Jordan Rubin, owner of Mr. Tuna, inside one of the businesses’ food trucks. Mr. Tuna plans to join the food truck scene along the mall in downtown Brunswick. (Photo courtesy of Jordan Rubin) 

BRUNSWICK — When Tai Choo had to close his downtown food truck, Taco the Town, earlier this spring due to the coronavirus pandemic, he, like most small business owners, was worried about what the future would hold. 

Just a few months later, business is booming and Choo is back and said numbers are up nearly 15% from this time last year. 

“I’m shocked,” he said. “It’s incredible. It’s tough with the restrictions, wearing masks and doing all of that, that’s been challenging, but as far as business numbers, it’s increased since this time last year.” 

During the two-month closure, Choo started making burritos at home three days per week, taking orders the day before, making them cold with attached reheating instructions and putting them out for contactless pickup. He made over 100 burritos each time and always sold out. 

Now, back in his spot on the mall, Choo is back to making his usual fare, but plans to bring the burritos back in the winter once the food truck closes. 

“If none of this would have happened, I never would have thought about doing something like that,” he said. “It forced me to get creative.” 

Choo attributes the bump in part to the very nature of food trucks— they specialize in fast, low cost take-out style food, something more diners are looking for as the coronavirus continues to carry both health risks and financial concerns that leave some families to pass on dining out. 

“People feel safe being outside and standing in line,” he said. “A lot of restaurants are still shut down and people don’t want to make a reservation to sit on a patio, and it’s pretty hot right now. Food trucks are booming.” 

Food trucks exploded onto the dining scene shortly after the 2008 economic downturn, finding popularity because of their low overhead costs compared to full-scale restaurants and, consequently, their lower prices 

According to The New York Times, by 2017, revenue from food carts and trucks reached $2.7 billion. 

Brunswick’s downtown food truck scene has remained steady, if small, over the years, with Taco the Town, Danny’s Dogs and Wrappers, the latter of which, according to the Brunswick Town Clerk, is still licensed but is not operating this season. 

Mr. Tuna, a Portland-based sushi food truck is hoping to join the ranks. 

The business is expecting town council approval Monday night and will set up shop by Tuesday morning. 

“I always liked Brunswick,” owner Jordan Rubin said. “I haven’t spent a ton of time there but I really kind of fell in love with the town. I like where they put the food trucks, on the mall, it seems like a great place to have (them).”

Like many others, Mr. Tuna has adapted during the pandemic and is operating with a limited menu for hand-rolls only, with specials including fresh mackerel and local tuna. 

“We have tons of pride in our food and in sourcing the highest quality ingredient,” Rubin said. “We try to offer the same quality that any of the high-end sushi bars offer but in a much more casual setting without any of the pretension.” 

The Brunswick truck will be the businesses’ second— formerly parked in Scarborough— with the flagship truck in Portland’s Eastern Promenade. The 16-seat spot in the Portland Public Market is currently closed. 

Despite this planned expansion out of Portland, Rubin said that as a whole, business is down. 

Normally, the summer months are spent parked at Thompson’s Point for concerts or going to breweries and other events, but all of those have been canceled because of coronavirus, bringing sales down. 

This being said, the truck at the Eastern Promenade is constantly busy “because it’s the only place you can get our food” right now, he said, adding that they have instituted multiple safety protocols. 

The ordering and pickup system is completely contactless, and they require masks and provide hand sanitizer.

Sally Costello, director of economic and community development, said the addition of Mr. Tuna will create a “nice scope” of options for food trucks downtown. 

There have been long lines out there this summer and the businesses seem to be holding steady, she said, adding there “certainly is a market for the outdoor eating and seating” right now. 

She and other town officials are concerned about what will happen for the food trucks and local restaurants once the weather cools down again, but for now they’re enjoying a much needed increase in traffic downtown.

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