College students are a busy breed. In the search for the most convenient lunch option, one unique style of restaurant has begun to pop up for their quick consumption: food trucks.

Food truck culture has been growing on college campuses nationwide as more and more students are looking for expedited options to grab while walking to class. On any given weekday, trucks like Little Poblano, Local Roots and Joyful Java hit the streets of UA looking to nourish the busy.

Dustin Spruill, a third generation Tuscaloosa native, is the owner of Local Roots, a truck that serves American food with only fresh, local ingredients.

“My wife and I went to a food and wine festival in Austin around 2014 and just knew we enjoyed the business and the people in it,” Spruill said. “So it went from that to just a crazy idea, to eventually coming up with a real concept, to eventually opening the truck.”

Local Roots officially opened in April 2016. Though the truck wasn’t initially allowed on campus, they were eventually able to garner business that was consistent enough to be allowed on campus in April 2017.

“We kept pushing [to get on campus]. We asked for meetings with BamaDining and Aramark,” Spruill said. “[Students] were leaving campus to come eat with us. That loyal following was what got us this far. It is just a really good fit and we’re glad it’s been a success.”

On the surface, this looks like a simple case of supply and demand. A business move. But Spruill believes there is something special about these informal eateries.

“I get to do things like this. I get to meet you and people that come to the window all the time,” Spruill said. “We have regulars that come once, twice, three times a week. We have a social media following, just a overall connection with our customers. That’s what I enjoy most: connecting with people. It’s just a much more open environment when you’re out in the public and the kitchen is right there in the window.”

Little Poblano is one of the newest additions to UA’s food truck brigade, offering authentic Mexican food. Spruill said it was his love for the cuisine, as well as award-winning Executive Chef Brandon Wiman’s experience, that inspired him to open the second truck.

“I’ve always had a love for Mexican flavors. I spent a little time in south Texas, Laredo and Fort Worth, and got to try a lot down there,” Spruill said. “We try to do everything really traditional. We make the tortillas every morning and the tamales every morning. Everything on our truck is made in-house from the sour cream to the salsas.”

Little Poblano is managed by Charley Burroughs, who started off as a Local Roots chef in April 2016.

“We knew this would be a great place to expand our business with the large and growing student body,” Burroughs said. “I had no food experience at all, I was always just sort of interested in it, so I decided to try and get in on the ground floor. Luckily, it’s been successful for everyone involved.”

Local Roots and Little Poblano are often seen perched together outside Gorgas Library, and Burroughs said there are plenty of mouths to feed.

“Lunch is never slow… I mean, you could imagine Little Poblano on Taco Tuesdays,” Burroughs said. “But you feel every restaurant’s presence on campus. There’s always a sense of friendly competition to better ourselves. It makes us all step up and ultimately makes the food better.”

Often seen parked across the quad by Reese Phifer Hall is Joyful Java, a mobile coffee shop that also takes a special interest in its customers. Manager Tyler Hill said it’s the customer service that keeps people coming back for more.

“It’s really our friendly staff members that set us apart. They love to engage with students and get to know the regulars,” Hill said.

Hill and his brother Andrew were brought into the food truck business through their mother and Joyful Java owner, Kate Hartmann. After being a manager at Starbucks for several years, she considered opening a coffee shop in New Jersey. It was Tyler and Andrew’s idea to make it mobile in Tuscaloosa.

“[Andrew’s] girlfriend is going to grad school here, so when he moved down here, we decided to start it up then,” Hill said. “We actually owned a landscaping company together for six years before starting this, so we’ve been business partners for a long time, and this just seemed like the right move.”

Hill said adjusting to campus was a unique experience, but that having students as employees helped them fit in and bring in more customers.

“[The employees] definitely connect a lot with the students. We have some employees who are in sororities, and since we rely a lot on word-of-mouth promotion, it’s nice seeing friends bring friends to our business,” Hill said.

Hill recognizes the importance of connecting with customers, but he says it’s all about the coffee at the end of the day.

“We’re all about bringing coffee to people who don’t have the time to walk all the way across campus for a cup,” Hill said.

Food truckers have a certain entrepreneurial spirit that is evident when talking to them. Not only that, they have a love for the food itself. It’s this attitude that keeps them excited and grateful to be in their field.

“This job has brought me so much closer to food as a culture, and I don’t know who I’d be without it,” said Burroughs. “That’s really what food trucks are all about, the culture.”

Spruill added, “I couldn’t sit at a desk job. With this, I get paid to make food and it’s a lot of fun. You get an ultimate satisfaction when you make something and right off the bat people are saying ‘This is awesome’. You just don’t get that at a lot of jobs.”