Cedar Rapids food trucks booming after weather resistance pandemic


Nicholas Fitzgerald hands her hands to Jessica Sullivan on May 21 as she orders food from the Smiley food truck in the parking lot at Lindale Mall in Cedar Rapids. The business is a family business with father Colin Fitzgerald and sons Nicholas and Liam working together. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS – Rain or shine, in the event of a pandemic or a derecho, the food trucks in Cedar Rapids have had a tough year to see another summer.

With a few newbies on the streets, the trend that has accelerated in recent years is stronger than ever, with even more variety for hungry customers.

New trucks on the block

Some, like Smiley Soups & Sandwiches, are just getting started. The new food truck, which started serving Cubanos, cheesesteak sandwiches and Kentucky Hot Browns this month, features recipes Nicholas Fitzgerald and his family have been making at home for years.

Colin Fitzgerald sauces a beef steak on a flat top on May 21 at the Smiley Soups & Sandwiches food truck in the Lindale Mall parking lot in Cedar Rapids. The business is a family business with Father Colin and sons Nicholas and Liam. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Her dream – to be able to work and spend more time with her family – came after an unfortunate incentive.

“When my friend Dustin passed away, I wanted to do something in his honor, to start a new chapter in my life, to find a new career,” he said. “Dustin had a great relationship with his father. I wanted to spend more time working with my dad.

Bearing Dustin’s last name, Smiley’s signature Kentucky Hot Brown serves turkey cut into an open-ended sandwich topped with cheese sauce, chopped tomatoes and bacon.

A Kentucky Hot Brown is ready to pack at Smiley’s Food Truck, which debuted this year. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Former Verizon director Fitzgerald, 29, is able to run the business with the help of his father, wife and brother.

While the initial investment is less than the price of a traditional restaurant, things are not straightforward in the food truck business.

After getting a good deal on the truck and bringing it back from Texas, they realized it wasn’t weatherproof for the Iowa conditions, Fitzgerald said. They had to replace the water systems, pumps and other equipment before it was ready to operate.

“It’s not very difficult, but it’s a bit of work to do,” he said.

With her first month in business, Smiley has learned one of the greatest rules of success through trial and error.

“Business starts with location, location, location,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s always a learning experience all the time, learning where you’ll get traffic and where customers are going to be hungry.”

So far, the new truck has found community events, workplace events, and religious events to be the most successful. With the success Smiley has enjoyed so far, Fitzgerald said the business has the potential to become a brick and mortar restaurant.

The Cubano at Smiley’s food truck. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

“It’s a trial run to see if our menu and concept are successful,” he said.

Tried and true

Other food trucks, like Caribbean Kitchen, are among the few Cedar Rapids originals still in operation today.

“There were maybe four of us at the start,” said owner Patrick Rashed, also known as the “Jamaican Pat”. “(I am) one of the few to have existed.”

A favorite among food truck diners, Caribbean Kitchen is known for its authentic and quality Jamaican dishes. He’s been distributing jerk chicken, coconut curry goat, and rice and beans since 2012, when he started as a business at NewBo City Market.

“Food is not typical for a food truck,” Rashed said. “It’s a restaurant on wheels. You can get quality food in my truck. “

Rashed said the biggest plus and minus of his food truck is its portability, which prompts constant questions about where it’s parked.

“I have to tell them to go to Facebook and see,” he laughs. “I like to travel, meet different people, attend events – it’s a lot of fun.”

And in the pandemic, when traditional restaurants were closed or limited to sale, his model flourished, bringing about 20% more business than usual – a lifeline when he wasn’t eligible for loans. of the Paycheque Protection Program.

As many festivals and summer activities were canceled last year, it lost one of its most important sources of sales revenue.

But with the generosity Rashed has sown in the community, loyal customers have made sure he stays in business at arm’s length. When the derecho hit, he gave 3,000 to 4,000 meals – something he had been doing quietly for years in smaller amounts.

“I never told anyone about it. If anyone is brave enough to come and ask for food, they must need it. I’m not going to say no, ”he said. “It’s not something I decided to do because of the derecho, it’s something I’ve been doing for a long time.”

If a customer misses a bit, they just say “It’s already paid.” Over the past year, loyal customers have donated to create a fund to ensure he is able to donate meals whenever someone needs them.


The City of Cedar Rapids licensed four new mobile food vendors last year: Americana Concessions, The Coffee Pusher, I’m Soul Hungry, and Smiley’s Soups & Sandwiches. Two licensed suppliers, Caribbean Kitchen and Keepin ‘Up With the Jones’s, have added a second licensed unit.

Cedar Rapids Food Trucks

Left to right: Colin Fitzgerald and his sons, Liam and Nicholas, at their Smiley Soups & Sandwiches food truck on May 21 in the Lindale Mall parking lot. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Nicholas Fitzgerald hands a customer a food order on May 21 from the Smiley Soups & Sandwiches Food Truck. The new food truck opened a month ago by Nicholas with his father, Colin Fitzgerald, and his brother Liam. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Smiley’s food truck menu board. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

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