Food and Drink

Community and opportunity: The Spenard Food Truck Carnival celebrates 10 years

In June 2014, Darrin Huycke, rain soaking his black and white camo hoodie, turned to his mentor and friend, John D’Elia. It was a Thursday afternoon, and they were surrounded by food trucks and hungry customers in the parking lot across from Chilkoot Charlie’s.

Huycke recalls the moment vividly. As the crowd gathered in the rain for the Spenard Food Truck Carnival, he and D’Elia knew they had created something successful and meaningful.

This month, the Spenard Food Truck Carnival opened its 10th season in the parking lot across from Koot’s. It has served multiple purposes. Not only has it established itself as a place where Anchorage residents can find unique and delicious foods, but it has also become an in-person business card event for food truck operators, spawning catering and other opportunities.

Thursday lunches have become an integral part of the Spenard community. From March until October, trucks gather from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and offer everything from pulled pork to papaya salad to sweet and savory crepes. In the last 10 years, customers have adjusted their schedules and expectations to come to these lunches. The carnival schedule has been consistent, but not exactly flexible.

Recently, Huycke has added Trucking Tuesdays for dinner and Food Truck Saturdays for weekend lunches. He likes the exclusivity of being open only a few hours a week — it has become its own advertisement, he said. But he also wants more people to have the opportunity to experience the carnival.

Banding together

In 2013, five food trucks banded together to create the carnival. They asked Darrin Huycke to run it, given his experience organizing and promoting events and concerts through his business, Huycke Entertainment.

The five food trucks, Wheel Good Food, EAT Sandwich, Kastle’s Kreations, Boom Ba Laddy’s and Urban Bamboo, parked under the windmill in Spenard, and customers started coming. While Kastle’s Kreations and Boom Ba Laddy’s are still around, the rest have gone.

John D’Elia, who was the owner of Urban Bamboo, played a large role in organizing the carnival. He worked with Huycke to create guidelines and became a father figure to him. Even after D’Elia sold his food truck, eventually taking a job as the chef de cuisine at the Marx Bros Cafe, he was still a regular customer and close with Huycke.

“He was such an awesome counterpart to me,” said Huycke.

This year’s carnival will be the first without D’Elia, who died unexpectedly in December. For year 10, Huycke is charging ahead in memory of his friend.

‘We didn’t have to convince people to do anything different’

The last few years have seen a lot of growth for the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. Trucks have been growing more popular and more common in Anchorage already, but the pandemic brought a sudden flood of business to the trucks under the windmill. The food truck model was the perfect fit for safe, socially distanced dining — to-go food in an outdoor environment is how food trucks operate, pandemic or otherwise.

The carnival became even more popular because “we didn’t have to convince people to do anything different,” said Huycke.

Although some of the spike in business died off during the 2021 season as brick and mortar restaurants had more to offer in competition, the carnival is still popular. Huycke is hoping that in its 10th season, it can regain some of the traction from 2020 as the brand looks to expand outside Spenard.

Spenard is still the heart of the carnival, though. Thursday lunches have become a good reason for the community to come together. Huycke is not looking to change that anytime soon.

“For three hours on a Thursday … (the Koot’s parking lot) is a family-friendly outside dining area. That’s a gem.”

The carnival has grown so much that Huycke hired an employee to help him run the events. Garrett Hermansen is a musician and a bartender, but working for Huycke is his main job. He started during Fur Rendezvous last year and has been helping out ever since.

“It’s an awesome business,” Hermansen said. He likes that the carnival is in Koot’s parking lot.

“What’s more iconic about Spenard than Koots?”

Future opportunities

Regular attendees, such as Papaya Tree, Los Mochileros and Yeti Dogs, have become some of the most popular food trucks in Southcentral Alaska, finding themselves outside breweries and at events all summer. In a parking lot that was never full those first few years, the peak of summer these days sees trucks fighting for space.

Erica Stimaker, who owns Yeti Dogs with her partner, Dominic Ahumada, depends on the carnival to book other events throughout the summer. They try to make it to as many of the Thursday lunches as possible, she said, knowing that customers expect them.

On this year’s opening day there were three trucks in attendance: Papaya Tree, Mr. Darryl’s Southern BBQ and Kape Espresso Tayo. All three trucks opened during the 2020 season, and the owners said the Spenard carnival was vital in getting their businesses off the ground.

Dao Manivong owns Papaya Tree, offering what the truck describes as “unmessed-with Southeast Asian street food,” and for two years she has been bringing the truck to the carnival every Thursday. Noy Synakorn, who works in the truck with Dao, said that this year, the truck is so in demand they will probably only make it every other week. The Spenard Food Truck Carnival is still a great source of support. Synakorn’s favorite part about Thursday lunches is seeing all the other food trucks operating in Anchorage.

Adrienne Richardson, who runs Mr. Darryl’s Southern BBQ with her husband, Darryl Richardson, likes having the carnival in Spenard because of the community support. There’s always business under the windmill. “We’ve found all of our business here. It’s a good networking opportunity.”

The food truck owners and staff make up their own community, sharing food, ideas and tips.

Grace and Michael Badua own and run Kape Espresso Tayo with their daughter, Garcelle. In the winter they spend most of their time in places like Kincaid Park, Point Woronzof and Beluga Point, but in the summer they come to the carnival to supplement the huge variety of foods with coffee, tea and colorful Italian sodas.

“I like how there’s different foods,” said Garcelle about the Spenard Food Truck Carnival. Her favorites are the dessert trucks, like a crepe truck she tried last year. The family likes to try different foods from the other trucks and make friends with the owners, staff and the rest of the food truck community.

Naomi Stock

Naomi Stock is a spring 2022 reporting intern for the Anchorage Daily News and a University of Alaska Anchorage journalism student.