AUGUSTA — For workers at the state’s east side campus of offices this summer, going out to eat can be a pretty short trip, to the parking lot and back.

Joining the lone cafe inside the Ray Building at the collection of offices on the former grounds of Augusta Mental Health Institute as dining options for the first time this summer are several food trucks, and in one case a food wagon. They share a rotating schedule in which they take turns, one or two a day, offering up made to order sandwiches, pulled pork barbecue, lobster rolls, hot dogs, wraps and macaroni and cheese.

Their main target audience is the roughly 750-strong state workforce on the site that includes offices for the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Marine Resources, and Department of Corrections. Other than cafés inside the Ray Building and, across Hospital Street, a cafe inside the Bureau of Motor Vehicles building, there are no other dining options within easy walking distance.

Alec Porteous, commissioner of the state Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said officials sought to bring additional dining options for state workers to the campus, so they turned to food trucks, which have already been growing in popularity.

“We’re excited about it because it I think it adds options for state employees, and provides a unique opportunity for these entrepreneurs,” Porteous said Friday. “Adding them to the east campus this summer is a big deal for us.”

Food truck operators said things so far have started fairly slow at the site, but believe business is starting to pick up and are hopeful it will continue to increase as workers become more familiar with the offerings, and rotating schedule, the trucks bring to their spot in a parking lot just south of the main buildings of the campus of offices.

“It has been a very positive response so far, people are excited with the new options,” said Debra “Gracie” Vermette, of Saint Albans, co-owner, with her husband Michael, of Gracie’s Farm to Wagon Food Truck. “It’s new, we just started in June, I think when people get used to it, it will pick up.”

Jodi Meader, a DEP employee on the campus, said she usually goes home to eat lunch. She said she loves having the option of food trucks bringing food to just outside her office. She picked up a freshly made lobster roll on a recent hot day, from Gardiner-based Papa’s Roadhouse.

The truck’s menu changes regularly, but generally includes paninis and other sandwiches with both meat and vegetarian options, other lunch items that rotate through the often-changing menu, and two mainstays of a summer Maine menu, hot dogs and lobster rolls.

Owner Richard O’Brien said they also decided to offer some ice cream bars, during the recent hot weather.

Jason Goggin, who works in food services for the state Department of Corrections, enjoyed a chicken and pesto grilled sandwich from Papa’s Roadhouse on his lunch break recently, sitting at one of two picnic tables placed next to the food trucks’ spot.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, I hope business picks up for them a bit so it’ll make it worth their while,” Goggin said of the food trucks.

Goggin said he usually goes out for lunch in local restaurants, which he drives to.

He said he has also tried barbecue from Smokin Phil’s Belly Bustin’ BBQ, another truck in the rotation of visiting trucks to the east side spot.

The trucks aren’t just for state workers though, as anyone passing by with a sharp eye and a grumbling tummy, is welcome to stop by to buy a meal, snack or drink.

Sarah Willis, of Augusta, was doing just that, just passing by on Hospital Street on the way to take a hike, when she saw, across the expansive front lawn of the complex, Papa’s and Gracie’s.

She hit Gracie’s, for an egg salad wrap. She said she was glad to see a healthy option.

Gracie’s, Vermette noted, grew out of their The Highlands farm, where she and her husband raise and produce grass-fed Highland beef cattle as well as pasture-raised pork, chicken and turkey. She said all the meat they serve from the brightly-painted “wagon” a trailer they pull behind an SUV, is raised on their farm.

“I love food trucks, I think this is great,” Willis said. “I especially love this farm to wagon truck. I prefer something healthy, something other than just fried food.”

David Heidrich, spokesman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, said the state welcomes visitors who spot the trucks and want to come in for a bite to eat. He said they were positioned where they are so they’d be visible from Hospital Street.

Some days no trucks are scheduled to be on the site, while, on other days, two trucks will setup next to each other.

The state issued a request for applications this year seeking food truck operators looking to do business on state properties, where, otherwise, private businesses would not be able to sell their food without permission.

The east campus is a revenue-neutral deal for the state. The food truck operators don’t pay anything to be there, nor does the state pay them to show up. Whatever they make from customers on any given day is what they take in for revenue.

A total of eight food truck operators successfully applied to sell on state property. About half of them serve on the east side campus in Augusta.

Other food truck operators which, in an arrangement with the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, sell food at state parks at Crescent Beach and Range Pond, pay a daily fee to the state.

It’s the state’s second effort to link up with food trucks to serve the east campus. In December of last year state officials decided to put food truck plans on hold after a request for proposals drew responses from only two food truck owners, Mainely Burgers, of Portland, and Mechanic Falls-based Shut up N eat it. The state decided to shelve the plan to add food trucks then due to the small response. It got a few more interested truck operators when it tried again this year.

Mainely Burgers didn’t apply this time, but Shut up N eat it did, and is in the rotation of trucks that now serve the east campus.

Heidrich said trucks can still join the rotation this year, and state officials are already working on scheduling for next year.

He said the 750 state workers on the east campus could be joined by other workers in the future, as the state makes improvements to renovate and rehabilitate more office space on the site.

Heidrich anticipates the popularity of the trucks will increase as people become more familiar with their menus and when they’ll be on the site.

Porteous said it seems like more workers are discovering the food trucks and getting their lunches from them, so he expects their popularity to increase the longer they are on site consistently.

So far he’s tried Gracie’s Farm to Wagon, Papa’s Roadhouse, and Shut up N eat it, all of which, he said, served up tasty food.

Department of Environmental Protection worker Louise Roy, who visited Gracie’s and left with an egg salad wrap in a takeout bag to bring back to her office, said she used to work in Portland where there were numerous dining options nearby, so she appreciated the additional options arriving at the east side campus in Augusta.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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