Sumter is now on the food truck festival map. Food truck festivals — or “rodeos” as they are sometimes called — have been growing in popularity in the last decade from bigger cities to smaller towns across the U.S., said Lynn Kennedy, chairwoman of Sumter Green, the organizer of Saturday’s Untapped: Food Trucks and Craft Beer festival at the Sumter fairgrounds.
Kennedy, who is also events manager for the City of Sumter, said she got the idea for the event by seeing the large-scale, cuisine-on-wheels festivals in Columbia and the Charleston area.
The festivals — Saturday was the second of its kind to happen in Sumter — feature mobile kitchens boasting restaurant-quality fare that descend on an area in caravans, each preparing their own menu and type of cuisine.
Saturday’s event included food items such as gyros, crepes, lobster rolls, deluxe bacon burgers, Cuban sandwiches, hand-tossed pizza, Vietnamese and French foods, desserts and Mexican entries, among others.
Twenty-five food trucks rolled up to the fairgrounds, the vast majority from out of town, Kennedy said. That gives people the opportunity to try different foods they couldn’t do otherwise locally, she said. Some of the food trucks’ cuisine is so popular that some have their own restaurants in their home cities, according to Kennedy.
Steve Bolden of Sumter attended the festival with his son-in-law, Jonathan Williams, who lives in Columbia.
They both enjoyed the sunshine, the warm weather and their first ostrich burger, they said, which they ordered from Chick-N-Que, a food truck based out of Raleigh, North Carolina.
The entrée is made with North Carolina-raised ostrich meat, they said.
“It was my first ostrich burger ever,” Bolden said. “It was great.”
A craft beer tasting event was also part of the day’s attractions.
Attendees bought a special ticket to sample unlimited 2-ounce servings of the 16 craft beers on hand from breweries throughout the Carolinas.
Kennedy said Sumter’s first food truck festival was in March and served as a “trial run” with just 16 trucks on the menu.
About 3,500 people turned out for that gathering, and she said staff and volunteers weren’t prepared for that large of a crowd. Therefore, the lineup was increased to 25 food trucks for Saturday’s festivities.
This weekend’s attendance was lower, though, Kennedy said, despite the nice weather and what was on tap and on the menu. She estimated about 2,500 attended throughout the day. She attributed early November being college football season — with both the University of South Carolina and Clemson playing — as a cause of the curtailed crowd size.
Kennedy said on Monday she plans to keep the food truck festival in Sumter to a once-a-year event in the spring. The next event will be the first Saturday in March 2018, she said.
“In the early spring, people are looking for things to do after January and February, so I think we are going to stick with that on the calendar,” Kennedy said.
Entrance fees and proceeds from Saturday benefited Sumter Green, a nonprofit that beautifies areas in Sumter, including seven Welcome-to-Sumter entrance-way signs throughout the city.