During the first and last two months of the school year, students, faculty and staff have the opportunity to try out a variety of new and interesting food through the food trucks that grace campus every Wednesday.
The food served ranges from classic burgers to crepes to island food and everything in between.
This partnership between Gonzaga and the Greater Spokane Food Truck Association (GSFTA) began when Tony Epefanio, president of GSFTA and owner of the food truck Mixed Plate, reached out to the university a few years ago.
"Gonzaga wanted to have checks and balances with us so I worked with them and our food truck association and everybody who’s on our website is vetted so they can feel confident that they are insured and have proper mobile food permits," Epefanio said. "I was working on that for a long time from pulling the permits to now."
Since 2018 trucks have been taking turns outside College Hall on a rotating schedule that Epefanio makes. While not all food trucks within GSFTA come to campus, the variety grows every semester.
In the upcoming semester there will be a few new trucks on campus such as The Farmer’s Daughter as well as the old favorites like Mixed Plate, Skewers and CRATE.
Epefanio said the food trucks love coming to campus — it offers them the opportunity to serve a community that might not be able to follow them otherwise.
"[We love] the energy," said Eric Johnsen, owner and chef of CRATE, in an email. "The students and staff bring an energy you just don’t have at the other venues, especially for a lunch service."
Epefanio said that these trucks give students the opportunity to try food they might not be able to access easily in Spokane.
"A lot of students who come to Gonzaga are from Seattle and California and they’re used to having different kinds of food and food trucks," Epefanio said. "We thank Gonzaga for working with us and allowing our association to come on to campus so we can bring this to the students."
Between Mixed Plate’s island and Asian food, CRATE’s globally inspired menu (which includes Thai, Cuban, Italian and Tex-Mex) as well as authentic Mediterranean food from Skewers, students can get food inspired by the world and break out of the Spokane food bubble.
All the food trucks that come on to campus accept Bulldog Bucks. It acts as the main point of sale for the trucks, specifically when they go on to a campus.
"For our lunches we do accept Bulldog Bucks," Epefanio said. "Those are the majority of our sales, like 70% of our sales are through Bulldog Bucks."
The trucks are eager to get back on campus and feed students again. Johnsen said he wishes they could be scheduled more frequently on campus because they love serving students so much.
What some may not realize about these trucks is how much work they do for the community.
This summer Epefanio started a pilot program to feed homeless students. This began after Epefanio attended a roundtable event where he discovered that there are 800 homeless students in Spokane Valley alone. Immediately after hearing this, he knew he wanted to do something to help these kids.
"What we did was start a little pilot program," Epefanio said. "There are 59 students from the Valley in middle and high school who are homeless. I called Spokane Valley Partners because they have a program called Food for Thought and during the school year they send food home with the kids. But, there’s nothing during the summer."
"We put signs in our trucks that say ‘Buy a meal, feed our youth’ to show we’re participating in this," Epefanio said. "We gave all these kids punch cards with 55 punches on them so that’s five meals a week for the 11 weeks of summer."
Through this program kids can get meals for one punch at any of the GSFTA food trucks and free desserts. However, one problem they had was getting the kids to the food trucks.
This is where recent GU graduate Rick Clark comes in. Epefanio partnered with Clark’s organization Giving Backpacks to get bus passes for the students so they could get to the food.
"I was a starving student in high school. I remember being so hungry in school and I ended up dropping out," Clark said. "That food element is huge."
This program was implemented over the summer and Epifanio along with the GSFTA hopes it will grow in the coming years.
"I can’t even imagine how hard it must be to have to deal with homelessness, school and not knowing where your next meal will come from," Johnsen said. "We’re just a small part of a lot of good people coming together to try and make a difference."
The owners of these food trucks love their work and their community and ultimately just want to make Spokane an even better place to live.
"Bottom line is that this is how we make our living and we’re just trying to make a great life and serve great food," Epefanio said. "One of the greatest things is when people come back and they’re just so happy. It’s so rewarding."