Coming Soon: Food Truck Fridays (and Saturdays and Sundays Too) in Tacoma

Food truck fans, put this on your calendar: Three days a week for at least three months this summer it looks like you'll have a fun new option for lunch (and breakfast and dinner two days a week). A new program from the City of Tacoma will give local food trucks a place to set up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 

It's a pilot program from the City's Community and Economic Development Department in response to community interest in doing more to foster a food truck scene in Tacoma.

Until now food trucks haven't exactly thrived in Tacoma and Pierce County, due in part to regulations that differ from those in King County, and are fairly strict compared to other cities with thriving food truck scenes. For their part, food truck operators say they've had trouble finding locations that work from both a permitting standpoint and a public exposure standpoint. To address those and other challenges, the City of Tacoma worked closely with the Pierce County Health Department and local food truck operators.

The result is an ongoing, roving "food truck corral" that will give customers and food truck operators a predictable schedule for when and where to find each other. 

An initial plan had the food trucks gathering every Friday for an event called Food Truck Fridays: breakfast and lunch outside Urban Grace church downtown. The food truck operators asked to increase their exposure by adding a Ruston Way location on Saturdays and Sundays. The program was presented to the city council Economic Development Committee last week, and some discussion ensued about the choice of location for Fridays.

The 9th and Market location was chosen because Urban Grace is willing to open its doors to provide restroom facilities for employees, per Pierce County code, and because Economic Development wants to use the event as a catalyst to activate an otherwise very quiet downtown block. There were also concerns of competing with regular brick and mortar restaurants elsewhere.

This choice runs a bit counter to most theories of ... - as council members Mello, Campbell, and Boe pointed out, it might be difficult to attract foot traffic to an already dead block with little in the way of seating for diners, or much else to engage visitors. Councilmember Campbell observed, ""It's sometimes easier to get something successful in a successful area..." Councilmember Mello suggested Tollefson Plaza as a more attractive place to hang out and eat, possibly drawing more customers.

It's just the logistics of normal consumer behavior that I'm concerned about, and I want the pilot to be as successfull as possible... I applaud the department's efforts to activate dead zones... but I worry about this pilot, and just want to set it up for the best success possible.

No specific decision was arrived at during the presentation, but the most recent Special Events Bulletin from the City shows a compromise solution that has the trucks moving to four separate locations throughout the course of a month.

  • 1st and 3rd Fridays - 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. Breakfast and lunch. Downtown, just south of Urban Grace on Market and 9th.
  • 2nd and 4th Fridays - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Lunch. Downtown, at Tollefson Plaza on Pacific and 17th.
  • Saturdays - 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Lunch and dinner. Ruston Way, Cummings Park, southeast of the Lobster Shop.
  • Sundays - 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Lunch and dinner. Ruston Way, outside the Silver Cloud Inn.

All food trucks licensed in Pierce County would be eligible to participate, and at least four would commit to showing up to the "food truck corral" on the days it operates downtown, and three each day it's open on Ruston Way.

There hasn't been an official announcement from the City, but according to the presentation at the Economic Development Committee, the pilot program is scheduled to begin May 1, and continue through the end of July, at which time the City and food truck operators will assess how the program went - location, hours, attendance, etc - and consider whether to continue the event, revamp it, or make it a one-time thing. You may not see much signage either - Economic Development was hesitant for any of the parties involved to invest too much in an event that might not continue...

The Business Examiner reports that a ribbon cutting is scheduled for Friday, May 1 at 10 a.m at the Market and 9th location... followed by lunch, we assume. Will we see you in line at the food trucks?


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Comments

Jesse

What Tacoma needs is a downtown Saturday Market.  A Saturday Market has a food truck/cart corral, entertainment stages, and is focused on art as it’s main piece as opposed to produce like a Farmers Market is.  Art, as in, consumable art and sales of - booths.  Think more like Art on the Ave as opposed to the current Famers Markets.

Maybe Economic Development can get with the City Art Director to make something really outstanding here.

April 20, 2015 at 10:46 am / Reply / Quote and reply

9 | 0

Jesse

Btw, I would be willing to help put a Saturday Market together.  I have extensive non-profit experience with events and am easily found if you ask the usual suspects.

April 21, 2015 at 7:31 am / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 0

JDHasty

“Until now food trucks haven’t exactly thrived in Tacoma and Pierce County, due in part to regulations that differ from those in King County, and are fairly strict compared to other cities with thriving food truck scenes.”

