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The coronavirus pandemic sidelined many Seattle-area food trucks. Here’s how the survivors made it

Lorelei Johnston, manager of the BeanFish food truck, pushes a cart toward the kitchen where she picks up supplies for the day ahead. The food truck stays overnight at Chop Kitchens in White Center, the commissary where food trucks park and where owners and their employees do kitchen prep. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)
Lorelei Johnston, manager of the BeanFish food truck, pushes a cart toward the kitchen where she picks up supplies for the day ahead. The food truck stays overnight at Chop Kitchens in White Center, the commissary where food trucks park and where owners and their employees do kitchen prep. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

If you’ve ever wondered what happens to a food truck in a global pandemic, swing by Chop Kitchens in White Center. 

Before COVID-19, the commercial commissary was a bustling mother ship for nine food trucks. The vendors prepped their meals in the big commercial kitchen, raced out to crowded spots like South Lake Union or a farmers market or a festival and returned a few hours later — often just as others were leaving for evening shifts. “It was just nonstop,” recalls Avery Hardin, who launched his Layers Sandwich Co. truck with his wife Ashley at Chop Kitchens last fall. 

All that changed when COVID-19 came to town this spring. Office parks became ghost towns. Festivals canceled and diners hunkered down at home. The food truck bubble collapsed like a mishandled soufflé. 

Today, just four of Chop Kitchens’ 10 current tenants take their trucks out with any regularity, say owners Vatsana Nouanthongme, 53, and Montanee Suthanasereporn, 44, two former truck vendors who opened the commissary in 2017 in an old Dairy Queen. Most of the rest of the big trucks, each of which can represent investments of $75,000 or more, now sit in the commissary’s big, fenced lot waiting for better times.

Chop Kitchens is probably a microcosm of the larger food truck business.

In King County, the official tally of “health-permitted food trucks,” which includes both trucks and trailers, fell from 460 in January 2020 to 327 as of September, according to the Washington State Food Truck Association. 

It isn’t clear how much of that decline is pandemic-related — but it’s also unclear how many of those 327 are actually operating. Anecdotally, vendors say, many trucks are either temporarily parked or working just a few days a month. 

Read the full story here.

—Paul Roberts

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