly serves outside of the Southeastern Auto Auction on Dean Forest Road.
Special to this festival, Cloutier said, they’ll be using all organic beef from Savannah River Farms for an organic beef slider with local lettuce and tomato. Foodies can also look forward to fish and chips and an organic jalapeno cheddar sausage hoagie roll.
Cloutier said he does wish the city would be more amenable to food trucks, such as doing a rodeo of them once a month in a designated spot. Such food courts are regular sites in cities such as Austin and L.A., where food trucks have developed cult followings and regularly post their whereabouts via Twitter and Facebook.
Bruni said the Doggie Carnival already brings in well over 1,000 people a year, and she said with the food trucks, she hopes those numbers will increase.
“When they see it, maybe they’re not dog lovers, but they’ll see, ‘Hey, a food truck, that never happens here, let’s stop by,’” she said.
Beyond that, Bruni and Giannoni said, it’s just a good cause to support.
“More than 2,500 pets come through our doors a year for various reasons,” said Bruni. “All the money you make through your donations is going to take care of those pets entrusted to our care.”
Giannoni said he understands some residents and business owners may still be uneasy with the idea of a food truck but believes it will help expand the city’s foodie ecosystem.
“It’s a festival put on for Savannah by Savannah,” he said. “Also, at this point in my life I don’t have a lot of money to donate to charities, but I do have time, energy and ideas.
“Later in life I would like to be remembered as someone who made a positive impact while having a little fun in the process.”
If You Go
What: 15th annual Doggie Carnival presented by Woofgang Bakery
When: Noon-4 p.m. Sunday, May 3
Where: Forysth Park (north end)
Information: For more information on the 15th annual Doggie Carnival, go to facebook.com/HSGSav.
For more on the food trucks, check out facebook.com/SavFoodTruckFest.