Food trucks spring into action to feed first responders in Las Vegas
The Dragon Grille food truck promoted the relief effort while serving first responders. Photo courtesy of the Dragon Grille.
Christian Guzman didn't know what was happening when he first heard the police sirens outside of his Las Vegas home the Sunday evening of Oct. 1.
"We heard a whole bunch of police cars," said the owner of the Dragon Grille food truck, which specializes in Asian fusion fare. "We turned on the news just to find out — they were calling all the patrols from nearby cities."
Guzman began organizing a relief effort Monday morning to serve first responders. He went to Costco and delivered food supplies to the police, who directed him to a drop-off point.
"I saw that there was a huge need of more donations," Guzman told Food Truck Operator. He placed a note on his Facebook page advising his fellow food truck operators that he was going to serve food to people who needed it.
Urban Seed Inc., a Las Vegas urban farm dedicated to locally grown produce, contacted Guzman and asked if he could bring his truck to the University Medical Center, one of two hospitals treating victims. Guzman said he'd be there and advised them that he was already in touch with several other trucks willing to help.
FBI agents fanned out across the streets near the Las Vegas Strip throughout the week stacking the belongings left from the Oct. 1 shooting, the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history, claiming at least 58 dead and nearly 500 injured.
A collective effort
Guzman, who organizes regular food truck events called Food Truck Friendly, believes a collective effort among numerous food trucks contributed several thousands of dollars' worth of food following the shooting.
Guzman himself contributed about $1,000 in food, and lost another $2,000 to $3,000 by not selling during the three days. He was back to work on Friday.
"It was basically a collective effort by the food truck community," he said. The trucks served first responders at UMC and Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center.
Different trucks rotated Tuesday and Wednesday at the hospitals. The employees of the trucks not serving helped out on the trucks that were.
Food truck customers donated food and beverage supplies to the participating food trucks.
"We reached out to them over Facebook and they showed up," said Guzman, who said he was fortunate in that this was the first time in four years that his truck did not serve food during the concert that was attacked.
The tragedy marked Guzman's first encounter with violence. He doesn't think there is anything that can be done to prevent further such incidents.
"As much fear as we have right now, because everything is still settling, we still have to continue to go (serve customers)," he said. On Friday, he was serving at a festival in a nearby town.
"We live off of these events," he said, explaining his willingness to lend a hand in a time of need. "Vegas has treated us good in the past few years. We just felt the need to give back to the city."
Colleagues respond to the call
Pablo Garcia, who operates a trailer called Pablo's Kitchen, was serving customers at a bar in another part of town on Oct. 1 when patrons began talking about the shooting. Patrons were calling their friends to find out if they were okay.
Garcia didn't hesitate to help when he saw Guzman's Facebook notice on Wednesday. He joined the group serving meals. He served more than 150 people at one of the hospitals.
"I just wanted to help," Garcia told Food Truck Operator. He donated all the food — meat, tortillas and tacos — he was going to use for the following day — about $400 to $500 worth of retail food sales. He canceled his next day's bar gig.
Things were back to normal for Garcia Friday.
When Julio Torres heard that Guzman was going to serve people at UMC, he told him that he would bring his own truck, 50 Shades Tastier, a truck serving organic an fresh food which Torres operates with his wife, Kelly.
"A bunch of other trucks met us and donated a bunch of food, everything they could from bread, sandwiches, meat, condiments, plates, silverware," Torres said. "Both trucks were completely full."
The Torreses learned about the shooting when friends and family members working at Mandalay Bay, the site where the shooter was perched, texted them about it. Most of the people at the hotel thought the shooting had taken place inside or just outside of the hotel.
"We were basically just glued to the TV until 3 in the morning trying to figure out what was going on," he said.
Torres said he messaged other food trucks that he would pick up donations and take them to first responders.
Torres' truck served people on Monday night, then put his staff in service for other trucks on the other days.
On the days his own truck wasn't serving, "Everything we had we gave to another truck to make sure they had enough," Torres said. "All the donations were passed around until they were used up."
His staff also delivered food and beverages to hospital floors and to metro police stations.
"We're pretty much back to our regular schedule," Torres said on Friday.
He lost some events that got canceled or changed venues following the shooting. Business at the University of Las Vegas Nevada has dropped by 20 percent due to some canceled classes, he said.
Torres doesn't see what can be done to prevent such instances.
"We all felt better once we started helping out," he said.
Truck employee injured
Suzy Davis, owner of Stripchezze, a grilled cheese food truck, had to worry about the well being of one of her own employees in addition to all the other people. An employee suffered twisted ankle while trying to escape the shooting. Someone fortunately carried her employee to safety.
Davis heard about the tragedy on Instagram while driving home from another event the night of the shooting.
"I didn't understand why everything was blocked off," Davis said. "Around 11 o'clock I was trying to get home from the other side of town."
"Vegas has given a lot to us," said Davis, whose truck went into service on Tuesday. "We help out when we can. Those nurses and doctors were working around the clock, and they still are. Give back to them a little bit. We've got to help out where we can."
The son of the owners of one of the food trucks involved in the relief effort, The Frozen Frog, was at the concert where the shooting occurred, Davis said. While the young man escaped harm, his female companion was shot in the back and was rushed to the hospital.
Business was back to normal by Friday. One of Davis' November evens was canceled.
Some trucks were also serving on Friday at a hospital in nearby Henderson, Nevada where some of the less critical patients were taken.
Other trucks involved in the relief effort, according to operators interviewed by Food Truck Operator, were Cousins Maine Lobster, Culinary Logic, Quality Foodservice, Blitz Boba, Blondie's Bacon Creations, Fukuburger, Dude Where's My Hot Dog, Bacon Creations, Currywurst, The Chuck Wagon, Latte Fusion, Curbside Café and Lunch Crew Catering.
Elliot Maras Elliot Maras is the editor of KioskMarketplace.com and FoodTruckOperator.com.