Despite some initial delays due to coronavirus-related restrictions, food truck season is officially in full swing at several Michigan wineries. That means yummy eats, fresh summer air — and continued social distancing and other safety measures.
Given their outdoor locales, food trucks have a distinct advantage over indoor, sit-down restaurants when it comes to social distancing. At St. Ambrose Cellars in Beulah, which runs its own food truck and wood-fired pizza oven, keeping people spread out hasn’t been too difficult.
“We have a huge lawn, so that’s helped a lot because we (set) about 20 picnic tables out there all about 10 feet apart,” says Aaron Dexter, the marketing director. “It’s been pretty smooth.”
St. Ambrose’s food truck is open Thursdays, 2 to 6 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays, noon to 8 p.m.; and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., through Michigan’s color tour season. Customers can either wait in line to order at the food truck, which serves burgers, fries and other fare, or they can enjoy table service.
“(In) the line, we have little stanchions out there so they stay 6 feet apart,” Dexter says. “And we’re doing table service for the whole winery now, so we ask that people come, sit at a picnic table outside, and somebody comes out and they’ll take their drink orders and take their food order over to the truck if they want it. Or they can go stand in line at the truck on their own.”
So far, maintaining social distancing hasn’t been an issue at Lawton Ridge Winery’s weekly food truck nights, either.
“People have been pretty good about it,” says Crick Haltom, co-owner of the Kalamazoo winery, which hosts a food truck every Wednesday from 5 to 7:30 p.m. through September. “You just see them standing back and waiting to step up to order when it’s clear.”
At Round Barn Estate in Baroda, which runs its own food truck, guests don’t wait in line at all.
“This year, our food truck is going to operate a little bit differently because we don’t want lines, and so it’s all going to be table service,” says Sue Veldman, marketing director for Moersch Hospitality Group, which owns Round Barn. “So, people will be seated at their tables, and we’ll actually have servers come up and take their order, and we’ll go and run and get their stuff from the food truck, and then we’ll run and get their stuff from the bar. And they’ll just pay at the table like they normally would with credit cards. We’re not accepting cash right now.”
Round Barn also asks that guests wear masks when they are not seated, and the winery is implementing a host of other safety measures.
“Our staff will be wearing masks and gloves, and we’ll obviously be disinfecting tables and everything in between guests,” Veldman says. “We will have single-serve menus. We’ll also have our menus available online. And then it will be single-use plates and cups and all that kind of stuff, too.”
Round Barn’s food truck, which serves hot dogs, nachos, hamburgers and similar fare, runs Saturdays from noon to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 5:30 p.m. through October.
At Stoney Ridge Winery in Kent City, which officially opens June 18, owner Mary Smearman plans to host food trucks starting in July. She views the partnerships as mutually beneficial.
“I’m hoping that it can just be a win-win,” she says. “You draw more people in because if a food truck has a following, they will go where they are, and I know it’s been a really tough time for them.
“They want to sell their food and we want to sell our wine, so I think we can do this together.”
Food trucks also diversify choices for guests and fill the culinary gap at wineries that don’t have their own full-blown kitchens or extensive food options.
“It’s easier for us as a winery because we don’t have to deal with the food portion,” Smearman says. “I think it just gives people a good chance to try different things, too, and it gives them an excuse to get out.”
That “excuse to get out” is also boosting business at Michigan wineries, which have only recently begun to reopen and bounce back from coronavirus-related closures.
“If we were just open on Wednesday evenings until 7:30, it would be pretty slow,” Haltom says, “but if we have a food truck here that people are coming and can buy dinner and have some wine with it, that’s a draw for us.”