Smile Politely

We want more food truck gatherings

Last week we wrote about all the fun activities that make summer in C-U pretty great. Amidst all the fun, however, there are a few summer staples that were casualties of the pandemic, specifically the Urbana Sweetcorn Festival and Taste of C-U. It’s also been a long time since the last food truck rally.

While we’d love to bring back summer food truck rallies, we think it would be even better to have a food truck park. Having multiple food trucks reliably available in one location with amenities such as seating and bathrooms (and potentially even an open air bar) means that groups can sample a variety of cuisine in one convenient location. It’s good business for the trucks, and good for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as socializing outdoors continues to be a safer option as the pandemic rages on around us

We realize that it takes more than just an empty space to make a food truck park viable. There are a lot of concurrent considerations in order to make such a thing a success. For example, you’d need to identify a space that has a lot of foot traffic but wouldn’t take customers away from existing restaurants. Infrastructure such as seating and bathrooms would need to be installed and maintained. But there are ample examples from other micro-urban areas and college towns that demonstrate that food truck parks can be a real asset to communities. 

One example we look towards is The Little Fleet in Traverse City, Michigan. It’s a food truck lot with an open bar that’s open year round. Not only does a rotating cast of food trucks get regular business by being co-located, it also provides a ready made venue for special events and performances. 

As another example we look to the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Library Mall food carts. While Madison might be a larger city overall, the college town vibe along State Street is not dissimilar from Green Street in our Campustown area. As a side note, State Street in Madison is a pedestrian mall and Green Street is not, but perhaps one day the groups advocating for Green Street to be closed to cars will win out. In any case, there is a food cart mall right outside Memorial Library providing convenient food options for hungry students and community members during the warmer months. 

We can imagine a number of spots on the U of I campus that would benefit from a similar arrangement, having seen the long lines outside of the few food trucks that find scattered parking near Grainger Library or Krannert Center for Performing Arts. 

In Milwaukee, Zócalo is a food truck park that allows customers to reserve a picnic table in advance to guarantee seating. You can order online from many of the trucks for quick pick up and they have a full calendar of special events including cooking classes and comedy shows. 

C-U is home to more than 20 food trucks and we would love to have a regular time and place to sample all they have to offer. Let’s hope that an enterprising local entrepreneur or city official sees the same potential we do and makes food truck gathering(s) reality. Bringing back regularly scheduled food truck rallies would be welcome until something more permanent could be established. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top photo by Jessica Hammie.

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