The food truck program at the University of Houston was only supposed to be temporary, helping to bridge a food service gap while the Student Center – including its busy food court – was closed for renovations.
That was in the summer of 2012. Now, more than four years later, the program is here to stay, having experienced tremendous changes, growing by leaps and bounds and becoming a go-to favorite among students, faculty and staff. The growth is not expected to slow down anytime soon, as new trucks, locations and times are being added constantly.
“The sky appears to be the limit with the food trucks,” said Emily Fahner, marketing manager for UH Dining. “They are able to fill a certain niche on campus that traditional brick-and-mortar outlets simply cannot.”
The food truck program launched as the Student Center – which at that time was known as the University Center – was closing for renovations. The building’s various retail outlets that fed the campus community would be closing as a result, so ideas were tossed around regarding what to do to replace them in the interim.
The concept of opening a food truck pad outside of the building seemed logical. After a bit of research, study and planning, it became a reality, with three food trucks serving hungry customers while construction workers hammered away nearby. The swarms of customers that flocked to the location that summer was a pleasant surprise, and one that got UH Dining Services thinking:
Could the temporary program become a permanent one?
By the start of the fall 2012 semester, another pad had opened near Cemo Hall, with enough room to house two trucks at a time. More trucks were added to the program, and the Cemo Hall location was the first to utilize a rotation system, with different food trucks operating there each week.
The Cemo Hall location continues to operate, although its location was moved slightly to the south in 2014 as construction work began on the nearby Multidisciplinary Research and Engineering Building.
When the Student Center renovations were completed, that first food truck pad adjacent to the building was closed permanently. Its absence was not felt for long, however. In the spring of 2014, another pad opened along Entrance 14 behind the Science Building. That site can house three trucks at any given time and – because of its size and location – has become the cornerstone of the program, drawing long lines of students in search of a quick and tasty lunch.
Since then, two smaller pad locations were added to serve students who live on campus who are up late at night studying. The first to open is located near Cougar Village II, behind the Student Services Center Building. The other is across from Cougar Place. Both are open Monday through Thursday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Both have been a tremendous success, as students devotedly flock to them to satisfy their late-night hunger pangs.
In addition, a food truck services the Energy Research Park every Wednesday during lunch. The Law Center also has a pad that accommodates one truck five days a week. And the latest addition to the program occurred this fall, as food trucks started serving the UH community twice a week outside of the Valenti School of Communications through a pilot program to test how popular it would be. That pad has been such a success that it will continue permanently.
UH Dining is constantly looking at ways to improve and grow the program, and there has been no shortage of ideas and suggestions being generated by students, who serve as the foundation of the program’s success.
The Food Service Advisory Committee – a group comprising faculty, staff and student representatives – serves in an advisory capacity regarding the University’s retail and residential food/beverage and vending programs. One of the roles of committee members is to serve as a conduit for the exchange of information and ideas between the UH community and the food service program and management. This past semester, committee members have brought to the table numerous ideas from students on how to expand and improve the food truck program.
Currently, UH Dining is looking at the feasibility of two of those ideas. One includes adding food trucks to serve campus on the weekends, and the other is adding a late-night location to serve the Bayou Oaks on-campus apartment community.
When and if those ideas pan out is still being examined, but one thing is certain:
Students love the program, want it to stay and are a constant source of inspiration for how to improve and grow it.