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Through our travels around California and beyond, we encounter food truck and street food fairs and events in almost every city and locale. Many events have a lot in common, and a few really stand out. One thing remains consistent – whenever three or more food trucks or food stands come together, masses of hungry customers follow. People seem to be drawn to

Food Trucks at the Fairgrounds by The Mobile Gourmet

food festivals, and are especially fond of mobile food festivals and gatherings. And while operating a mobile food truck or stand can sometimes seem like a political nightmare, events present a simple solution in a seemingly prepackaged recipe for success. But, not all events are created equally.

On February 27, I posted an article that detailed the six most-important questions every mobile food truck and stand operator should ask before jumping on the event bandwagon.

I’ve planned to post this article since then, but between a flu and nursing Stitch’s feline brother, Vinnie back to good health, I’ve had little time to sit down with this article. My apologies for the delay, and many thanks for your patience.

Vinnie (for those who have asked) is doing very well, and recovering at home. I still administer an IV and six doses of medication every day, but he should be back to normal soon. Thanks to everyone for the well wishes.

It would take months to collect complete data, and experience first hand every food truck event throughout California, so we’ve sampled eight that host frequent and/or large events from San Diego to Sacramento. We’ve given each of them a letter grade based on a number of factors:

  • Our personal experience
  • Customer and Food Truck Operator reviews
  • Event location(s) and attractions
  • Event Organizer website
  • Event Organizer responsiveness
  • Fee structure for vendors
  • Fees to customers

San Diego

Third Friday Food Truck Extravaganza

Fifty Seven Degrees is San Diego’s largest wine facility, located in Mission Hills. Every third Friday Fifty Seven Degrees hosts it’s Third Friday Food Truck Extravaganza, featuring about a dozen or more gourmet food trucks, wine bar, art exhibit and music. With indoor facilities capable of accommodating 500 people, as well as outdoor accommodations, Third Friday Food Truck Extravaganza is becoming a popular Southern California foodie destination. Admission is $2.00. Fifty Seven Degrees has received mostly positive reviews from guests, with the primary complaint about parking. However, the facility is easily accessible by the San Diego trolly system, which is a beautiful experience, itself. The next event will be held on March 16th. More info on their website.  http://www.fiftysevendegrees.com/

Los Angeles

 

Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association

With approximately 120 members, the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association (SCMFVA) is a group of small business entrepreneurs who have set about changing the food landscape in Southern California by providing a diverse and eclectic variety of high quality food at an affordable price, from a mobile platform. SCMFVA operates seven lots in the Los Angeles area, including Downtown, the Hollywood Production Lot, the LA Mart, Century Blvd, Santa Monica Main Street, USC, Yukon Elementary School, and the Westside Food Truck Central lot at Washington Blvd and Overland Blvd. Each lot hosts a range of two to 12 food trucks, and the booking fees for food truck operators range from $25 – $130. SCMFVA has built a strong reputation as an advocate for mobile food legislation in California, as well as becoming a responsible steward in the mobile food industry, helping its members grow their businesses whenever possible.

Din Din a Go Go brings five-to-eight food trucks to Encino, La Mirada, Northridge, Norwalk and Southbay every week, and customers in the know are loving it. Unfortunately, DDAGG’s website is not updated, so we were never able to contact them. The telephone listed on the website is incorrect, and DDAGG did not respond to email messages. Twitter and Facebook seem to be their primary mode of communication now, so we recommend you check their pages for event listings. Each DDAGG has its own dedicated Facebook and Twitter page. Start at the DDAGG website where you’ll find twitter feeds for each of the event locations.

Orange County

 Food Truck Fare

The OC Fair and Event Center hosts two weekly food truck events on Wednesday evenings and Thursday afternoons at the OC Fairground. With some of the most popular food trucks in OC and LA vending, and no fee for parking or attendance (except during the county fair), both of these weekly food truck events are quite popular attractions in Orange County, and customers are raving. Thursday Food Truck Fare from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm features around eight food trucks and coincides with a popular farmers market. The booking fee for the Thursday lunch event is $25. The Wednesday Food Truck Fare After Dark from 5:30 pm until 9:00 pm features a cash bar and dinner service. The booking fee for trucks is $50. During the fair season, the Thursday Food Truck Fare is brought into the fairground every Thursday from noon until 10:00 pm. Visit the OC Fair and Events Center website for more information.

San Jose and the South Bay Area

More than 50 food trucks regularly participate in the weekly food truck dinner events presented by the highly acclaimed, Moveable Feast in San Jose at Southside, Willow Glen, Garden City and one at the San Mateo Event Center. Moveable Feast provides seating, canopies and live music at its free weekly events, and the booking fee for trucks is $50 + 10%. Along with some of the best food truck events in the Bay Area, Moveable Feast hosts a regular free talk series, “Food Trucks of Today,” aimed at arming new food truck entrepreneurs with the information they’ll need to run a successful street food operation.

