OLEAN — Zach Horn thinks Olean is more than ready for food trucks.
Between the city’s recent downtown revitalization efforts and its long-running summer festivals, Horn thinks the vehicles, typically found in larger cities and featured in reality TV shows like Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” could do very well in Olean.
“It seemed like a bigger city feel of a food truck would fit right in,” Horn said.
Horn’s orange-colored food truck, “The Hungry Burro,” will have its soft opening during today’s fireworks show at Bradner Stadium, serving up guac nachos with Tinga de Pollo or Carnitas, as well nitro cold brew coffee.
If you stop by the food truck tonight, here’s five things you need to know:
1) Business aided by microenterprise grant
Horn, 37, had written business plans for restaurants in the past, but noted it’s “a tough business to get into.”
The Hungry Burro was aided by Olean Business Development Corp.’s microenterprise grant program launched last year. OBD, in conjunction with the city, planned to disburse a total of $200,000 in federal grants to new businesses with small employment.
The maximum award for an individual business is $30,000, OBD officials have said.
Horn, who is business manager for his family’s Olean pharmacy, Dan Horn Pharmacy, said the grant gave him the “big jump start” needed to follow his dreams.
“It was encouraging to be able to create the business and … remove some of the risk of starting a new business,” said Horn, who has a wife and two young children.
2) Food truck to put ‘unique twist’ on Olean food availability
Horn doesn’t mind the Hungry Burro being labeled a taco truck.
After all, Lloyd’s Taco Truck in Buffalo has done well for itself, opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Hertel Avenue and winning $250,000 from CNBC’s reality series “Restaurant Startup.”
Plus, as Horn says, “everybody loves tacos.”
“But I wouldn’t want to be pigeonholed into that cuisine because we’re going to offer more than that,” he said. “We have a lot of Southeast Asian-infused flavors. I think we’re going to put a very unique twist on the food availability in Olean.”
In addition to tacos, the menu will also include items like burritos, nachos, salad bowls and quesadillas.
3) Walkable Olean ‘perfect’ for food truck
While some of the cooking and prep work for the Hungry Burro will be done at Horn’s North Union Street building, the mobility of the truck will allow it go pretty much anywhere in the city and greater Olean area.
The truck includes a double oven, 10-burner stove, fryer, panini press, warming table and kegerator, which Horn said should allow the truck to operate out in the field for a couple days.
The plan is to keep customers informed of the truck’s location through social media. The Hungry Burro has a Facebook page, facebook.com/thehungryburro.
Horn said the truck fits right in with the city’s Walkable Olean Initiative that included the North Union Street reconstruction project.
“I think it’s perfect for that,” he said. “ … We want to capitalize on mobility and be able to reach everybody who’s interested.”
Horn envisions the food truck eventually offering daily service at pretty much all hours of the day, from breakfast all the way to late-night hours for the bar crowd. The truck will also be available to cater special events like festivals, parties and weddings.
4) Truck will stay away from residential areas
The city of Olean’s lack of regulations regarding food trucks and food carts was highlighted after the Rafi’s Food Cart fire last December.
The blaze damaged a nearby home, as the food cart was located in the East State Wine and Spirits parking lot and directly next to a neighboring home and fence.
While some U.S. cities do not allow food trucks to operate within residential areas, Olean is silent on the issue. Also, food trucks are not subject to regular fire inspections as part of city building code.
City officials previously said they would explore if further regulations are needed.
Regardless, Horn said he doesn’t plan to operate the Hungry Burro in residential areas anyway.
“There’s little to no reason to be in a residential area — that’s people’s private area. I don’t want to be a disturbance. I want it to be a fun atmosphere,” he said. “Plus, in public areas, we’re much more accessible. You got to go where the people are.”
5) Food truck will be ran by ‘self-proclaimed foodie’
The Hungry Burro currently has five employees who will share kitchen responsibilities and have experience in the catering and restaurant world, Horn said.
For his part, Horn said he’s been consistently cooking since he was 15 and has worked in restaurants before. Above all though, he simply loves food.
“I’m a self-proclaimed foodie,” he said. “Food is the No. 1 reason for me to travel. Anywhere I go I love to try new flavors, restaurants and venues I’ve never been to. That’s the most exciting part of a vacation for me.”
While there used to be “a lot of unknown about food trucks,” Horn said both their regulations and popularity has increased immensely over the last 10 to 20 years.
“Now it’s looked upon as anything from comfort food to higher-end dining out of a truck,” he said.