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Corporate food trucks invade streets

The food truck craze is taking a controversial detour from its indie roots, as a rash of corporate-run restaurant trucks invades the streets of Southern California.

The latest chains to join the street food movement are The Habit Burger & Grill and Sizzler. Both chains admit they’re taking advantage of the trend, but insist their trucks will operate differently.

The Habit Burger & Grill is now taking reservations for its new catering food truck. The van will not be Tweeting its location. Instead, the Irvine-based chain will use it for special catering events.

In the case of Sizzler, the Culver City-based family steakhouse chain has spent a year developing a new menu for its truck, which will be branded under a different name.

“We’re not going to go down and plop our truck in front of an Applebee’s,” said Sizzler chef Chris Rahder. “We don’t want to step on feet. We’re trying to be different and innovative.”

The truck, whose temporary name is ZZ Truck, will start making regular stops in Orange and Los Angeles counties in November. It also plans to make special-event appearances in San Diego.

While Sizzler is joining the daily fray of indie trucks in the region, The Habit is using its truck for special events.

Irvine-based Habit began booking reservations for its 22-foot truck this month, Vice President of Marketing Mike Mirkil said. Other fast-food companies that have launched trucks recently include Jack in the Box, Taco Bell, TK Burgers and Wienerschnitzel.

The minimum guarantee to rent the truck is $1,250. Equipped with full sound-system and digital monitor, it will serve a limited menu of charburgers, sandwiches, fries and sodas.

Sizzler said its restaurant-on-wheels will be primarily used as a quasi-mobile test kitchen, where new menu items can be put through their paces by a younger, non-Sizzler crowd. That’s another reason why the chain isn’t calling its truck the Sizzler truck.

Instead, it will be a truck named by food truck fans. Later this month, Sizzler will host a naming contest for the truck on Twitter and Facebook. Fans can choose from the following names: K.O.W. (Kitchen On Wheels); The Steak Lab; Red, White, & Moo; Cruizzin’ Carnivore; or Steak On It!

Anaheim Hills resident Kristin Ausk said the indie branding might get the truck noticed by her and her fellow foodies.

“Honestly, if I saw a Sizzler food truck, I would not try it. So maybe changing the name is good,” Ausk said.

Still, Rahder said Sizzler is not trying to hide its brand by going with a different name. The naming contest, instead, is meant to stir up buzz and loyalty for the truck among Southern California’s biggest food truck fans, he said.

“We want them to feel that this is just as much their truck,” Rahder said. “Sizzler’s name will still be on the truck.”

And, if these truck chasers love their food, then there’s a strong chance Sizzler could lure them to brick-and-mortar restaurants where menus have been revamped over the last year, Rahder said.

“We want to connect with foodies in these food [truck lots]. They are Sizzler customers of the future,” he said.