Gourmet Food Truck Competition celebrates 8th year in Springfield

 Come for the food. Stay for the entertainment.And maybe also some more food. 

The Springfield Rotary's Gourmet Food Truck Competition is celebrating its 8th year at Veteran's Park in Springfield, and has become an annual staple of the summer months. 

"The first year, we had a concept, but we were overwhelmed by how many people showed up ... and we have really learned from it over the years," says Eddie Bell, one of the event organizers, who focuses on marketing the competition. "Each year, really, it's changed a bit, but the general concept has stayed the same and grown, because people really seem to love it and come out for it. Who doesn't love an event in the middle of the summer with music and entertainment and food?"

This year's event will run from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 20. Aside from whatever food and drinks attendees choose to purchase, the event - including entertainment - is free to the public. 

This year, 27 trucks will be competing to win the $5,000 grand prize. The runner-up will win $2,500, and third place will win $1,500.

Winners are chosen by a panel of five judges, including four local favorites:This year's fifth judge is celebrity guest judge Erica Blaire Roby, champion of the Food Network'ss BBQ Brawl.

Attendees are also encouraged to download the Springfield Food Truck app, in which you can vote for your favorite food truck to receive the $1,000 People's Choice Award. The app also includes a map of all the food truck locations, the live entertainment schedule and much more. 

Winners will be announced on the stage at 4:30 p.m.

"We are very centrally located in Springfield, and it's an extremely family-friendly event. There are places to run and play and a playground," says Mary Jo Leventhal, an event organizer, who coordinated the food trucks. "All the entertainment will be on the stage that's already set up for that purpose, and the trucks will line the roadway on the south side of the road, so it makes the flow easy to walk up and down along them."

While there will be some seating available near the concession stands and in the beer garden area, attendees are invited to bring chairs or blankets along for the event. 

Parking will be available at the west end of Veteran's Park, at the Springfield Museum of Art, and at other open lots near the park.

The museum will be open to the public the day of the event for people to use the restrooms, enjoy the air conditioning and explore the gallery exhibits. Restroom facilities with full plumbing are also available at both concession stand locations within Veteran's Park.

Throughout the years, the food truck competition has raised more than $200,000 to support the Rotary's mission of community service both locally and globally, Bell says. 

Those funds, however, don't come from portions of the food trucks sales during the day, he says. The trucks all get to keep 100% of their profits.

Instead, funding to run the event and funds raised come from the strong corporate, business, and individual sponsorships that support the event, as well as from beverage sales during the competition. 

Each year, between 60 and 100 trucks - local, regional and even from other states - apply to compete, Leventhal says. A selection committee narrows down the trucks that will be in the competition, based on social media reviews, past rankings in the competition, and the variety of food. 

Bell and Leventhal say the goal is to have trucks that offer a variety of unique foods with what they called "gourmet aspirations."

"We'll have everything from breakfast to dessert, and everything in between," Leventhal added. 

Live entertainment taking the stage this year will begin at noon with Stringus Khan, followed by Terrapin Moon at 2 p.m., Braeden Carey at 4 p.m. and The Factory Line at 6 p.m.

While the event has gone later in the past, food and entertainment will be wrapping up at 7 p.m. this year for interested attendees to also have time to enjoy Springfield's second major event of the weekend - the Springfield Kiwanis inaugural Jazz and Blues Fest, located at both Mother Stewart's Brewing Company and National Road Commons.

"The Springfield Rotary Gourmet Food Truck Competition is a signature event for Springfield. We've made it a cornerstone event," Bell says, adding that the Rotary used to host an annual Gran Prix through Downtown Springfield, followed by a few years to decide what direction to go next. "We wanted to reach the broadest audience possible for the city, the county, and surrounding areas. 

"We were trying to give people something to do, and something that was different. And, the fact that we can provide this to the community means a lot to us."

The competition is also a great way for anyone interested to get a taste of one of the many things Rotary does within Springfield and learn more about the organization.

"We want the community to know we are a welcoming, open club, and we want the community to recognize that we might be a place they might be interested in joining," Bell says. 

Another positive for the community as a whole is the crowds the event draw to Springfield, Leventhal says. 

"Downtown will be hopping, and it will bring more business to our Downtown," she says. "It will be great."

Read more articles by Natalie Driscoll.