Posted in Dinner, Events, Food, For Kids/Parent, Peninsula, Review, San Francisco, South Bay, Street Food

Move Over Off the Grid: Moveable Feast Comes to the Peninsula

MoBowl, Babaloo, and House of Siam on Wheels
Three popular trucks at 5:45 = MoBowl, Babaloo, and House of Siam on Wheels

Moveable Feast is to the South Bay and Peninsula, what Off the Grid is to San Francisco. But the vibe is most certainly different.

Held this past Friday on July 1st, Moveable Feast felt way more like a county fair than OtG’s hipster foodie hotspot. The San Mateo Event Center location also had plenty of grassy areas for the suburbanite families in attendance to have a dinnertime picnic. There was also a pricier flat parking fee of $10 per vehicle, though that didn’t seem to deter most people from checking out the inaugural event.

Ryan Sebastian in front of his truck, Treatbot
Moveable Feast Operator, Ryan Sebastian in front of his truck “Treatbot”

Moveable Feast (formerly called “SJ Eats”) is the creation of Ryan Sebastian. This former transportation planner always had plans of creating community spaces, and he knew food was a great catalyst to make that happen.

“My family always had big gatherings growing up in San Jose and I loved it. And my wife has a culinary background, so it happened pretty naturally.”

It started this past April with their first food truck gathering in San Jose. Their first time out was huge, but not exactly a success.

“I own the Treatbot ice cream truck with my wife, so I knew a lot of other trucks in the area. I knew the San Pedro Square Market in San Jose had enough parking space, so we ended up there on a Saturday with about 10 trucks and spread the word through Facebook. The demand was so much higher than we ever expected and it got out of control. There was overcrowding, the wait times for food were ridiculous and we got slaughtered on Yelp, afterwards.”

Three months later, after a lot more planning and organization, the San Jose event goes off in the same place every Saturday, without a hitch.

Their success eventually caught the attention of the folks at the San Mateo Events Center, who actually called Ryan to ask if he’d be interested in doing a similar event for the Peninsula.

“This is the biggest food truck event on the Peninsula, ever. Twenty-five trucks is pretty big. We’re gonna be here the first Friday of every month from here on out.”

The line is about 20 deep @ An The Go @ 5:45
Lines are getting long in front of the “An The Go” truck at 5:45

And attendance was pretty big too. Though the event was supposed to start at 5:30, there were plenty of folks checking out the scene at 5:15. By the time I had left at 6:15, the lines for some of the more popular trucks had gotten about 20 people deep, and I estimated anywhere from 1000-2000 people total with many more streaming in. Add to that some local live music on-site, and you’ve got a huge suburban block party.

3 popular trucks at 5:45 = Mama's Empanadas, Hiyaaa, Curry Up Now
3 popular trucks at 5:45 = Mama’s Empanadas, Hiyaaa, Curry Up Now

The line-up of trucks is intentionally made up of mostly Peninsula and South Bay-based food trucks like Curry Up Now, Mama’s Empanadas, Hiyaaa Naked Chorizo and BBQ Kalbi. That’s the main difference between Moveable Feast and Off the Grid. OtG features trucks from all over the Bay Area.

But Off the Grid organizer, Matt Cohen had talked a few months ago ambitiously about starting an OtG on the Peninsula. Is there room for both of them?

At least 1000-1500 people by 6pm.
I estimated at least 1000-1500 people by 6pm.

“People in the Peninsula know there’s a huge demand for this and that the food coming out of these trucks is fantastic. This is America and there’s room for both of us in a metropolis of seven million people. I have nothing but respect for Matt. OtG is awesome!”

And Ryan has faith that mass food truck events like his are here to stay. “Ultimately, the idea of informal eating is not a new concept and it’s not a fad. When we provide legitimate marketplaces for these entrepreneurs to do business, it helps all of us do better.”