So “Tacoma’s” answer is not to GTF out of the way by backing off on the regulations that the City admits are hurting entrepreneurial enterprise, but to set up a new City program.

April 20, 2015 at 10:55 am / Reply / Quote and reply

7 | 2

Steve

I know that in the recent past, Tacoma has been wanting to see a successful ‘Sidewalk Food Vendor / Food Carts’ program happen throughout the city. Portland has a thriving food cart community, apparently, but it has not really caught on here in Tacoma like they had hoped. The big problem I see, with locations like Tollefson Plaza and such is a lack of parking. I don’t think many drivers are going to be willing to stop and get out of their cars to buy from a food truck on the side unless there is adequate parking for them.
But, I am in favor of having more food options available on those days of the week; Friday, Saturday, Sunday, etc.

April 20, 2015 at 11:17 am / Reply / Quote and reply

4 | 1

Jenny JRegistered

Hopefully the downtown trucks will mostly be serving local workers and other foot traffic, rather than relying on serving as a lunch destination for people coming from elsewhere.

If the fear of competing with anything at all downtown, and the hope of activating a block that has very little reason to be activated don’t kill this pilot program before it ever gets off the ground, we could have something good on our hands.

April 20, 2015 at 11:32 am / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 0

Terry

I wouldn’t hold my breath for this to work, but I do think it’s a small step in the right direction. The trouble with Downtown Tacoma is, and might always be, a lack of imagination and vision. This, and most other revitalization projects, aren’t well thought out or home grown. Tacoma plays this bad monkey-see-monkey-do game game with Portland and Seattle. This is Portland-lite food trucks. Here’s the real plan. Let the food trucks take over Tollefson Plaza…. forever. Tell the truck owners if litter or homelessness become an issue, you’ll have to move. Let them take ownership!

April 20, 2015 at 4:44 pm / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 1

JDHasty

“Tacoma plays this bad monkey-see-monkey-do game game with Portland and Seattle.”

Ding, ding, ding - we have a winner here.  Actually it is “Tacoma” who plays that game, not Tacoma residents in general.  The problem with top down direction of the market is that by the time those who are making decisions even recognize market trends, the moment has evaporated and all they ever accomplish is to mimic “yesterday’s news.” 

 

April 21, 2015 at 5:30 am / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 0

paolo

City government should work with developer Erivan Haub to establish a dedicated food truck corral on the surface parking lot at 1301 Pacific Avenue.  Haub, a brilliant capitalist with dual passions for culture (e.g., his Sun Mountain Lodge) and Tacoma (look at his donations to the Tacoma Art Museum), should take the risk of giving up a guaranteed revenue stream from renting at least some parking spaces to create an attraction there that draws in tourists and locals alike but that also gives him a chance to showcase his ambitions for Tacoma.  Renting parking spaces is survival mode for that property—but he has had a past goal to construct a new office building there.  A food truck corral there that would generate some revenue for him would be like the early 1990s when businessman George Russell put together a three-day display of Chihuly neons in ice inside the Tacoma Dome with an unexpectedly public reaction that inspired his vision for the Museum of Glass.  So a food truck corral at the Haub property might be a spark for commercial renewal in downtown Tacoma.  Food trucks are a big part of the charm of a visit to Portland, Oregon.

April 21, 2015 at 5:52 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 0

Engineer

What would be even better would be some good actual restaurants in Tacoma.  The pickings are slim.

April 21, 2015 at 7:34 am / Reply / Quote and reply

3 | 4

Jesse

Stanley and Seafort’s, Vuelve a la Vida, Silk Thai, Indochine, El Gaucho, Asado, Original Pancake House, Boathouse 19, Pacific Grill, Over the Moon Cafe, Marzano’s (Parkland), Europa Bistro, Red Hot, Adriatic Grill, Hilltop Kitchen, Top of Tacoma, The Matador, Dirty Oscars Annex, Pomodoro, Maxwell’s, Cloverleaf Pizza, and Smoke and Cedar.

Let me know when you’ve hit all my faves here.  Then we can talk about hitting more great places in Tacoma or even Gig Harbor…

April 22, 2015 at 7:34 am / Reply / Quote and reply

2 | 1

JDHasty

You have listed about half of the great local restaurants.  I suspect that the problem with “Engineer” is that as a general rule of thumb engineers’ taste in restaurants is on par with engineers’ fashion sensibilities and I say that as an engineer who is all to familiar with what the average engineer considers a great restaurant.

April 22, 2015 at 8:23 am / Reply / Quote and reply

1 | 1

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