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In COVID-19 era, food trucks flourish

Lola’s has sent a food truck out for special events for years, but recently the truck has stayed near the home restaurant to help serve patrons during the COVID-19 lockdown.

BROWN COUNTY–Food trucks are a common site is large cities, but these mobile restaurants are starting to come to rural counties as well.

In Brown County, food trucks and food carts have become popular dining options in the last year.

Lola’s Food Truck has operated in the region for years, but recently the truck has operated directly in front of Lola’s on Minnesota Street. With the lockdown on restaurants caused by COVID-19, the food truck has served as an alternative way to feed Lola’s patrons.

Lola’s Manager Justine Hanan said the truck has been heading to other communities again. From 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays the truck travels to the Hub in Mankato. From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. the truck returns to New Ulm to continue serving food after Lola’s stationary location closes.

Hanan said Lola’s has stayed busy during the lockdown. “The community is supportive,” she said. “People come from other communities to eat at the food truck.”

The most popular items served out of the truck are the same items popular in the restaurant. Hanan said the Hot Mess and Bahn Mi Tacos are the top sellers.

The Lemon food trailer has been a mainstay of the Brown County fair for a decade. The food truck serves fresh-squeezed lemonade in a variety of flavors. The truck has also begun selling coffee drinks.

The mobile lemonade stand is owned and operated by Dan and Deb Olsen of Blue Earth. Deb Olsen said their stand frequents fairs in Minnesota and Iowa, but the COVID-19 pandemic had canceled several events.

Recently, The Lemon trailer has opened up shop in the A to Zinnia parking lot along Broadway. Olsen said A to Zinnia owner Heather Hacker-Hammer invited them to open the stand in the lot. The Olsens agreed and it has been a popular stop. The Lemon had its biggest day of the year last week.

“New Ulm is great. We love it here,” Deb said.

She is hoping to bring The Lemon trailer back shortly. The Lemon’s next stop will be in Fairmont.

On the north side of New Ulm, customers can get a hot dog at Fred’s Dogs food cart. The cart is operated by Josh Fred. This year he has set up in the parking lot at the corner of 16 North and Broadway.

“On any day I’ve got good weather I am open from 11 a.m to 5 p.m.” Fred said.

He’s operated the hot dog cart since 2017 and is excited by the rise of street vendors. Fred does not hesitate to tell customers about other street vendors operating nearby.

Goofy Doofy Gyros has sometimes operated a neighboring food truck and Fred is excited to point customers to it.

“This spring was very busy with everyone in lockdown,” Fred said. COVID-19 shut down the traditional restaurants, but food stands were able to adapt to the new conditions.

Illegal Amigos is one of the newest food trucks in the area but is already establishing a strong niche in the community. The truck is owned and operated by Jose and Kristi Saenz of Sleepy Eye. Illegal Amigos is excited to celebrate its first anniversary next week. The truck first began serving Mexican food during Sleepy Eye’s 4th of July celebration in 2019.

Jose Saenz said they are looking forward to going back to Sleepy Eye Lake this 4th of July. They will be parked in Sportsman Park.

Saenz said they are considering bringing back their original food trailer for occasions. In March, Illegal Amigos began operating out of a new custom trailer.

“The community support has been awesome,” Saenz said. “The towns we’ve been to have been awesome.”

Illegal Amigos operates on the weekends and changes communities each week. The truck has stopped in Sleepy Eye, Springfield, New Ulm and Gibbon. Wherever the truck goes, patrons find them.

On Sunday, Illegal Amigos was operating in the Springfield Market parking lot. A line of a dozen people formed shortly after the trailer opened at 11 a.m.

Last week the truck was located outside Star Keller in New Ulm. Saenz was surprised people found them at the brewery because they were off the main path, but word of mouth spreads fast on social media.

Like all the food trucks, Illegal Amigos enjoys serving the local community. Saenz said the majority of their meat and produce is locally sourced and they try to promote other businesses. He said it is a “win-win” for everyone.

Food trucks and street vendors are a big win for hungry patrons looking for new dining options.

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