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Denver's gourmet food trucks are again on a roll

A year ago this week, Westword's cover story was Laura Shunk's "The Truck Stops Here," a look at the spanking-new phenomenon -- in Denver, at least -- of gourmet food trucks. Steuben's, the first truck to take to the streets, was the focus of that piece, but it wasn't long before other entrepreneurs started revving up to join the race, retrofitting everything from old vans to abandoned loncheras in order to serve specialties ranging from cupcakes to slices to biscuits.

And while many of these businesses went into hibernation for the winter, Denver's trucks are once again on a roll -- and the city is eager to catch up with them for a survey.

While a few vehicular ventures have called it quits, more are merging in all the time. In 2010, Denver issued 62 new mobile licenses for food trucks; so far this year, it's issued 37. And then there are the stand-up licenses for vendors, some of them food carts: Last year the city issued 127 new licenses; to date in 2011, it's issued 60.

The action got so heated last year that a Denver City Council committee held a hearing to consider the city's regulations regarding trucks, then set up a task force to study what changes might be needed. Working with the city, the Denver Partnership sent a survey to fifty current owners and/or operators of food trucks, asking such questions as whether they also own a brick-and-mortar restaurant, how many days a week they operate their truck, and whether they've participated in "a gathering/clustering of Food Trucks." And finally, the survey asks truck owners/operators whether they agree with this statement: "Operating a Food Truck in the City and County of Denver is relatively easy."

Apparently that's been a stumper, because the Partnership has not received as many surveys as it had hoped to; it sent another reminder to its target audience today. No matter how many owner/operators fill out that survey, the results should be tabulated in the next few weeks.

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In the meantime, the mobile vendors' summer season got in gear this past Friday, when almost a dozen trucks cruised into the Golden Triangle for the first event featuring the Food Truck Renegades. It will pick up speed on Saturday, June 4, when the Justice League of Street Vendors will return for a second season and a party in the parking lot at TAXI featuring ten trucks, among them Biker Jim's, Steuben's, Little Orange Rocket, Pinche Tacos , Biscuit Bus, Sully's Slice Truck, Steamin' Demon and Stick It to Me.

And then on Tuesday, June 7, Civic Center EATS, the ultimate power lunch that got everyone thinking about mobile meals, will kick off its new season. This year, a brigade of trucks will descend on Civic Center at lunchtime not just on Tuesdays, but also on Thursdays through September -- and during the rest of the week, there should always be at least a couple of mobile options there.

Ladies and gentlemen: Start your engines!

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