Food Trucks invade downtown
Yesterday I met a friend of mine who works in the Weston Centre for lunch at one of the food truck pilot locations. It was a good break from the usual downtown dining and also the chance to be a part of something potentially big for downtown San Antonio. While the selection of trucks at the Weston Centre was pretty limited (Cheesy Jane’s and DUKTRuck) the food was pretty good and the atmosphere Puro San Antonio. Far from the penetration of trucks you’ll find in downtown Austin, it’s a pilot by the city to see how to infuse these mobile eateries amongst the many restaurants and storefronts of our downtown. One thing I can attest to in the first week, it’s definitely a pilot with some things needing to be tweaked.
The first question to really ask, in terms of why this is a pilot, is why has it taken so long for San Antonio. After all, isn’t San Antonio the home of mobile food vendors, or so it seems? How many times have we heard the jingling or melodic tunes of the raspa vendor as they drive down the streets of San Antonio, luring kids outside for some of the treats offered. What about the various vendors on the Westside. Wouldn’t this be a no-brainer for our city? Well, almost if it hadn’t been for a few city ordinances that created an obstacle for the trucks.
Austin has a thriving food truck market with over 1,200 mobile dining ventures located in and around the city. The activity of trucks has been so robust several food truck sites, Food Trailers Austin, Best Austin Food Trucks, and Austin Food Carts, were developed to help people find and rate the trucks. The nice thing about the Austin market is that as downtown Austin continues to grow, both from a business and residential perspective, these food trucks have the potential for long-term growth without a lot of investment.
Not wanting San Antonio to be left in the dust during the Decade of Downtown, city leaders kicked into action, creating a pilot program under the auspices of Downtown Operations. Of course, like any city action, there are bunches of rules and regulations the vendors have to follow to be a part of the fun. But the program is off to a start, with initial locations set for the City Hall Annex parking lot (located along Market Street by City Hall) and Hemisfair Park (under the arch). Another location at Maverick Park will most likely be added later. To help people find their favorite food truck, the city has also published a schedule of trucks and locations.
While this pilot focuses on the downtown, food trucks have been off and running in San Antonio for several months, with food truck parks springing up all over the city. Boardwalk on Bulverde is probably the most successful of these parks, with a wide variety of trucks in the location. It’s focused mostly for evening and weekend diners due to the isolated location of the park. Another park closer to downtown is the Alamo Street Eat Bar located on Alamo Street just south of Cesar Chavez Blvd. It follows the same model as Boardwalk on Bulverde, catering to an evening and weekend crowd.
That’s probably a realistic approach for food trucks in San Antonio, since they should be able to move where the crowd is. Having trucks located where the people are lets them cater to larger potential markets. As downtown continues to grow, the downtown locations could expand. To help people find these roving diners, the good folks at Sweb Development built the SA Food Truck Finder in an all day hackathon, offering the application free to both the food trucks and the public. It’s a work in progress and typifies the community spirit of open application development and food trucks.
A concept I had hoped would have happened in San Antonio during Fiesta would have been a Texas Food Truck Festival, where food trucks from across the state could come to Fiesta and compete during our big eleven day festival. While that never happened, Fiesta Fiesta, the opening ceremonies of Fiesta, created its own food truck court along Alamo Street. Now it looks like Dallas beat us to the punch, hosting the exact concept I had dreamed about in a couple of weeks at the Valley View Center.
San Antonio’s downtown pilot still needs some improvements to make it successful. During my tour yesterday, the biggest issue was number of trucks in place. Granted Tuesdays and Thursdays appear to be the more active dates for the trucks, according to the schedule, it would be great to see a few more trucks downtown. The City Hall Annex location needed tables, chairs and trash bins. All locations needed recycling bins for those water bottles and cans. Finally, the Hemisfair location seems to have pulled up shop a little early. I never found them when I finally made it to the arch by 1 p.m.
Even with the glitches, San Antonio food trucks are off to the races and running downtown. Here’s to hopefully a bigger and brighter future during the Decade of Downtown.