The numbers were staggering. Even to Jeremy Gomez.
After organizing what he billed as the World's Largest Food Truck Rally at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa in August, Gomez said he had no idea how many people would show up for the day-long festival.
He hoped for at least 8,000 customers.
Close to 30,000 showed up instead, including 8,000 in the first hour. They clogged nearby highways and overwhelmed the event. Food truck operators, who had no idea how much food to buy, ran to the store to re-stock their refrigerators as many as three times to keep up with the demand. Fairground vendors almost ran out of beer. Almost.
Even Gomez ran out of his most popular item — kangaroo on a stick — on his own Not Your Ordinary Food Truck.
Even worse, fans ran out of shade quickly as temperatures soared into the high 90s. Some who brought umbrellas had at least some relief. Others huddled beneath the giant toboggan slide at the fairgrounds.
“I started thinking about doing another one of these within the first hour of the last one,” Gomez said recently. “And I wanted it to not be in August.”
Hence this weekend's World's Largest Food Truck Rally II. In March.
This time, Gomez and fairgrounds organizers are anticipating the human tsunami.
The event will extend to two days. There will be double the number of gates open for motorists to enter the fairgrounds and triple the amount of parking. There will be 50 percent more trucks, more food and, yes, a lot more beer available. For the more refined palates, there will be wine and rum tastings.
Keep an eye out for King's Bistro, a Tampa-based truck serving Latin food. Two years ago, the owners' home burned to the ground.
“The only thing they had left was their truck,” Gomez said.
This weekend, the Velocity cable TV channel will unveil a new truck for them to use during the rally. The reveal will be taped for broadcast at a later date.
Another favorite story of Gomez is the one from Mayan Grill, a truck from Orlando that broke down on Interstate 4 on the way to August's rally. The truck had to be towed to the event. Mayan Grill served so many customers, the owners were able to afford to be towed back to Orlando for repairs.
This year will see trucks from as far as Philadelphia. The Macarollin' gourmet macaroni and cheese food truck is bringing two vehicles. Wine Not, which serves ice cream and slushies made for adults, is driving from Buffalo. Rubio's Baha Grill from Orlando plans to serve grouper ceviche. London Fish N Chippy is coming from the tiny central Florida town of Eustis to sell British-style fish and chips.
If all goes well, at parade of trucks at 8 a.m. Saturday around the fairgrounds racing course will set a Guinness World Record for largest food truck parade. Last year, Gomez set a record but couldn't afford to bring anyone from the record keeping organization to Tampa. This year, an official will be on-site to verify and certify. Prestige Food Trucks of Orlando is footing the bill.
“The trucks understand there will be a lot more than 8,000 people showing up this time,” Gomez said. “Everyone is bringing a lot more food. I told them that they have to chef-up a little bit to make it through two days.”