November 12, 2010

First-ever Gypsy Picnic

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The seed for the Gypsy Picnic was planted in February 2010 when I went on my first trailer food crawl with some girl friends.  We started the day with some local/bistro sandwiches with Victoria at La Boite.  We then set out on the trail to hunt down some vietnamese sandwiches at lulu b's, but she was closed.  Still determined we drove down lamar to the Odd Duck, who was only opened for dinner.  We struck gold with Gourdough's where we finally caved in to not really knowing who was open or where to go next and sat down for some big fat doughnuts, Tecate's and Lights/Menthols.  It was Sunday brunch in Austin afterall.  So after this experience of trail blazing a trailer crawl back when the trailers were first thriving, I decided once and for all someone in this city was going to have to take notes and report back.  Trailer Food Diaries was born and I began blogging about the stories behind each of these vendors. 

But there was more to it than that.  I had recently quit my job (the previous December) and was looking for a true career experience that would allow me freedom to work from home, travel, and the general ability to wake up happy and excited about my day.  As the stories behind the trailer vendors began to unfold I realized we had a lot in common:  we wanted to work for ourselves, wake up inspired, and be involved in the food community here in Austin.  Then it dawned on me that this trailer food business was actually part of my heritage, as my great-grandfather came to this country from Russia and began his pursuit of the American dream with a banana cart which evolved into 5 general stores (and some really cool progeny).  (Insert 'ding' light bulb sound)

While I was talking with the vendors about their stories, I began asking them if they had ever entered a cook-off.  Partly, the question was to reflect to them how proud they were of their food and to see if they honestly thought their cuisine would stand out in a competition.  I had 100% response rate that yes they would like to do a cook-off. 

By some twist of fate my idea fell into the right circles at the right time and I found myself in the office of Roy Spence at GSD&M one morning, followed by a meeting with Charlie Jones of C3 Presents.  Both companies took various aspects of the project under their wings and Trailer Food Diaries began to soar. 

We started planning the Gypsy Picnic in May of 2010 and executed the first-ever Gypsy Picnic Trailer Food Festival in Austin last November 6, 2010.  As a fourth generation Austinite, I felt very proud to have been a part of something that is a fun and quirky contribution to the city that I hope will outlive me.  When I'm an old woman, I want to hear people say 'remember that first Gypsy Picnic?'  just like I hear people talking about Aquafest. 

We had 30 trailers pile in at auditorium shores and we told them to prepare at least 1,000 units of food in anticipation a crowd of 10,000.  We had more than 15,000 show up (it was  free, dog-friendly, kid-friendly event) on a gorgeous day in Austin and many of the vendors sold upwards fo 3,000 units.  The music was great and my friend Barbie volunteered her signing services so the deaf community could participate in the shows.  The sideshow had fun entertainment acts, stories from Book People and more.  Behind the scenes a cook-off was going on with 10 local judges who are highly esteemed in the foodie scene. 

In addition to having a really fun and successful event, I launched the Trailer Food Diaries Magazine which featured the 30 pioneer gypsies and some of their recipes.  We gave away 5,000 copies and ran out by 2:30pm.  Don't worry, I saved a handful for stocking stuffers.  I also started filming the pilot for Trailer Food Diaries TV series.  All this on November 6th, one day before my 30th birthday.  And all of this stemming from one thought on one day at a relatively unsuccessful trailer food crawl, half-depressed, half-buzzed with some friends.

The Gypsy Picnic and Trailer Food Diaries projects represent the spirit of unique entrepreneurialism here in Austin.  Over the last several months I have enjoyed getting to know the vendors, their stories and try their cuisine.  Although not all of the trailers I started out interviewing are still open, the trend overall is still growing.  In fact, I think it is soon becoming a point of interest for travelers visiting my hometown.  I'm humbled and excited about the success of the trailer food vendors as artists, creative spirits and entrepreneurial souls.  If you ever get stuck wondering what's for lunch - try a trailer!