Eric Weiner, King of the Road

Eric Weiner at the 2016 Motif Food Truck Awards

Eric Weiner at the 2016 Motif Food Truck Awards

Eric Weiner is the maven impresario of food trucks. His website, FoodTrucksIn.com, after five and half years in operation, lists more than 7,000 vendors in 1,600 cities, allowing the public to see the exact locations of trucks near them in real-time to help decide where to eat.

Based in Rhode Island, his PVD Food Truck Events – facebook.com/pvdfoodtruckevents – is now in the fourth full season hosting regular gatherings of as many as 20 trucks catering to a “something for everyone” philosophy – different vendors specializing in everything from barbecue to vegan desserts, from grilled cheese to Asian cuisine, from beer to gourmet coffee – nearly all accepting cash, credit or debit. We caught up with him at what he describes as his flagship event, Food Truck Friday at the Carousel Village at Roger Williams Park in PVD, complete with carousel rides, train rides, camel rides, a bounce house and a free “boundless playground” for kids. Running 5:30 – 8:30pm every Friday until Labor Day, the free outdoor event draws 1,400 visitors on a good night.

PVD Food Truck Events

PVD Food Truck Events

“We’re using social media and technology to build an old-fashioned town square experience.  This is community: you look around and you see people of all socio-economic backgrounds, you see people of all ages, you see single people hanging out near families, you see people on dates hanging out near grandparents,” Weiner said. He views it in keeping with the festival ethos: “When you look at the Providence Flea and you look at PVD Fest and you look at the Washington [County] Fair, all of those things are rooted in people being able to get together and have a community. What’s great about what we’re doing is that all of our events are free, and even though something like Food Truck Friday is the same location every single week, the trucks are different and the music’s different, so you can come and have the comfort of doing the same thing over and over again but always having a different experience.”

The growing popularity of food trucks has allowed him to expand into Warwick, Lincoln, Scituate and Warren. “We have some singular events: we do Rocky Point twice each summer, which is a really big event. The one we do at the PawSox – this is our second year – for a first-time event last year that was spectacular. That will be one of our largest events,” Weiner said.

We asked him what it takes to go into the food truck business. “It’s the same advice I give to anyone who wants to go into any small business: No matter how much work you think it is, no matter how much fun it’s going to be, it will be 20 times more work and 10 times less fun. If … you still want to do it, then go for it and grind it out. But it is a tough business, it’s a grinding business. It’s a lot of fun and the rewards are great, but it’s not what a lot of people think, which is that if you start a business and you own your own business you become a millionaire,” Weiner said. “For a lot of people owning a small business is a lifestyle choice, not an economic choice, and I think that most of these food truck operators are doing it because they love it and they’ll probably tell you they’re making the same amount of money or less money than when they had other careers working for people, but this is what they want to be doing with their time and their energy.” Vendors have to build slowly, he said. “Nationwide across the board without a doubt, the biggest mistake is people think if they buy a great truck and they have a good brand and they have great food, that there will be magically places to go and make money, and unfortunately it just doesn’t work that way. It takes a lot of time and effort to find places that are good vending spots.”

His advice for customers who have never been to a food truck event? “Don’t wait any longer. Just come. The thing … that’s special about this is that it doesn’t matter who you are in your day-to-day life, there’s something here for you to enjoy and you’ll see that in the cross-section of customers…”

Does he worry he’ll burn out in the food truck business? “No! I don’t burn out. There’s no burn out for me. My entire goal in life is to not go get a job with someone. I started my limousine company when I was 19 and I did it for 20 years, and the only time I’ve had anxiety in my life is when I sold that limousine company and at 40 years old I thought, ‘Oh my God, I might have to go get a job.’ Every day that I can wake up and not have to go get a job working for someone else, how could you burn out from doing something where you’re supporting 25 business owners on any given night and you’re getting 1,500 people to come out and have a good time and no one is upset about anything and everyone has a great experience? How could anyone burn out from that?”

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