Food & Drink
SA’s Food Truck Parks Can Be Havens or Headaches (or Both)
Published: October 16, 2013
SpiceSea Gourmet, which schedules lunches throughout the city, sees parks as a must. “I have a steady following at the parks. It’s also a way for people to have my food at nights or on the weekend. It opens up my schedule to accommodate their busy lives,” Whitney Matthews, owner of SpiceSea Gourmet, said. “Additionally, I know that I will have customers since food truck parks are becoming destinations.”
Since opening, parks have sought über-specific niches: Alamo Street Eat Bar caters to an urban crowd; The Point Park & Eats Park owners focus on bringing a taste of downtown to a suburban crowd; The Block’s got the UTSA area covered. Finding a sweet spot helps courts succeed and minimizes fierce competition. Want to drive from your Southtown home just to check out The Point at 1604 or vice versa? Didn’t think so.
Still there are areas where food trucks congregate on vacant lots near 410 and Nacogdoches, or most recently, Mission #6, located on South St. Mary’s across from the Family Dollar.
Gabriel Cardenas and wife Eva Rangel Cardenas (owners of The Fridge), along with owners of Gourmet on the Fly, Sabores Food Truck and Slider Provider have all tried to make Mission #6 a temporary home. As an unlicensed food truck park, it doesn’t yet offer onsite amenities found at more established courts. In lieu of the heavy upfront infrastructure investments required by licensing, Mission #6 owner Chris McKnight, who declined to comment for this article, has instead got right with the health department by providing customers with bathroom facilities at nearby Southtown 101 and getting food vendors in a 300 foot radius to sign-off on Mission #6’s existence. As of now, there is no onsite electricity offered to trucks, not ideal for regular operation. Currently, the spot focuses on attracting trucks and crowds during Southtown’s popular First Friday events and has been open on Saturday as well.
“It’s hard to get trucks out there, especially going into October,” said Cardenas, speaking about Saturday truck line-ups. When the lot was first announced in mid-August, McKnight had asked Institute of Chili truck owner Ana Fernandez to curate a lineup of trucks. Fernandez, whose truck is parked part-time at Alamo Street, has since minimized her role with the project, citing a lack of infrastructure.
“There are benefits to being permitted versus not,” Barcewski said while dishing on a host of “issues” that could come up for spots including zoning, plumbing and electrical concerns that could result in notices or citations for the trucks.
Say She Ate’s Brandon McKelvey reiterated that sentiment. As a member of the San Antonio Food Truck Association who finds his own gigs, McKelvey’s take on parks is wary.
“Newer parks are popping [up], not putting in electricity … if you’re not providing anything why should we pay to park there?” McKelvey asked. While he might dabble in the occasional park stop, McKelvey’s sticking to his guns and finding gigs on his own in an effort to keep costs as low as possible.
The Fridge is also highly mobile—it spends its nights at Leon Bar, Uptown Studios, Southtown 101, Rackspace (a “cash cow” for trucks which provides electricity while not charging the trucks to park at The Castle), along with occasional events at the Boardwalk, where the truck held its grand opening in April 2013.
Putting in the necessary elbow grease and monetary investment might be something The Fridge looks in to in the next few months, but the relatively new truck isn’t ready to make any commitments just yet.
“Running a park is probably 20 times harder than running a truck,” Cardenas said. “There are egos involved with truck owners. We have to ask ourselves if we want that headache.”
> Email Jessica Elizarraras