Former beer volunteers now chairing Main Street Food Truck Festival

Brent Birch, director of the Little Rock Technology Park, and Mollie Birch, who sells real estate for Charlotte John Co., parlay their knowledge and love of downtown into providing “sound advice” for the 2023 Main Street Food Truck Festival. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)

This isn't the first Main Street Food Truck Festival for Brent and Mollie Birch. They've served as beer-tent volunteers, slinging brews to thirsty folks washing down everything from barbecue to Asian dumplings.

This year, they're chairing the event. And it's the first time they've done that.

Mostly, says Mollie Birch, they've been attending meetings, helping with fundraising and "offering sound advice."

For Brent Birch, whose day job is director of the Little Rock Technology Park, which is situated on Little Rock's downtown Main Street and which sits inside the festival footprint, it has involved contributing his knowledge of "how vitally important the intersection of Main [Street] and Capitol [Avenue] is, not just to Little Rock, but the whole state."

The intersection is at the center of the festival, with more than 60 food trucks to line Main Street between Third to Ninth streets 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sept. 17. Metaphorically, if not literally, it was for uncounted years the center of Arkansas.

"It used to be the hub of activity [in Little Rock] before everything moved west," Brent Birch observes.

Kyle Leyenberger, director of communications for the Downtown Little Rock Partnership, which puts the festival on every year, says 67 food trucks are poised to participate, though that number is likely to fluctuate between now and a week from now. "Inevitably, some drop out," he says.

Expect also to encounter more than 60 arts and crafts vendors, a karaoke station, a DJ station, four busker stations, beer and beverage tents (beer-tent proceeds go toward a fund that produces public art for downtown) and a bigger kids' zone along Main Street and in peripheral plazas and parking areas.

More importantly, perhaps, there will be seating areas where folks can take their food-truck purchases and actually eat them sitting down.

As in recent years, food trucks will be required to provide sample-size items for $6 or less -- though, Leyenberger admits, last year not every vendor actually followed that rule.

A lot more food truck owners apply every year than can participate, Leyenberger says. Most of them are from Arkansas but there are always a few from out of state. But they're focusing on maintaining variety.

"We've got some spectacular trucks this year," says Downtown Partnership events director Tori Rogers.

A couple of the new ones this year for which festivalgoers might keep an eye out, Leyenberger says, is a Cabot-based operation called Banada Burger, which offers a signature burger plus "other flavorful burgers, empanadas and loaded French fries," according to its website. And the launch of the Legendary Shorty Small's truck, from the folks who brought you the now-defunct Shorty Small's on west Little Rock's Rodney Parham Road.

Leyenberger admits layout is always a challenge. "We want to spread them out, so not to, say, put barbecue trucks next to each other," he says.

Rogers notes that this year they have involved the state Health Department and the city's Advertising and Promotion Commission in the decision-making process, "making sure everybody's compliant" with health regulations and proper tax collection. That hasn't always been the case, she adds.

And what is paramount, she says, is the safety of festivalgoers. "We want everybody to feel safe and that we've done our due diligence."

The festival used to take place on Saturdays, but moved to Sunday a couple of years ago for the first time when the threat of rain forced organizers to postpone it for a day.

Since then, Leyenberger and the Birches say, holding the festival on Sundays has been working well -- it no longer has to compete for attention with Razorback and other college football games, for example, and it doesn't take away business from downtown restaurants (especially the cluster of eateries in the 300 block of Main Street). And, they add, it does not appear to have limited attendance in any way.

It also serves to bring additional attention to downtown Little Rock, Brent Birch says.

"It's important to people who live downtown to have things to do," explains Mollie Birch, who in her day job as a real estate agent with the Charlotte John Co. has sold real estate downtown.

"And it brings people downtown that don't usually come downtown," Brent Birch adds.

Planning meetings start in the spring and pick up speed as the festival approaches. Both Birches praise the cadre of volunteers that helps put the festival together and take it down, working the beer tents and picking up trash. A corps of seasoned volunteers, some of whom have been working since the festival's inception, helps guide the newbies.

The Birches won't identify any particular favorites among the food trucks.

"We try to eat at the ones we don't see all the time," Brent Birch says.

"The ones with the shortest lines," quips Mollie Birch.

Presenting sponsor is CDI Contractors. Visit

  photo  Mollie and Brent Birch are chairing this year's Main Street Food Truck Festival, Sept. 17 along Little Rock's Main Street between Third and Ninth streets. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette/Cary Jenkins)