Apr. 17—PORTLAND, Maine — As Portland diners have sought safer ways to gobble up local cuisine than sitting inside restaurants, they've increasingly turned to food trucks and other mobile kitchens. Now there's an easier way to find them.
Justin Velgos, a Portland-based app designer, has tracked food trucks at 30 different locations in his mobile app Food Truckalico, which he launched last month to help Mainers navigate the growing scene.
"Because of COVID, my wife and I went to way more food trucks last summer," Velgos said. "It just feels way more safe to go to the Eastern Prom or wherever, get something and sit far away from everybody and enjoy the Maine summer."
Velgos, who graduated from the Maine College of Art's new media program, had experience in the field. In the first month of the pandemic, he helped local developer Jeff Jackson launch a similar app for breweries called HopHound, helping quarantined beer drinkers locate breweries that offered delivery services. With help from local iOS developer Emily Cheroske, Velgos leveled up his design skills to launch FoodTruckalico, a platform where users can see the city's food truck landscape in one directory.
The food truck industry has grown so large, that many are attempting to capitalize by helping people navigate it. Market gurus have touted street food vendors as a $2 billion business annually the last few years, and Velgos is one of at least four in Portland who have launched food truck apps that track it.
Matthew Noone, a Maine-based entrepreneur, launched the mobile app Food Trux in Portland and Denver last June. Before the pandemic, Noone wanted to expand to two dozen U.S. cities, a goal that's scaled back to eight to 12 cities by the end of 2021.
Noone uses a subscription model, charging street food vendors a flat monthly fee for use of the app. But he's waived that fee for Maine trucks, who have helped develop the product. Truck owners send Noone a logo, menu and basic description for him to post on Food Trux, paying an additional fee to enable online ordering. They can choose between switching themselves "on" within the app, which tracks them via a GPS locator, or having the app decipher the schedule they post online. Available on several mobile devices, Food Trux users can "follow" their favorites and comb their social media pages.
"We want to help people find the trucks but want to push the visibility and exposure as well," Noone said.
Velgos doesn't monetize his app, saying he does it for fun to "support a struggling industry." Though it's only available to iPhone users so far, his low-barrier model may make Food Truckalico more broadly useful.
Velgos aspired to list the whole Portland food truck scene on Food Truckalico, but knew that wouldn't be possible if he asked them to pay or submit daily info. So he decided to corral the info they were already posting on Instagram, linking and organizing it within the app.
Josh Dionne runs Tacos del Seoul, a "Korean-Mexican food truck" that he parks at three or four locations per week. A veteran of the scene, Dionne launched Tacos del Seoul in 2016, and says a digital directory that lists the region's food trucks can be helpful if they get the information right.
"We do a lot of catering, so on a random Thursday, [an app] might be toggling that we're out, but we're at a catering gig in Sebago," Dionne said. That would be unhelpful to both his truck and the customers.
Nowadays, food trucks like Dionne's often juggle consistent weekly schedules with occasional off-days when they have other gigs, which could mess up the listings. For an app to work, it helps to have a human touch.
Velgos built tools to alert him when local vendors post. Their info is on his app moments later, giving vendors one fewer thing to worry about.
"The food truck owners seem to be happy about it because they don't really have to do any work and they get more exposure," Velgos said.