TILTON — The Lakes Region became part of the country’s latest gastronomic phenomenon on Saturday, as thousands flocked to the Exit 20 Food Truck Festival in Tilton.
And while people might have had differences of opinion about which food choices they preferred, organizers and participants agreed that the festival far exceeded their expectations.
With an hour and a half to go in the event and people still arriving – adding to the estimated 2,000 in attendance – Tanger Outlets general manager Eric Proulx said, “This what it’s all about.”
Karmen Gifford, president of the Greater Lakes Region Chamber, echoed Proulx’s sentiments. “This is even bigger than we expected.”
Traffic on Route 3 was bumper-to-bumper and the Tanger Outlets’ parking lot was filled with people waiting in line for a bite to eat.
From noon to 5 p.m., a dozen trucks offered items ranging from creole food from New Orleans to tacos and ice cream. Most of the rolling restaurants had long lines of customers – some queues 40 to 50 deep – waiting patiently for their chance to place an order.
Chef Chris Kozlowski is the owner operator of Chef Koz’s Crescent City Kitchen and a longtime chef who segued from bricks-and-mortar to a large vehicle several years ago. He has seen his share of food-truck gatherings.
“This a good festival,” he said as he handed out yet another chicken jambalaya, this one to Bruce Jackson of Gilford. Looking over the crowd and smiling, Kozlowski said, “This is more people than I expected.”
Kianna Letendre of Allenstown said she was enjoying all aspects of the day while in the Crescent City line. Dedicated to sampling many of the event’s offerings, she gazed at the clear blue sky and said “What’s not to like? We’re outside with the sun bearing down.”
Christy Paquet of Laconia was enjoying her mac and cheese buffalo chicken slider and insinuating herself into the crowd. “This is a lot of people,” she said as she looked out at the gathering. “More than I thought would be here.”
Pat Edsall of Bedford and the Lakes Region Art Gallery lunched on a cuban pulled pork sandwich and observed the crowd of adults and children. “This is a whole bunch of people having fun.”
Although food was the main focus, the day had a carnival-like atmosphere to it. Children walked around with balloons and strolling through the packed crowd were stilt walkers and jugglers, and representatives of organizations like the Winnipesaukee Players.
In grassy spaces the mall had supplied children’s games, including cornhole. In other places, people pulled up a piece of lawn to enjoy their food.
The day also provided other opportunities for diners. A couple named Debbie and Richard drove over from Hanover and, while sampling the food, also checked out some antique automobiles, including fully restored Chevrolet Corvettes. “This is a bonus for us,” said Debbie, who described themselves as classic car fans.
The 405 Pub and Grill sold sausages, hot dogs and burgers, and not far away people sat at sun-splashed tables and listened to a band play under a small tent.
Gilford’s Sean Desautelle and Alliyah Oswald were joined by Shveon Willams of Concord – three 20-somethings enjoying Dole Whips and music. “A good variety of food and music,” Desautelle said. “This is great.”
So great, in fact, that Proulx and Gifford said they hope the festival will become an annual event.
As for its impact on business, Chelsea Clark, an Old Navy store manager, said she was impressed with the event. “This is bigger than we expected,” she said. “We’ve had a lot more traffic in the store.”