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Natick

A festival of meals on wheels

Frank Shear of Benny’s Crepe Cafe will be among the food truck vendors in Natick.

John Swinconeck

Frank Shear of Benny’s Crepe Cafe will be among the food truck vendors in Natick.

Food Truck Festivals of New England will make its first swing through Natick next weekend, bringing vendors of everything from Vietnamese sandwiches and lobster rolls to cupcakes and whoopee pies.

“This is a terrific opportunity to bring thousands of people into Natick Center, and we’re delighted to be there,” said Anne-Marie Aigner, the festival’s executive producer.

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The gathering will take place at the town common, at routes 135 and 27, next Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and is part of a tour that started in June in Cambridge, and will be heading on to festivals in Brighton, Falmouth, and Newport, R.I.

Rebecca Der prepares a salmon crepe inside the Benny's Crepe Cafe food truck

John Swinconeck

Rebecca Der prepares a salmon crepe inside the Benny's Crepe Cafe food truck

This will be the first year the food trucks stop in Natick. The festival was held the last two years at Shoppers World in Framingham, but organizers said they were approached by a Natick selectman last year about holding it in his town.

Some established businesses balked at the idea of the festival, saying they would lose customers during the event.

“Initially, there was a lot of contention, but I believe that the town selectmen felt this was a good economic tool to get people to see Natick Center,” said Arthur Fair, president of Natick Center Associates, a group of businesses and neighbors that promotes the downtown commercial district.

In May, selectmen signed a policy to regulate fees, locations, and permitting for food trucks on a trial basis for this year. It will be reviewed, and perhaps amended or extended next winter.

‘It’s not a day for being on a diet. The food is good — really good. It’s . . . creative, and you don’t need a reservation or need to leave a tip.’

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The new policy was not drafted directly for the festival, Selectman Joshua Ostroff, the board’s vice chairman, said. The policy has a “master agreement provision” for special events, but its primary intent is to govern day-to-day food truck operations, he said.

“The town has not had regulations to limit or govern food trucks other than health inspections and parking/police regulations,” he said. “Food trucks are permitted under state law. The food truck policy provides more guidelines.”

Aigner said next Sunday’s festival in the center of town will attract people who ordinarily do not venture past the Natick Mall on Route 9.

There are some space constraints that the festival did face when it was held in the Shoppers World parking lot. However, Aigner said, there will still be room at the town common for about 20 trucks, which is average for the festival, in addition to space for musicians.

Vendors from throughout New England will serve fare such as gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches, sliders, pizza, and homemade ice cream sandwiches, among other dishes. Aigner said the festival is a chance for area residents to “graze” on a variety of foods without having to venture into Boston.

“It’s not a day for being on a diet,” Aigner said. “The food is good — really good. It’s not the old ‘roach coaches.’ It’s highly regulated. The food is creative, and you don’t need a reservation or need to leave a tip.”

Shortly before noon on a recent Wednesday at Boston’s Liberty Square, customers began arriving at Benny’s Crepe Cafe, a food truck that will be on hand at the Natick festival.

The truck’s owner, Framingham resident Frank Shear, said the business carries the name of his grandfather, Benjamin “Benny” Shear, who was a fruit merchant.

“I named it after him to keep his legacy going,” he said.

Benny’s is a relative newcomer, having opened for business about a year ago. Shear said the crepes are made from a traditional recipe, but the fillings include a chicken curry and smoked salmon.

“I loved crepes anyway,” Shear said. “I thought there could be nothing more relaxing than having a crepe in hand, watching city life go by.”

About 2½ years ago, David Harnik partnered with Naomi Kline to open the Dining Car, a Boston-based food truck offering salads and fare ranging from a honey truffle goat cheese sandwich and Korean pork bulgogi sliders to a home-style meatball sub.

“You have direct access to your customers,” said Harnik, who also plans to be in Natick next weekend. “As owner and chef, I’m there at the window. I know my customers’ names.”

Three years ago, Aigner said, she was debating whether the food truck craze was “a fad or a trend.” Today, Aigner said, she’s confident that the answer is trend, and one that is still growing and will be around for a while.

To succeed outside of urban areas, however, many food trucks need areas of high foot traffic and a clientele with the right palate.

“We started out in a bunch of suburban industrial parks last fall, and we found that it really didn’t work for us,” Shear said. “We needed a little bit more of a cosmopolitan atmosphere with a lot more foot traffic. The industrial parks are good for maybe an hour’s worth of service, and then the spigot shuts off.”

The festivals are about spreading the food truck concept in areas that normally do not see them, Shear said.

A shuttle bus will run between a parking area at Natick High School and the downtown common Sunday. Wristbands that offer a discount on food truck menu items can be purchased in advance online for $7 , or for $10 on the day of the event.

The American Red Cross of Eastern Massachusetts will receive $1 from each wristband purchased next Sunday.

For details, go to www.foodtruckfestivalsofne.com.

John Swinconeck can be reached at johnswinc@ gmail.com.
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