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If you serve it, they will come

Good food reliably draws a crowd

Two thousand five hundred guests, 60 fly-in aircraft, and nine food trucks later, the Food Truck Fly-in at California’s San Martin Airport exceeded all of my expectations. But now that the event was in my rearview mirror, it was time to take what I’d learned and apply it to our next event on May 21.

Guests of San Martin Airport's first-ever Food Truck Fly-in start to gather around the event's various food trucks. Photo by Eric Peterson.

I’m extremely passionate about aviation and protecting general aviation airports. If the public feels that our airport is a valuable community resource for safety, family fun, and entertainment, they’re more likely to help protect it. Continuing to put on the best event I can is always a moving target, but I enjoy the challenge.

I first sought to find out exactly what made last year’s event so successful. I went into it in July 2021 thinking that airplanes would be the main draw. I mean, what would be a bigger draw than cool aircraft and aviation camaraderie? But right away the answer became clear: The real draw was the food. The food trucks were everyone’s first stop, and attendees cleaned them out of every last scrap they had. I can still see the staff of Tea Up truck proudly displaying their last bag of ice, nearly empty at the end of the day.

The lines and waits for food were long, the seating was scarce, and the attendees kept coming. The food was the draw, the airplanes were a plus.

Knowing that food was in fact the centerpiece of our event, I decided to build on that. We needed more food trucks, more shade, and more seating.

The nine food trucks from the previous event were eager to participate again, so all I needed to do was find a few more trucks to round us out. After weeks of research, unreturned emails, and multiple phone calls, the event is proud to host 12 diverse food truck options offering Mexican pizza, not-so-basic burgers and fried chicken sandwiches, Korean barbecue, tacos, chicken and waffles, Bao, Filipino fare, snow cones, ice cream, and tea.

While the food side was being ironed out, I also created a list of things that went well, things that needed improvement, and things that needed a major overhaul. I called it “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

Having low expectations for attendance was perhaps my biggest misstep when planning the first event. The idea of needing overflow parking, and multiple aircraft marshallers was a fleeting concern. I was convinced we wouldn’t have more than a few hundred attendees and maybe 10 aircraft at best.

This year we have a new site map with a more organized layout to maximize ramp parking space for airplanes. We also have dedicated overflow parking for cars as well as airplanes. The county is bringing in more support for aircraft  marshalling and the local Rotary Club is providing volunteers to assist with crowd control, setup, and tear-down. The local Boy Scouts are once again going to assist with vehicle parking.

We have 1,200 more square feet than last year of shaded seating for attendees, as well as a separate shaded area for volunteers to rest.

Photo courtesy of Chick N’ Bros.

Finally, no event is complete without a healthy roster of entertainment to enjoy while you eat. In addition to walking the flight line of unique aircraft, this year’s entertainment will once again feature members from our local community. The Civil  Air Patrol is presenting the colors, followed by a local high school student performing the national anthem while our resident skydiving outfit performs a patriotic “stadium-style” skydive. A local band and DJ will provide ambient tunes while attendees visit with the military vehicle display and listen to stories from the World War II Mexican pilots group. Local flight schools will be displaying alongside first responders from our Sheriff's department and the Calstar air medical helicopter. Attendees will also have the opportunity to enter raffles for discovery flights and San Francisco Bay tours with local pilots. All proceeds will go to our pilot association scholarship fund. The winners of this year’s scholarship will be receiving their prizes at the event as well.

Guests of San Martin Airport's first-ever Food Truck Fly-in await their food from the Chick N’ Bros food truck. Photo by Eric Peterson.

Putting on an event like this is a lot of work and can’t be done alone. I’m constantly taken aback by the generosity of those in my aviation circle and in my greater community. The event wouldn’t be where it is without the help of my co-host Dr. Joe McMurray and the support of Eric Peterson, Femi Odunbaku and the rest of our County Airports Division.

Although the event can’t get much bigger than it is now, my hope is that it can keep evolving and keep getting better as the years go on. The one thing that I hope won’t ever change is the fact that people will always follow their stomachs.

Learn more about the Food Truck Fly-In on Facebook.

A crowded, unorganized aircraft parking ramp. Photo by Eric Peterson.

Niki Britton

eMedia Content Producer
eMedia Content Producer Niki Britton joined AOPA in 2021. She is a private pilot who enjoys flying her 1969 Cessna 182 and taking aerial photographs.

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