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Food trucks bring more variety to downtown

Mayor Bob Buckhorn wanted something hip and cool. When he saw people buying food from trucks Wednesday afternoon, he figured he might have found it.

“It’s a great day for Tampa and a great day to be a foodie,” said Buckhorn, dressed in a red apron and ready to lend a hand in one of the very small, and mobile, kitchens.

Buckhorn was kicking off the inaugural Mayor’s Food Truck Fiesta, held on Franklin Street between Madison Street and Kennedy Boulevard.

The event will be held the first Wednesday of each month.

Hundreds of people stood in line and wandered back and forth among the 10 food trucks peddling everything from burgers to fried risotto balls. The trucks had catchy names: Killer Samich, Taco Bus, Burger Culture, Fat Tortillas, Jerk Hut, Coconut Bo’s, Nelly Nel’s, Fire Monkey, Gone Bananas and Wicked ‘Wiches.

The long line of hungry lunchers at Wicked ‘Wiches giggled as the man in a red apron approached.

“Look! Oh, look, it’s Bob!” said Barbara Babcock, 75.

She extended her hand and giggled again when the mayor grabbed it. But then he climbed into the truck.

“Oh, great,” Babcock said, a change of tone in her voice. “He’s going to slow things down.”

Buckhorn said he got the idea after attending a successful food truck rally in Hyde Park this year. He said he sees the rallies as a way to get people downtown.

He added that he thinks downtown restaurants may benefit from the exposure. Some of the food truck customers, he said, may come back and check out the restaurants.

Some of the restaurants near the rally seemed to be doing just fine. About 12:30 p.m., there was a long line at Fresh. And over at Pizza Fusion, nearly all the outdoor tables were taken.

But not everyone was happy.

Over at the Metro, Bill Nelligar shook his head at the reduced number of diners. He said he figured many of his regulars went to check out the food truck rally.

But he said he and other restaurateurs were already losing business because of the Friday downtown food market.

He said the monthly food truck rally is just one more blow.

“Some of the restaurants are already up to a 98 percent loss on Fridays,” he said.

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