SD Food trucks gain traction

by Arturo Garcia Sierra

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Arturo Garcia

Arturo Garcia

Too many cooks may spoil the broth, but not when they gather at a food truck venue in their respective mobile kitchens ready to serve hungry San Diegans. Be it Reuben fries from the award-winning vendors at New York On Rye or an exotic mix of Greek-meets-Mexican in a Mediterranean torta at Tortally Tasty, tourists and locals munched on the alternative dishes provided for the first time in food truck history in a centralized location, San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter.

After Wednesday’s debut, the gourmet street vendors parked between 3rd and 4th avenues on J Street to sell their distinctive dishes on Thursday evening. Managed by Curbside Bites, a Southern California food truck booking service, the trucks plan to station weekly at the same time and place.

“We are just thrilled that they are down here,” downtown resident Sandee Wilhoit said. “I read about them in the newspaper. I knew they were in North County and I thought, ‘We need them downtown,’ so we’re really happy.”

On other occasions, one of two trucks would park and sell their dishes downtown, but there had never been a street-closure for a more formal event. The food trucks lined one side of the street with chairs and tables set for guests to eat on their own. Co-owner at New York On Rye Rich Huarte said having more than four trucks in one place is good for business because gatherings attract more people. The reason gatherings had never been held at the Gaslamp Quarter was because of downtown’s restaurants and their fear of competition from these mobile businesses.

“They were getting a lot of pushback from some of the businesses that are here,” Curbside Bites owner Christian Murcia said. “It’s not courteous to park right in front of a restaurant; and we didn’t want this to be a free-for-all because we know how disruptive it can get. We worked with the city and tried to find something that is beneficial to everyone, so we created a formal street closure.”

Huarte said San Diego is still learning how to cope with food trucks.

“The San Diego food truck industry is in its infancy,” Huarte said. “The cities where it’s mature, like Los Angeles and Portland, have gone through this and are already on the other side. Now they get it. Here, they’re thinking ice cream trucks and road coaches; they’re not thinking that this is real food.”

Each food truck has it’s social media plug displayed somewhere in it’s colorful compact kitchens. Huarte’s New York On Rye has more than 800 followers on Twitter and more than 700 likes on Facebook.

“Twitter is everything,” Huarte said. “Tumblr is not as big—Facebook is good, but not as good as Twitter.”

Building a following is vital for these on-the-go kitchens.

“Instead of having your location and building your clientele in that location, you have to have seven locations and build up a clientele in seven locations,” Huarte said.

Another difference about food trucks is space.

“It’s also much smaller than a restaurant kitchen—you have to go with a leaner menu,” Huarte said. “It’s small; you really can only have, at the most, three people on that truck and then it’s tight—it helps if they’re thin.”

Crepes Bonaparte shift manager Jonathan Hernandez said he preferred working for a food truck rather than a restaurant because of the atmosphere.

“The customers are a lot nicer,” Hernandez said. “We get food out a lot quicker and you can control how food comes out better.”

Murcia said regardless of the issues between the mobile kitchens and the stationary ones downtown, restaurants can only do so much when complaining about the food trucks.

“Cities are allowed to regulate food trucks in the interest of public safety, not in the interest of protecting businesses,” Murcia said. “Everybody has been wanting it; it’s just been trying to figure out how to make it work with the city.”

Murcia said having a food truck event was mutually beneficial because it draws people to an area.

“It’s giving exposure to the restaurants,” Murcia said. “We may have 500 people tonight and it’s letting them know this is a street where there’s stuff going on. Most of the stuff going on in Gaslamp is over at 5th Avenue and Market Street, and if we can drive people to this side, it’s showing people that there’s other stuff going down here too.”

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