Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Jill Bieniek, 13, and Jessie Lowe, 12, enjoy their chicken and waffle basket from Nana G's food truck during the first of several "Food Truck Friday" events at the Suwanee Town Center. The event featured five food vendors and entertainment by local high schools jazz bands. Bieniek's father Stan claims the food was well worth the 45 minute wait.
SUWANEE -- Even after waiting in line for an hour, including more than a few minutes dodging raindrops under an umbrella, Mandy Volpe and Robb Sheppard enjoyed their long-awaited chicken and waffles.
"It was an hour, but it was good, very good," said Volpe, a Suwanee resident.
Volpe and Sheppard were among hundreds of customers at the Nana G's Chicken & Waffles food truck parked outside Town Center Park in Suwanee on Friday night. Owner Guy Hollcroft's truck was one of five that made up the city's first Food Truck Friday event that included jazz bands from local high schools performing on stage.
Food truck vendors will return to Suwanee on the first Friday of June, August and September, city events manager Amy Doherty said. It's believed to be the first-ever ongoing food truck event in Gwinnett, Doherty and Hollcroft said.
Hollcroft said he sold out of food after he served meals to about 300 people on a night that began under overcast skies and ended with light rain.
"This was a very busy night. A lot more than what we expected," Hollcroft said. "Unforunately the truck can only hold 400 people, food servings wise, and we crushed it out here."
Many customers walked away satisfied, too, like Sheppard, who ordered chicken, waffles and fries.
"It's an experience, it's different, it's unique," he said. "Everything is different. You have chicken and waffle in one place, you have ice cream right next to it. Very diverse."
Next to Nana G's was King of Pops popsicles, and the event also featured Poor Huey's Hot Dog Company, Smiley's Street Eats, which served Po Boy sandwiches, and One Love Jerk Grill.
While seven trucks were scheduled, one truck didn't come after it had mechanical problems and another declined to come because of weather.
The idea started as a Facebook posting that generated plenty of feedback, including 300 "likes" and about 70 "shares."
With that, Doherty contacted the Atlanta Street Food Coalition, and then received more than 20 applications, including several trucks that wanted to visit Suwanee for all four events.
The goal of the event, Doherty said, was for people to visit Suwanee and experience something that's trendy, hip and fun.
"If you're going to do any type of series of events, you need to do at least three or four. We thought that they would be a fun summertime type of an event," said Doherty, who added that free music would be included at each event. "Friday night is a good night to meet in the park."
Not everyone in Suwanee was happy to see the food truck announcement. Among them were some regular restaurant tenants in Town Center.
"A few of them would like for us to not necessarily bring in food trucks," Doherty said. "But we have so many events here that are good for their business, they're supportive of what we do."
Sandra Hobson, house manager at Mellow Mushroom, said her restaurant didn't lodge a formal pushback to the city, but didn't exactly greet the food trucks with open arms.
"For us the concern is when we put people on a wait, are they willing to wait, or will they go there?" Hobson said. "Being that it's once a month, and it's good for the city, we want to support the community. We feel that our food is unique and there's always going to be a market for our food."
Hobson added that anything that attracts people to Town Center Park is a good thing, and would eventually lead to a flow of customers to businesses around Town Center.
"We are definitely excited about any event that's going to be in the park, because we like people out in the park," she said.
Doherty said long lines at the food trucks and menu variety are two reasons why regular restaurants could see an uptick in business during the food truck events. She looked for food that wasn't already offered in Town Center, and skipped food that was, like pizza. And she said people coming to Suwanee for the food trucks might visit the Town Center tenants for the first time.
For next year, the food truck events could come more often, but the success would depend on a joint cooperation between the vendors, the city and the turnout of customers.
Dave Patel, the owner of the Brown Bag Deli, welcomed the food trucks as competition that could help his business. Patel likened it to clusters of car dealerships being next to one another, and still being successful.
"I have confidence in what I'm selling, and I have an opportunity of him bringing his clients to my place," Patel said.
He also pointed to the added opportunity to sell beer and wine as city officials allow customers to drink in the park during select events, like Food Truck Fridays. So Patel told the food truck vendors to refer customers looking to purchase beer or wine to Brown Bag Deli.
"It's bringing new faces to the area," Patel said. "They may not have dinner tonight at my place, but it's also an opportunity to see where I am. The food trucks are there, but a lot of people are still visiting this establishment."
For Hollcroft, the event was so successful, he called a realtor listed on a vacant space in Town Center to inquire about opening a restaurant there.
Hollcroft said the food truck craze is only growing in places like Gwinnett.
"There's more and more people that need to create things like what you have here," he said. "You've got foodies everywhere. Everybody watches the Food Channel today. They've either got a long day at work and not in the mood to drive to the city, or a house full of kids and not ready to pack them up and go down there. It's a big treat for you guys; You get to experience all the city life out here in the suburbs."