Steven Preuss loved cooking barbecue at home. He would display his skill with smoked meats to friends and family at backyard cookouts and they seemed to like it.

"I got good enough at it that people told me I should take it another step further," Preuss said.

For the talented home cook, the next step could mean many different things. Going to culinary school. Getting a second job in a restaurant. Or entrepreneurial, culinary artist freedom with a low cost of entry: Buying a food truck.

"It was just a hobby," Preuss said. "My old job was just kind of hit or miss so I got (the food truck) to just start doing on the side. The old job just disappeared, and I jumped into it."

Over the past four years of owning Colorado Q: Barbeque of the Rockies, Preuss has seen the popularity of food trucks explode across Mesa County. He participates in Grand Valley Food Truck Fridays each summer and took over organizing the event several years ago.

He's seen both his sales and the number of food trucks wanting to participate increase steadily, he said.

"It's picking up a lot," Preuss said. "When we first started there was only a couple of us, and now that I took over Food Truck Fridays we've got more than 18 trucks that want to be a part of it."

Patricia Raffaelli, owner of the Little Pink Truck, also has operated her truck for four years in the Grand Valley. Originally from Steamboat Springs, Raffaelli studied in the culinary arts program at Western Colorado Community College and decided to begin her career serving soups, salads and sandwiches from her dazzlingly pink trailer.

"It was actually really hard to decide what to do with this because it was blue when I got it," Raffaelli said. "I liked how (the pink color) catches people's attention. It pops."

The growing popularity of food trucks has been a boon for new arrivals to the area as well. Colorful Colorado Cupcakes owners Kendra and Craig Adams moved from Deer Trail, a small town east of Denver, to Palisade last November.

Kendra Adams, who is originally from Grand Junction, said the many festivals and events in Mesa County that are open to food trucks has made running her truck easier.

"(The food truck scene here) is more accessible," she said. "Where we were out on the eastern plains there was not a lot going on. We had to go to Denver for anything."

While running a food truck has its advantages, it still isn't an easy job, she said.

"It's a lot of time commitment," Kendra Adams said. "It's not really something you can do as a side gig. You have to be kind of a jack of all trades with it. You have to be an appliance repairman, mechanic, cook, dishwasher. You kind of need to be able to do anything."

That hard work is certainly appreciated by customers, such as Brooke Griffin of Grand Junction who recently attended her first Food Truck Fridays.

Food trucks help to bring a community together, especially at events like Food Truck Fridays, while also offering good food, she said.

"I love the homemade freshness and the people, too," Griffin said. "Just the hometown feel you get."

But Food Truck Fridays isn't the only place where food trucks can be found regularly. They also pop up at area concerts, sporting events, farmers markets and in parking lots from Fruita to Palisade.

From what Preuss has seen over the past four years, the food truck model is working well in western Colorado.

"Food trucks are growing and the community is accepting them a lot more," Preuss said. "It's just turned into a good opportunity for a lot of small businesses."

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