Food trucks serve at Tampa General Hospital during cafeteria rehab
TAMPA - Ev Barnes coordinates a fleet of special trucks and vans, 28 and growing, that cycles into the parking lot each night near the former emergency room entrance at Tampa General Hospital. They're not ambulances. "Truck Daddy" Barnes, as he's come to be known, is bringing much of Tampa's growing collection of eclectic private food trucks to TGH to satisfy the late-night hunger of people visiting and working there while renovations are under way at the cafeteria kitchen. "For some people, this is their main meal," said Barnes, TGH retail operations manager.It was meant as a temporary fix, something more satisfying than the additional vending machines the hospital brought in during renovations. But the trucks have proved so popular they'll be serving breakfast and lunch, too, once the renovation expands, and they may end up as a permanent fixture at night. In early August, the hospital started to close its cafeteria for renovations at 8 p.m. every day. Knowing this, Barnes had spent months researching, taste-testing and recruiting the trendy food trucks, and they started serving at TGH Aug. 20. From 7 p.m. to midnight, two trucks serve food, and on occasion, a third truck sells dessert. One recent evening, Lina Elize, a social worker at Tampa General, ordered a grilled chicken pita from Maggie on the Move food truck. Halfway through eating the "Mediterranean fusion" pita, she ordered a second. When working late, Elize makes it a point to grab dinner from a food truck. "I like that it's fresh food," she said. "It doesn't taste generic or bland." A steady stream of doctors, nurses, staff and hospital guests approached the trucks during the night. Erick Cortes was with his family at Tampa General visiting his stepfather, a patient. When it came time to eat, they didn't want to leave the hospital but didn't want to eat at the McDonald's at the hospital. A nurse overheard them and suggested the food trucks. "It's a really smart idea," Cortes said, "thinking out of the box." His wife, April. agreed. "I like that they are rotating the trucks. You get the variety brought to you. That's smart." To keep the nightly rotation straight, Barnes has a desk drawer with 8 inches of file folders stuffed with information about food trucks and a monthly schedule mounted on the wall. It's all available on a hospital website. "No one said, 'Hey, Ev, here's the manual on food truck,' " said Barnes, who is now developing a food truck manual for the hospital. "It's absolutely crazy. It's a whole new world." And it's getting bigger. Early next month, renovations at the cafeteria kitchen will expand, cutting the food output in half. To satisfy the estimated 4,200 daily cafeteria customers, the hospital will bring in more food trucks, creating a virtual food truck rally every day — one to two trucks for breakfast and four to six trucks for lunch. The work is expected to last six months to a year. The rally ends when the renovation is complete, but the evening food trucks will continue because the cafeteria will still close at 8 p.m., Barnes said. Maggie Loflin, owner of Maggie on the Move, said she took the gig because it offers a steady customer stream, many looking for a good, quick meal without leaving the property. Her customer base has grown, she said. "I never dreamed I would be doing something like this when I put the truck on the road," she said. "I felt it was going to be a great opportunity. You have people that are there. You're not going to a rally. You're not going to an event waiting for people to come to you." For Bryan Goodell, manager of the Wicked 'Wiches food truck, the TGH opportunity helps him fulfill a larger purpose — serving doctors, surgeons, nurses and hospital staff who are trying to save lives. "They need a good substantial meal to get them through their shift," Goodell said. A helicopter crew transporting patients came by the truck recently between flights, he said. "We feel we're a part of the big picture. We feel we're a tiny part that allows them to complete their job."
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