Moveable Feast
San Pedro Square, San Jose, Every Saturday 5-9pm
San Mateo Events Center, First Friday of every month, 5:30-10pm

Facebook:MVBLfeast
Twitter: @MVBLfeast

*Cross posted on Bay Area Bites

Posted in Dinner, East Bay, Events, Food, For Kids/Parent, Lunch, Peninsula, San Francisco, South Bay, Street Food

Off the Grid is Making Street Food Mainstream

Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center
Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center. Photo courtesy of Off the Grid

Almost every food craving you could ever think of could be satisfied by at least one of the food trucks at any given Off the Grid location in San Francisco. In just a couple of years, OtG in Fort Mason has become the single largest weekly block party for foodies in the Bay Area.

But with almost every food category being represented there, is there fear of street food being a trend that’s reaching oversaturation? Off the Grid’s man-in-charge, Matt Cohen, says absolutely not.

“I think of Asia and how prolific street food is and how it’s a part of people’s lives. Will all of them launching right now stay in business? Probably not. But there’s a long way to go before we hit the saturation point. The rest of the world has experience with street food and we were so far behind here in the Bay Area. People had to think of them not as roach coaches, so we just had to catch up.”

Cohen fell in love with street food while living in Japan as an English teacher. When he returned to the States, he tried to start his own food truck in 2007. His plans got halted after the recession hit, and he decided to turn his experience with getting a mobile food business started, permits, rules and all, into a food truck consultant business in 2008. Eventually, the idea of Off the Grid got off the ground.

“My clients were asking how we could find better locations and how trucks could group together at different locations. There was obviously a need and it was clear that no one truck could handle the task alone. Off the Grid is more of a curation of these food trucks.”

There are now six Off the Grid (OtG) events throughout the week in San Francisco, and possible OtGs in San Mateo, the South Bay and East Bay expected to be announced within the next six weeks. But is all this street food too much?

“What we’ve learned is that the only ‘destination’ OtG is Fort Mason in the city, where people from all over the Bay Area come to visit. Most of the other current locations are driven by locals and their needs in those areas. We like to create and attract community in the places we go, and those spots seem to have a need. And we try to make sure we switch out the trucks so it’s never the same experience every time.”

Cohen says they have 30-40 food trucks on their roster right now, but expect that number to DOUBLE by the end of the season! And there’s no threat of too much culinary overlap, either.

“No one would argue that we don’t need more fusion taco trucks and cupcake trucks. But there are a number of burger, sandwich, soup, pizza and salad food trucks coming soon.”

It’s only been about four years since food carts, trucks and the like hit the Bay Area, but the category has seen a lot of evolution since 2007.

“I think we’re sort of entering a third wave with the food truck scene here. There were guerrilla street food carts for a while with the Magic Curry and Crème Brulee Karts. They brought a lot of attention to the fun and whimsy of eating on the street. Plus, they really knew how to cook.”

“Then the second coming was when those guys, along with formal chefs, saw a demand for it but realized you couldn’t make a living with underground street food. It’s not a long term job, it’s a hobby. And experienced restauranteurs liked the simplicity of the truck.”

“Now, there’s a third wave happening, where people are taking that blueprint of the mobile food truck and going in all sorts of directions, like Rib Whip and Le Truc. There’s a ton of new trucks coming out now.”

Street food may still seem new to us, but there’s no reason why it can’t be here to stay, much like it is in other parts of the world. Of course, Cohen has a business stake in it all, but he’s attracted to this type of culinary experience for personal reasons too.

“I love eating outside! We can all try different foods and sit outside, have a great time, run into friends, and it’s affordable. Your kids can run around, you can bring your dog, and run into people you haven’t seen in a while. It’s a community space.”

As for the food truck he bought in 2007, he’s still got it, and just recently decided to start renting it out.

“We actually just started using the truck I bought back in 2007. We’re not serving food off of it, but it’s great for demos for chefs who are considering starting their own street food business, or for someone who wants to try it out before considering buying one for themselves. And it’s got televisions attached to it so it’s great for broadcasting Giants games.”

Off the Grid
Various locations throughout San Francisco. Check out their website for exact days and locations.
@sfcarts
facebook.com/offthegridsf