SHERIDAN — Joon Kim moved to Wyoming from South Korea in 1979 with hopes of a better life. He worked as a butcher and at grocery stores in Sheridan for several decades to help send his children to college.
That was until Kim opened the Wicked Smoke food trailer. One of his sons chose the name of the business, which specializes in Korean-style entrées. Kim rents a location on Broadway Street and chose the spot because of the breweries and businesses nearby.
Sheridan has seen an influx of food trucks, trailers and other mobile food businesses in recent years. Wicked Smoke set up shop less than two years ago and was followed shortly by WYO Thai Food and Dozer’s BBQ. Kona Ice, Burger Wagon, Theresa’s Kitchen and Taqueria El Rodeo are similar operations, offering fresh food served to customers waiting outside.
Sheridan is far from the only town to see an increase in mobile vendors. According to IBISWorld, a market research firm, from 2011 to 2016, food truck industry revenue grew by about 8 percent annually, and the number continues to rise. The total market value could reach $1 billion by 2020, according to Statista.
Dozer’s BBQ owner Eddie Dolzadelli is a retired police officer from California. His trailer is usually by Wyoming Downs on Coffeen Avenue during the day and in front of Luminous Brewhouse at night. He opened it because he loves cooking and the costs of a food trailer are low, which is why he thinks more will open in the future.
Costs are relatively low, but food truck operators are also at the mercy of Mother Nature. When the sun shines, customers stop often. When it is cold, snowing or raining, business plummets. Many owners, Dolzadelli included, are open less often in the winter months.
Kim thinks more food trucks will open over time due to the low startup costs and potential to make immediate profit, though he doesn’t have any plans to expand his business. Kim said he just wants to make a decent living and enjoy himself when he isn’t working.
Kim hadn’t worked in food service before but worked with meat and Korean cuisine his entire adult life.
Kim is Wicked Smoke’s sole employee, which means a lot of long days. He starts cooking around 7 a.m. to have everything ready when the trailer opens at 11. He serves people during lunch, closes for a few hours in the afternoon when he usually makes sauces and sides, then reopens for dinner until 7 p.m.
Wicked Smoke is open Monday through Friday year-round and Saturdays for lunch when the weather warms up. Summer is the busiest time of the year and lunch is the busiest time of day, with people from the surrounding businesses stopping by for a fresh bite.
Kim makes it a point to serve everyone, even if they don’t have cash. He learned this attitude from his parents, who always had friends and family stopping by their house because of the welcoming, nourishing environment.
“When I have customers come here or people visit, I won’t let them go hungry,” Kim said. “When you eat, put out another spoon and fork and share your food.”
It appears the local government won’t place many barriers for more mobile food vendors, either. Sheridan community development director Brian Craig said food trucks are an economic positive overall, and he led a work session last week in which he presented tentative mobile food regulations and received input from local food vendors and organizers.
The proposed regulations only apply on public land and include: food trucks can operate from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. but not in public residential areas; food trucks cannot operate within a 200-foot radius of a primary school, unless granted special permission by the school; they also cannot set up shop within a 200-foot radius of a business that sells similar products, i.e. a pizza truck cannot park in front of Powder River Pizza.
Sheridan City Council will hear the proposals on first reading during its April 16 meeting and make a decision May 21 on third reading.
The proposals aren’t expected to drastically alter how food vendors operate in Sheridan, presenting more opportunity for people like Kim and Dolzadelli to try their hand in the growing business.