Byron and Nikisha Sambat with some of their food. (Madison Mathews/Johnson City Press)
MANCHESTER — The music might have been the main attraction for the 100,000 people who attended this year’s Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, but good food is what kept that many people alive and kicking throughout the four-day event.
And it’s not just your typical festival food, either.
Sure, there’s your funnel cakes, corn dogs, burgers and pizza, but for the last three years the festival has given Bonnaroovians a taste of the gourmet with its Food Truck Oasis.
The Oasis offers ’Rooers a chance to try a variety of specialty foods from around the country while they take a break from waiting to see such varied music acts as Paul McCartney, Jim James, R. Kelly, Macklemore and “Weird Al” Yankovic.
What’s it like to run a food truck when you have tens of thousands of people waiting in line?
“It’s just busy. You just got to crank out the food one after the other for a few hours straight,” said Edwin Wong, owner of the Knoxville-based Petro’s Chili and Chips food truck. “Instead of running for 45 minutes, you’re running for eight hours straight. It’s like an eight-hour lunch rush.”
Originally from Kingsport, Wong and his brother, Henry, have operated the Petro’s truck at Bonnaroo since the inception of the Oasis.
Since that first year, Wong said he and his brother have prepared thousands of chili bowls for the hungry festival-goers, typically serving about 1,000 people a day during the event’s run.
Returning for a second year to the Oasis was another Knoxville-based truck with a local connection.
Kingsport natives Byron and Nikisha Sambat took the Sweet and Savory Truck back to Bonnaroo.
The couple started their specialty taco truck in March of last year before deciding to join the ranks of the other food trucks at the festival.
“It was pretty intense the first time. Learned a lot of things, for sure. It was good, though. That was our first big festival experience, so we got broken in pretty quickly,” Byron said.
After last year’s successful run, the Sambats had a better idea of what to expect for their second round at the festival.
Even with experience under their belt, Byron said working Bonnaroo is unlike any other festival they have been to.
Luckily, the food truck community helps each other out.
“Here, it’s just a totally different ball game. You have do so much planning. We learned a lot last year about how to make it happen, but we had a lot of help from Edwin and Henry Wong. Without their help, it would’ve been probably a whole different game last year,” Byron said.
Joining Petro’s and the Sweet and Savory Truck this year were Eatbox, which just moved from Asheville, N.C., to the Memphis area; Gastropod, a Miami-based truck with specialty sliders and other items; Roti Rolls, a Charleston, S.C.-based wrap truck; the Cracked Truck, a breakfast truck that hails from Urbana, Ill.; and The Big Cheese, an Arlington, Va.-based gourmet grilled cheese truck.
That type of variety is what makes the Food Truck Oasis a special place at Bonnaroo, according to Byron.
“Some food truck operators don’t like other food trucks, but what we’ve experienced, the more you get together, the more people come, so it’s good for everybody,” he said. “It’s a destination. That’s what they’ve done with the Food Truck Oasis. We help each other out, for sure. We want people to have a great experience here at the Oasis.”