Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Food Pods Planned All Over Oakland

By Jesse Hirsch
Tue, Dec 13, 2011 at 5:00 PM

Oakland City Council's approval of an interim mobile food policy was a measured win; it will be many months before the city adopts the progressive, comprehensive mobile-food policy of say, Emeryville. The temporary resolution only allows for food-truck events, leaving a trillion details to be worked out (curbside vending for individual trucks, food carts versus trucks, etc.). Nonetheless, many event organizers are breaking out the confetti.

Matt Cohen, the man behind San Francisco mobile-food juggernaut Off the Grid, has sent trucks into North Berkeley, Marin, and San Mateo, but has long licked his chops over Oakland’s untapped market. And while he is cagey talking about potential “pod” locations, Cohen said Old Oakland is attractive, especially near the new popuphood venture at 9th and Broadway.

He also said Off the Grid’s loyal following gives him an advantage in location scouting. “Unlike other events, we don’t have to be right in the middle of things,” he said. “Off the Grid has enough marketing reach that we can pull in customers from all over.”

Karen Hester, organizer of Bites off Broadway, intends to apply for two evening events, one at the intersection of 19th and Harrison and the other at her prior spot in front of Studio One Arts Center. As far as her first location on Broadway in front of Oakland Tech (shut down by the police in July), she’s a little gun-shy. “I really don’t have the energy to fight that battle right now,” Hester said.

Zac Silverman, owner of burger truck Doc’s of the Bay, also plans to enter the food-pod scrum, running one lunch event and one for dinner. He is very supportive of Off the Grid and Bites off Broadway, but ambitious young Silverman would prefer to be his own boss. “It’s appealing to work directly with the city, keeping all my revenues and not working through a middleman,” he said.

Silverman won’t go on the record with his location wish list, though he doesn’t anticipate real estate battles among the organizers. For his daytime spot, he wants to set up where there’s “a lot of office density” and not enough food options. For nights, he’s thinking of a well-trafficked neighborhood where the restaurants close up early. (Think you can guess?)

When the resolution passed last week, I naively thought I’d be eating Oakland street falafel within weeks. Turns out event organizers won’t be applying for permits until February 1 at the soonest (Hester suspects it’ll be later than that). There’s no big rush — food pods are less fun in winter. Still, don’t underestimate the languorous pace of Oakland politics.

Comments? Tips? Get in touch at Jesse.Hirsch@EastBayExpress.com.

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