CRESTVIEW — Kylie Gochenouer, 12, experienced her first gyro last week when her mom, Crystal, took her to the Gyro Zone mobile eatery for lunch after a doctor's appointment.
Throughout Crestview, food trailer and pushcart cuisines range from barbecue up north to Greek down south, with German, Southern, vegetarian, Filipino and the good ol' American hotdog in between.
When Nellie Golden's property owner announced a rent increase on her Filipino restaurant's original shopping center location, she took her business to go. Now, Nellie's Lumpia Hut on Wheels does a brisk trade from a parking lot near Crestview High School.
"My customers there (in the old location) are my customers here, and I pick up a lot of new customers," Golden said. "I make the same money here without the overhead so I'm happy."
Gyro Zone owner Sammy Shoubaki, Possum Ridge BBQ co-owners Rick and Viola Plante, Sweet Southern Comfort owner Tammy Henderson and Golden said their trailers' mobility and low overhead are advantages over brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Food from the old country
For Monika Zimmermann, Monika's Schnitzel Haus — a log-cabin shaped trailer opening within a month — is an opportunity to offer her native Germany’s cuisine to the area.
"The military, they really want the food," Zimmermann said. "We have a lot of military here who have been in my country, and they sure do miss that food, so I said, ‘Why not, let's just do it.’"
Shoubaki's "zone" in front of Big Lots is prime territory to introduce newcomers to his native Mediterranean food.
"It's a good location — praise the Lord," he said.
For Sandra Karo, selling oversized Coney Island, N.Y., hotdogs from her pushcart in front of Waterfront Rescue Mission allows her to pursue the American dream of owning her own business.
The Mr. and Miss Hotdog Cart attracts steady business, the Uruguayan immigrant said.
"Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's quiet," she said. "I'm happy when it's good."
Mobile eatery owners agree that a profitable day requires favorable weather.
"The only bad part is you're weather-dependent," said Henderson, whose Sweet Southern Comfort is the mobile eatery on U.S. Highway 90 in front of Anything Pawn and Auction.
As a recent Friday became dark and rainy, she said, "Today is not looking real promising."
Karo was more to the point.
"On rainy days, I can't work," she said.
Licensed, inspected and fresh
Health authorities permit, license and inspect the city’s mobile eatries, owners said.
Food is prepared fresh on the premises, as testified by Golden's daughter, Janessa, who was stirring a large skillet of pancit noodles in her family's Lumpia Hut on Wheels recently.
"I cook my gyro here fresh every morning," Shoubaki said, indicating his traditional vertical roasting spit and emphasizing, "It's pronounced ‘yee-ro.’"
Shoubaki also makes his own tzatziki sauce, a tangy, dill-infused cucumber cream condiment.
Up State Road 85, pit-master Rick Plante has the smoker going at Possum Ridge BBQ first thing every morning, and over on Wilson Street, Melissa Gross selects crisp vegetables for the Sidewalk Café's wraps, sandwiches and salads.
"Most of my customers aren't even vegetarians," Gross said. "They just love good food."
In Henderson's trailer, her popular Southern Belle burgers are hand-pressed every morning, chicken-fried steak is hand-battered, and the red velvet, carrot and Coca-Cola cakes are scratch-made.
"Our stuff is all fresh," Henderson said. "We don't haul it out of the freezer and boil it in bags like chain restaurants do. It makes a difference."
A 'real' restaurant— someday
After trying operation of a brick-and-mortar restaurant for several months, the Plantes returned to the low overhead of their big, black barbecue trailer.
However, others hope their menus will catch on, and demand will allow them to open a sit-down restaurant.
"The ultimate goal is to open a real restaurant if the Crestview community supports us," Zimmermann said.
Gross said moving out of her tiny trailer, across from a new downtown parking lot, to a permanent home would be nice "one of these days. When we win the Lotto."
Loyal— and new — followers
Each mobile eatery has its loyal fan base, eagerly following daily lunch specials on social media. As most of the owners have minimal advertising budgets, they rely on regulars to spread news of their restaurants via word-of-mouth.
"I've gotten friends to try gyros and now they're like, ‘Yum,’" Gyro Zone regular John Briscoe said. "I'm a big fan. It beats the heck out of fast food."
After Shoubaki handed him a weighty bag with "the usual" — an overstuffed pita gyro sandwich weighing close to a pound — to take back to his nearby office, Briscoe laughed and, indicating the Gouchenouers eating in their SUV, said, "You see the dining area has a great view."
Want to go?
Ready to pick up food to go? Crestview offers a wide variety of mobile eatery cuisine. From north to south:
•Possum Ridge BBQ,barbecue, S.R. 85, two minutes north of Winn-Dixie
•Nellie's Lumpia Hut on Wheels,Filipino, S.R. 85, across from Third Avenue
•Monika's Schnitzel Haus,German, opening soon, S.R. 85 in front of Next Generation hair salon
•Sweet Southern Comfort,Southern home cooking, U.S. Highway 90, across from Waffle House
•Melissa's Sidewalk Café,vegetarian, salads, wraps, Wilson Street, across from Elder Services
•Mr. and Miss Hotdog Cart,Coney Island hotdogs, S.R. 85 in the Waterfront Mission parking lot
•Gyro Zone,Greek, S.R. 85, in the Big Lots shopping center parking lot
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.