Civic Center Park to be new site for food trucks starting September

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Francesca Ledesma/File

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The popular street vendor company Off the Grid is back on the grid and set to open a food truck market for the fourth time in Berkeley.

Off the Grid first came to Berkeley in 2011 and has closed all three previous locations in the Gourmet Ghetto, Telegraph Avenue and North Berkeley BART. The newest iteration of the street food market will be operating at the Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park beginning Sept. 11.

“We are going back for a fourth time because we have always believed in Berkeley,” said Ben Himlan, director of business development for Off the Grid.

Himlan is hopeful that the Downtown location will prove viable because of its proximity to BART and Downtown Berkeley. Its connection to an area with an already popularly attended event — a farmer’s market that has operated near the park since the late 1980s and is open every Saturday — may also help.

Lance Gorée, operations manager for the Downtown Berkeley Association, said he hoped Off the Grid would complement the farmer’s market and nearby restaurants would benefit from the increased exposure. Gorée said that Off the Grid draws a more tech-savvy crowd than the farmer’s market, and that he thinks the influx of residents in Downtown Berkeley will also add to the area’s customer base.

“Whenever we bring in a non-brick-and-mortar event, the brick-and-mortar establishments are going to have an issue with it,” Gorée said. “We hope the rising tide carries both.”

The owner of Caffe Strada complained about several food trucks that were located across the street from the restaurant, near the UC Berkeley School of Law, accusing them of being disrespectful of his business. These food trucks were not able to get their permits renewed.

Passione Pizza will have a truck in the new market, as well as Smoke’s Poutinerie and others. Jasmine Kaddoura, brand developer for Passione Pizza, said she hopes Off the Grid will increase exposure for their main restaurant a few blocks away.  

Off the Grid began planning its new location in the end of February. It worked directly with the city of Berkeley throughout the permitting process, which took about six months.

Berkeley has its own Department of Health, creating a permitting obstacle unique to the city of Berkeley as compared to other cities throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, according to Himlan. The city of Berkeley was flexible by allowing vendors to purchase a permit quarterly rather than annually, thus diminishing the upfront cost vendors would face.

“We feel very lucky they haven’t given up,” Gorée said, hoping vendors will stick with it even if it takes a few weeks for Off the Grid in Downtown Berkeley to thrive.

Contact Hannah Lewis at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @hlewis_dc.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article misspelled Ben Himlan’s name.

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