On April 15, 2012, Moveable Feast presents The San Jose Taco Festival of Innovation. The feast day will be filled with tastings, art, and performances with a standardized taco price of $2 from over twenty-five of the best food trucks from San Jose to San Francisco. Short rib tacos, nacho tacos, Vietnamese shrimp tacos, and even ice cream tacos will be on the day’s menu. Tacos in the competition will be voted on by attendees. Finalists will be judged by a celebrity panel and prizes will be awarded based on quality and presentation. Advanced sale tickets and event information can be found on the event website at http://sjtaco.com/ and we’ve got this one on our calendar!

San Francisco and the North Bay Area

Off the Grid began in June of 2010 with the simple idea that grouping Street Food vendors together similar to an “Asian night market” would create an experience that would allow neighbors to connect with friends, and families to reconnect with each other. Since then, Matt Cohen, founder of Off the Grid has worked hard to develop markets that are both located in urban cores of cities, and that utilize spaces that are not easily activated effectively throughout the day. More than 30 food trucks participate in Off the Grid events at more than one dozen San Francisco and North Bay Area locations, receiving consistent rave reviews. Off the Grid has become the highest acclaimed mobile food festival of Northern California, and Matt Cohen today is credited as The Godfather of mobile food events in the region. Off the Grid believes in promoting win-win opportunities for the small local businesses they work with, maintaining a fixed cost structure of $50+10% and no admission fees.

Bay Area Peninsula

The Mobile Gourmet is relatively new to the San Francisco Bay Area, but has already attained high acclaim. The Mobile Gourmet gathers together around 30 of the best gourmet food trucks at about half a dozen locations in the Bay Area in an outdoor bistro-style atmosphere that is perfect for families, friends, co-workers, foodies, and food-truck gurus alike. The booking fee for food truck operators is typically 10%-15%, and admission fees vary from free to around $5.00, depending on the venue. The organizers lean toward providing free events as much as possible. Each of the events takes on its own personality, depending on its locale, and provide seating, indoor facilities, live entertainment and other amenities, and have received consistent, positive reviews since its inception. Check the Mobile Gourmet website for scheduling information.

Sacramento

SactoMoFo, as offensive as the name sounds, is actually an acronym for “Sacramento Mobile Food,” and consists of a group of individuals who enjoy organizing mobile food events as a hobby. However, several Sacramento food truck operators have informed us that SactoMoFo is in the process of turning its event enterprise into a for-profit business. I should note that this is the only event in the state that we have directly received complaints about from food truck operators. The group primarily organizes small round-ups which coincide with other events, and has organized two mobile food festivals in Sacramento. Previous customer complaints primarily focus on extremely long wait times and sell-outs.

Many customers reported they were disappointed after waiting in line for more than two hours to find the items they wanted were sold out. SactoMoFo organized its first major food festival in April, 2011 where, to our estimation, approximately 3,000 people attended in a small park  in Sacramento. Due to an extremely low volume street food market in the area, there are only a handful of gourmet food trucks on the road at any given time in Sacramento. The mobile food festivals consist of more than 50% non-local food trucks. Its second food festival (sponsored, in part by Stitches ‘n Dishes) was held under a freeway overpass in Downtown Sacramento, where approximately 2,000 people attended. Complaints about this event seemed to primarily focus on the selection/variety of food and the prices. Booking fees vary from $150 – $300, but some vendors have informed us that not every vendor is charged the same fee. In some cases, vendors are not charged a fee at all, while other vendors pay a fee for the same event.

 

 

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About the Author

Chris Ford is the founder of Stitches 'n Dishes and editor in chief with a passion for food, photography and travel. Chris is a Media Correspondent for the Food Network TV show, Eat St, a syndicated blogger, seasoned event organizer and promoter, a food critic, a marketing consultant and Social Media Marketing expert. Chris is also a fashion and entertainment photographer. When he's not dining on the sidewalk, he's snapping photos on the catwalk.

  • Bernadette

    They should have some events like this at the wineries in Napa. I know of a few real gourmet food trucks there that would be wonderful to have paired with some of those gorgeous wines. San Francisco and the whole Bay Area really know how to host a good event. The food is worlds apart there. We go to the Bay from the Sac area at least twice a month and always have lunch or dinner at a OTG event. The Friday night one is the best. 

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      There was a regular mobile food event in Napa at one point, but I believe it was disbanded by the city. I’ll look into it. We tried Mark’s the Spot not long ago – wow! Incredible food! We’re huge fans of Off the Grid events, too. The Friday Fort Mason event is definitely in a class of its own. The SF Bay Area and SoCal have set the bar high for events – no doubt about it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=714414352 CeeJay Krewe

    Would love to see food trucks (minus the regular taco trucks) in the Central valley, around Modesto and Turlock.  Would be amazing.  When I go to New Orleans, I am a habitual customer at many food trucks.  Amazing foods!!!!

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks CeeJay. There’s an abundance of taco trucks there, isn’t there? The food truck “revolution” hasn’t really picked up in some areas of CA, yet – Central Valley being one of them. We’d love to see something sprout up there, too!

