San Francisco food trucks are a random bunch. You can count on them having wheels and an engine, and that's about it. Sometimes they're fixed outside your office. Other times they appear outside a bar, sent by angels to pad your plunge into tomorrow’s hangover. They can be run by an old Italian man. Or a former accountant. Or a few dudes fed up with their bartending gigs.
Basically, most of us rarely know how we're going to encounter the next food truck.
SoMa StrEat Food Park (SSFP) aims to alleviate some of that wonder. Owner Carlos Muela’s vision was to create a fixed area for San Francisco’s food mobiles. Each day, for lunch and dinner (and eventually breakfast), a fleet of about a dozen trucks and carts roll in with their tasty offerings to satiate patrons. This is much like Off the Grid, except it won’t move around, and the plan is to offer a host of additional amenities.
Drawing on his time in Portland, Oregon, which boasts a vibrant food truck industry, Carlos thought San Francisco needed SoMa StrEat Food Park, with clever capitalization and all, for a handful of reasons. For one, he sees it as a prime networking spot. As the name indicates, SSFP is located in San Francisco’s ever-growing tech hub. "There's something about being outside that really fosters interacting," he adds.
Much of that networking currently goes on at your standard brick-and-mortar restaurant, whose owners aren't always psyched about the food truck craze. Restaurants can't pull stakes to follow a crowd, and they often accuse food mobiles of parking close enough to their doors that they poach customers. Carlos’ family has been in the restaurant industry in the Mission for almost 30 years, so this debate isn’t new to him. "There's definitely a thin line," Carlos tells me. "I see both sides." He believes SSFP is a happy middle ground. Food trucks can now rotate in and out of a SOMA corral where they're not tempting a restaurant's passersby.
Even still, SSFP will be equipped for folks out on a walk. San Francisco weather isn't always friendly to those venturing outdoors, and thinner-skinned customers will be able to cluster in a heated pavilion. And since we still can't get online everywhere we want in our fair city, the park will provide free Wi-Fi. But this isn’t just going to be a toasty food truck parking lot with Internet. Carlos says SSFP should have a license to serve alcohol in the coming months and that they're also going to start movie nights on a projection screen.
Those are the simple logistics, however. To get in the mix, trucks with city permits fill out an application with SSFP and Carlos slots them into the schedule. The starting lineup features La Pastrami, Mr. Nice, Sunrise Deli, Garden Creamery and, my go-to, CurryUpNow, among others. The idea is to eventually have a group of regular trucks – the fan favorites – and then rotate in a second crew so people can have some variety in their choices. On holidays like Cinco de Mayo and July 4th, all the carts will keep within a specific cuisine theme.
One of the biggest challenges SSFP is going to face will be managing all those trucks and timeslots. For instance, they could have a clusterfuck on their hands if, say, a pizza maker takes a while to vacate a spot after lunch because of an arduous clean up and a sushi chef taking his place needs ample prep time for the dinner hour – you’d end up with hungry, impatient customers.
Carlos gives me a weary laugh as he explains the outcome of these potential complications. "It'll be a big learning process," he says. But something in his experienced manner of speaking assures me that it'll be well under control soon. And this makes me happy. Because all I want to worry about is which truck I'm going to eat at.