By KEITH ERICKSON
Coeur Voice Writer
Starting from scratch, Jeremy Shawver rolled up his sleeves nearly three years ago and spent 3,000 hours converting a beat-up panel truck into a top-notch restaurant on wheels.
The fruits of his labor were recently revealed with the opening of Zia LLC, a New Mexico-themed food truck eatery off Ramsey Road just north of Appleway near the Kroc center.
Entertaining their entrepreneurial spirit, Shawver and his wife, Margaret, brought their New Mexico roots and passion for its homegrown food to North Idaho. The couple relocated to the area five years ago.
With the opening of Zia, the Lake City now has more than three dozen food trucks, located throughout the city and serving up a wide variety of tasty cuisine—from Mexican food to barbecue, grilled cheese and bratwurst.
The food truck business is not new to Coeur d’Alene. It’s been around for years. But the number of business owners serving meals on wheels is growing. Twenty years ago, the term food trucks was met with quizzical glances. Today, people are lining up at the food stands at an increasing rate.
Despite reservations from some regarding the cleanliness and quality of food, food trucks dish out quality food that is regulated closely under city ordinances.
A UNIQUE TRADITION
Margaret Shawver says Zia offers authentic New Mexican food with recipes that offer a strong emphasis on chile—passed down through generations. New Mexico is the only state, she says, with an official question—”red or green?”—referring to the choice of red or green chile.
A former data analysis professional, Margaret decided it was time to put the numbers crunching aside and focus on her passion: Food.
“I wanted to combine my love for cooking New Mexican food and doing something entrepreneurial,” she says.
Part of the broader Southwestern cuisine, New Mexico’s food culture is a fusion of Spanish and Mediterranean, Mexican, Pueblo Native American, and cowboy chuckwagon influences.
Though excited with her new business, Shawver says it’s new territory and a little daunting.
“It’s not my personality to make changes, but I felt this was something I really needed to do,” she says.
OVER AT THE CORRAL
While the Shawvers will serve their customers on Ramsey Road, a dozen or so food truck businesses offer their meals off Best Avenue, Coeur d’Alene’s hot spot for food trucks.
Zachary Mehaffey, co-owner of Triple B Barbecue on Best, says business is good and despite the winter months ahead, he plans to stay open.
“I’m still excited to be as busy as we’ve been—and it’s getting better,” he says.
Serving up everything from pulled pork to baked potatoes, homemade macaroni and cheese to baked beans, Mehaffey says he expects steady sales over the winter.
“It seems like last year we were trying to stay afloat. This year, we’re just trying to keep up with the business,” he says.
With business steady and even increasing, Mehaffey says there is a primary demographic that chooses to dine from food trucks: They tend to be middle-aged working-class men who don’t have time (or prefer not) to pack their own lunches.
“We get a lot of hard-working guys just looking for a good, convenient meal,” he says.
A SAMPLING OF Cd’A’s FOOD TRUCKS
Left Coast Fusion, serving the Coeur d’Alene area at Best Avenue. A fusion of flavors and cultures with a menu that includes tacos, fish, chicken, salads and a lamb burger, freshly cooked.
Triple B Backhills BBQ, Best Avenue. Wide variety of eats, praised for their Reuben sandwiches.
JJ’s Roadside Grill, Best Avenue. Tasty tacos, big burgers, affordable prices.
Pub Grill. North Fourth Street at Aly Avenue. Amazing huge pork burritos at competitive prices.
Rawdeadfish, Best Avenue. Sushi, fresh rolls and more.
Street Treat, Best Avenue. Ice cream and soups made from scratch.
Best Sandwich Shack, Best Avenue. Cheesesteak sandwiches and more.
Taco Works, Best Avenue. Authentic Mexican.
FEAR NOT, LEARY EATERS
Despite some reservations about food trucks, these mobile eateries are closely regulated and their operators are devoted to serving up the best grub to satisfy hungry customers at an affordable price.
“A lot of people are skeptical about food trucks,” says Mehaffey, of Triple B Barbecue. “My response would be, ‘Hey, come and check out us.’ Once people get down here, they see that’s it’s quality food.”