From food trucks to restaurants - KCTV5

From food trucks to restaurants

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

If you are looking for proof that an airstream trailer can lead to much more than camping trips, look no further than Port Fonda.

The chef and owner of the buzzed-about Westport restaurant, which had humble beginnings as a speciality food cart, will be opening a second brick and mortar restaurant next spring.

"He attracted a lot of attention right out of the gate because his food is so good," said Jill Silva, food editor and lead food critic for the Kansas City Star. "Those sauces with his Mexican fare were just very true and elegant and you knew, wow, this would play in any restaurant anywhere."

Silva says the days of the "roach coach" have been eclipsed by a new breed.

"We're not just seeing tacos and burritos and pizza for the late night crowd," said Silva. "It's really refined food."

Consider the Pork Belly Beignet served up by Wilma's Really Good Food. And the bruschetta from El Tenedor.

"It's Spanish Tapas by a chef named Carmen Cabia," Silva said. "She used to be at Lill's at 17th and Summit Street. She did an almond soup with grapes at the bottom of it. People were going, 'Wow, this is like a white gazpacho.' It was really innovative."

The buzz is big enough that it spawned a food truck festival.

"They all kind of started out the gate right about May three years ago," Silva said. "And it's been growing ever since."

Port Fonda's growth is exceptional.

Chef and co-owner Patrick Ryan chuckles when he explains the motivation behind his Kansas City creation.

"I just wanted to cook for myself to be honest," Ryan said.

Ryan graduated from Shawnee Mission South then spent time in Chicago, upstate New York and Portland before returning to his own turf. An airstream trailer isn't what he originally had in mind.

"I came back to Kansas City to open up a restaurant and went through a series of frustrations location wise and financially that we did that because it was kind of our last resort," he explained.

He placed an elegant dining table in the trailer to supplement the walk-up service with a chic coursed meals for a single seating of six. He set up shop next to upscale restaurant The Rieger Hotel in the trendy Crossroads district. Neither chef-owner considered the other competition.

"It was a symbiotic relationship to be there and have shared customers," Ryan said. "We talked about it and nobody was going to go to the Rieger and expect a four course meal with wines and instead come to a taco truck. We all had our niche and it worked really really well."

It worked out so well that Ryan made a name for himself on a small budget. The owner of the Westport condos below which Port Fonda now sits approached him. He checked with his partners and a new hot spot was born.

"It's a way for people who don't have access to a lot of funding," Ryan said of the evolution he never intended. "The licensing and rules to get [a food truck] open are not very difficult. So it's almost like a fast track into the food and restaurant world."

Silva said that was the plan for the former owner of another foodie's food truck, not to start her own brick-and-mortar spot, but to make her way into fine dining.

"Kelly Daniels is a good example," Silva explained. "She was with The Good You. She was using it as a springboard, and now she's the executive chef at the Elms."

Lindsay Laricks made the move from tin box to storefront on a smaller scale. She opened Little Freshie, a soda shop, at 17th and Summit. The sodas feature the signature syrups that flavored the sno-cones that earned her a devout following in the park across the street.

And seeing that the cart crowd is like a family, Little Freshie's signature syrups may soon make their way to Port Fonda's bar as seasonal margaritas.

Ryan's new spot will have a different name and concept. The Town Company will be in the new development by the Woodside Tennis Club in Westwood and is scheduled to open next spring.

In case it looks like we missed a spot, Taco Republic stands in a different category. The restaurant opened this week, after several months' success as a cart. The restaurant group's spokeswoman said the plan was to open the cart a month ahead of the restaurant and run them as complements to each other, but the positive publicity about the mobile fare certainly played a role in the restaurant's opening going gangbusters.

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