When James West was looking for a site for a food truck park, he visited 40 to 50 places in the Dallas-Fort Worth area before choosing an empty lot in downtown Plano.
“There is a great vibe here,” said West, standing on the 1.2-acre tract at 14th Street and M Avenue that he plans to transform into the Hub Streat Food Port later this year.
“I love the downtown revitalization. I wanted to be a part of it,” said West, whose specific use permit request was recently approved by the Plano City Council.
While gourmet food trucks began as an urban movement, the craze is now spreading into the suburbs where regulations are being revised to accommodate the growing popularity of food on wheels.
This will be the first food truck park in Plano, which adopted regulations for these venues last year. McKinney and Garland have updated their ordinances to address food trucks and Richardson is just starting that process.
“Cities are starting to recognize food trucks and are changing their regulations to help them be successful,” said Matt Geller, president of the Los Angeles-based National Food Truck Association that was formed in 2013.
“The view that they’re out there stealing customers (from restaurants) is starting to change,” he said. “Cities recognize that they are legitimate food providers.”
Geller said the gourmet food truck industry started in 2008 in Los Angeles as an outgrowth of the traditional taco truck.
The national organization, that began in 2013 with nine regional associations, now has 16 affiliates, including the North Texas Food Truck Association that was formed last year.
Geller believes the culinary craze has caught on because it provides “great food at reasonable prices,” has lower start-up costs than traditional restaurants and gives chefs the freedom to be creative with cuisine.
It’s also a great social experience for customers, said Geller, noting that mobile vending is expected to be a $2.7 billion industry by 2017, up from $600 million in 2011.
“It’s definitely not a fad,” said West, a native Texan who, along with business partner Robert Aitken, founded restaurants and gourmet food trucks in the Philadelphia area.
West returned to Texas about a year ago with the the intention of starting a traditional food truck park. A suggestion from his friend and mentor, Dan Scoggin, former president and CEO of T.G.I. Friday’s, made him rethink the concept. West started working at the Friday’s restaurant on Greenville Avenue when he was a teen.
“Scoggin said ‘I don’t think you’re thinking big enough.’ That was an inspirational moment,” recalled West, who began a two-year quest to study mobile eateries in the U.S., Great Britain and Asia.
He found an endless variety of foods being sold from trucks of all sizes, bicycles, motorcycles, even backpacks.
“Some of the best food we experienced came off of some mobile platforms,” West said. “A lot of innovation takes place on food trucks. They have a strong passion for food.”
He began to envision a social gathering place that would bring together the best features he found on his travels.
“We studied everything about food trucks and food truck parks,” he said. “There are a lot of good food truck parks but they didn’t have a combination of elements in one place.”
That’s how he arrived at the concept for Hub Streat (street + eat) Food Port.
It will include a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, three spaces for a rotating variety of food trucks, a stage for live music, an open-air patio and catering services. And it will be a dog-friendly environment, said West, who hopes to open the business in late summer or early fall.
Instead of being competition, he says the food trucks will have different menus and will complement the restaurant.
The marriage of restaurants and food trucks can be mutually beneficial, said Sydney Brown, treasurer of the North Texas Food Truck Association.
“It’s surprising what you find when you put restaurants in the same vicinity,” Brown said. “It’s giving people other (food) options.”
As this hot culinary trend evolves, some operators are using their food trucks as training wheels to launch their own restaurants.
“I see food trucks as an incubator business. They’re testing the concept out in the food trucks,” Geller said. “By they time they get into their restaurant, they’re ready to go.” (Courtesy of DallasNews.com)