  • James Freely

     I went to the Sacto MOFO in December with my girlfriend and some friends
    and it wasn’t to bad. It was really windy like a wind tunnel and we
    couldn’t hear anything from the DJ with all the cars over our heads, but
    the food was really good. Some of it was overpriced but we checked
    menus before we stood in lines and avoided the pricy ones. The lines
    were ok at most of them. Maybe 35 minutes wait but it wasn’t like the
    first one at all. At least there it was in a park where you could have a
    picnic on the grass. They really shouldn’t have food trucks right under
    a freeway especially if its windy to start with. It just made matters
    worse. There wasn’t much to stay for so we went to 3 trucks and left. 

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks, James. It was definitely a very windy day. We were there as a sponsor at the event. There were about two dozen trucks there, which really helped keep lines shorter. We agree about the location – directly under a freeway isn’t really ideal. My feeling is that as the street food culture develops its own identity in Sacramento, we’ll see substantial improvement in events. Plenty of people enjoyed the day there, but there really aren’t any other options to compare it with locally. These are what I’d call “growing pains.” As the market develops over the next couple of years, I think we’ll see an entirely different face on the Sacramento street food culture. It just takes time! They’ve only been at it there for just over a year, and we’ve seen some incredible food coming from Sac.

      • Ken

         Looks like it. I just read your review on the Matador. Ole’!

      • James Freely

         I saw you guys there. We walked in passed the DJ and saw you guys and entered your contest. We didn’t win though. :( What keeps it from just blowing up the way it did in other places like LA?

        • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

          There are a lot of factors that influence the development of any market. Something may be very popular in one area, and not in another, despite all the media attention in the world. It all depends on the demographic – the people you’re selling your product to. Do they understand the product, do they need it, do they want it? In some cases, a population might not have a clear understanding of what food trucks are about, adhering to the “roach coach” stereotype or just assuming that the food from a truck can’t be as safe or as good as a restaurant. It takes time, patience and a lot of public awareness / education to break those barriers.

  • Ken

    You can count me in for the SJ Taco Fest!! Moveable Feast deserves an A+ for being so cutting edge. You left out that they bring out heat lamps if its chilly outside so you can stay warm under cover and sit down with your friends to eat. You should check out what’s going on in the South Bay. There are great food trucks creating some of the best food you’ll find like Omni Ninja, Soulnese, and the WOW. If you like burritos you have to try WOW. You won’t want another burrito after you try there carabou style burrito! You also left out the LA Art Walk. They have a HUGE food truck festival with live music and bars. It’s a really good article. Must be nice going to food festivals everywhere and writing about them! I’m glad my favorite got an A! Come get your FEAST on!

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks for the feedback, Ken! There are just too many events to cover in one article. The event at Art Walk is, in one word, incredible. We plan to tour through the South Bay very soon, and will definitely take you up on your suggestions! You’ve got me curious about the WOW truck – let’s see if they’ll “wow” us!

      • Ken

         Look for me at the Taco Fest. I’ll be the guy eating all the tacos!!

  • Bernadette

    They should have the El Matador truck from your other article at the San Jose Taco festival! Just sayin!

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      That’s a great idea. I wonder if both parties would be interested. hmmmm

  • Chris Kunkel

    As much as i was dismayed to see the criticism of the sactomofo events, which in my opinion has been steadily improving as time goes by,  I think objective criticism is sometimes necessary in order to improve and I hope the organizers of sactomofo consider your comments and use that information to make future events as great as they have the potential to be.  Sacramento is up to around 14 trucks now, so the future could be quite tasty.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks Chris for the comment. This one took us by surprise several months ago, after we sponsored their event in December. We’ve sponsored other events and have worked with vendors around the state, but this was the only event we received complaints from multiple vendors about. I think you’re right. As time goes by, things will improve in Sacramento. Vendors and organizers are going through growing pains… they’re developing. There’s promise and potential there, but it’s a very challenged and stressed market. We’ve tasted some of the most incredible foods from Sacramento trucks – several we felt would be strong contenders in established markets like San Francisco and LA. I have no doubt we’ll see conditions improve as other events begin to form in the area.

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  • drhiphop

    It *would* certainly take months to compile data and review all food festivals…so do you have some openings for writers who can help with these monstrous tasks… ;)  I enjoy food and write well, and I’d love to be involved.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

      Thanks for reaching out, drhiphop! We’re always interested in talking with writers. Send an email message to me – chris@stitchesndishes.com

      • http://drhiphop.wordpress.com/ drhiphop

        Hi Chris,  I sent you an email earlier this week, hope you got it.  I’d be interested in covering this next week if you don’t have someone doing it already:  
        http://www.tastefridays.com/

        • http://www.stitchesndishes.com StitchesnDishes

          Hey there! I received your email… it’s been a crazy, hectic week! This looks like a fantastic event! I’ll be in touch. My schedule is jammed today and tomorrow, but I’ll get back to you somewhere in between!

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