WATCH: Trailer food booms in Austin

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by By AMY JOHNSTON / KVUE News

kvue.com

Posted on August 15, 2009 at 4:37 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 20 at 2:43 PM

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KVUE's Amy Johnston reports

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Taco trucks are common in just about any city. And shaved ice is always popular in Austin during the hot summer months. But trailer food in Austin is moving to a whole new level.

"I got the snow cap... (Reporter: How was it?) It was really good," said one customer.

A snowcap is a fancy cupcake, and this gourmet trailer has plenty of company.

"When we first started coming here, Hey Cupcake was the only one on the little parking lot thing, and now they're so many more," said Taylor Graham.

The Austin/Travis County health department inspects and permits all the food trailers -- just like restaurants.

"The trailers that have unpackaged food do have to have sinks, hand washing set ups. The hot and cold water, the hand sink, just like you would in a restaurant," said Mark Parsons, of the Austin/Travis County Health and Human Services Department.

Parsons also says business is booming. About 1,000 permits have been issued in the county -- a number that has been steadily increasing by about 100 each year for the last several years.

Right now, the number of Austin permits is more than San Antonio, even more than Houston.

"Austin's a cool community because it's one of the few places where a cart, a trailer or an Airstream is actually a viable business model," said Jacob Boone of Mambo Berry.

And that business model expands to just about all kinds foods.

"Oh I got brisket tacos," said one Austinite.

"They're a little hot. Would you like one? They're really hot actually," said Maria Meinert about her sweet potato fries.

Food ranges from frozen drinks, to pizza, to those incredibly popular hot and crunchy cones from Hudsons on the Bend.

Owners of the South Austin Trailer Park and Eatery say they get about three or four people a day wanting to know about leasing space, but it's full. So some vendors -- like Lucky J's Fried Chicken and Waffles -- go it alone.

"On an average day -- a good 50 regular lunchtime business," said Jason Umlas, owner.

That's enough business that he now has plans to expand into a building next door.

Not all the businesses say they want to expand into a traditional restaurant model. There are a number of reasons, but a big part is cost. For these types of trailers start up costs range between $5,000 and $10,000. Traditional restaurants can cost 10 times that much.

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