In San Francisco’s South of Market, underneath a freeway overpass, on a former UHaul Parking lot, the latest incarnation of the food truck phenomenon was underway. In a fenced-in area off 11th street behind Costco, a ring of colorful food trucks surrounded a metal structure resembling a barn. Diners sat on benches munching on pastrami sandwiches, Pad Thai and fried pork sandwiches.
At the park’s entrance, founder Carlos Muela welcomed the crowd of tech workers, auto mechanics and generally curious meandering into the SOMA Streatfood Park for the first time.
“This is a permanent park for food truck vendors and food cart vendors to come and do business,” he explained to visitors.
Muela’s creation seemed like a logical next step in a food-plosion that has resulted in zillions of food trucks and carts selling everything from Korean tacos to lavender crème brulee. The Streatfood Park will feature a rotating cast of food trucks, in a neighborhood that’s light on restaurants, heavy on grit.
Unlike the streets where the trucks normally sell their wares, the park features permanent seating, tables, bathrooms and a shade structure outfitted with heat lamps for the cold nights. In addition to dining on a variety of grub, Muela envisions visitors gathering to watch movies, Giants’ games or live bands.
“We really want to create a nice neighborhood space for the neighbors, a lot of people who work around here,” said Muela. “Give them a place to interact.”
Among the food trucks already in the rotation was the popular Brass Knuckles, with musical- themed food bearing names like Pig Floyd, or Notorious P-I-G. Founder Shellie Kitchen said the idea of a permanent home seemed especially appetizing after braving San Francisco’s strict street permit system. “You know you can come here every day after you have cocktails on 11th street and go get street food for cheap,” said Kitchen.
The proliferation of food trucks sparked an angry backlash from many brick and mortar restaurants. But Rob Black, director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association said the concentration of food trucks in a mostly underserved neighborhood seemed like a positive model. He said food truck pods are already popular in Portland, Oregon.
At the nearby Don Ramon’s Mexican Restaurant, co-owner Nati Ramirez reasoned the nearby food truck park could lure more foot traffic to the neighborhood.
“We as business owners have a larger overhead than they do,” said Ramirez. “But you always have to give the opportunity to someone who wants to open up a business.”
Diner Rob Hislop said he was excited with the variety of food offerings although he wasn’t as big a fan of the décor… which included a freeway overpass and towering billboard. He said in the end, the park was unlikely to replace restaurant dining.
“For me this is less of an incentive for me to bring my lunch to work than to stop eating in other restaurants,” Hislop said.
Angus McGilpin, who’s worked in the neighborhood for 10 years said he was excited to suddenly have dozens of dining options.
“Seems like the revolution has taken on and, man, the food is good,” McGilpin said, raising a forkful of pad Thai.
The food park will be open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. It will mark its grand opening on Tuesday.
After spending what he describes as a brutal year securing city permits, Muela is also trying to get a license to serve beer and wine. He also says the park could eventually remain open 24 hours – insuring this revolution won’t be derailed for lack of supplies.