Off the Grid off to rough 4th start in Berkeley

Karen Chow/Staff

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Food truck owners and local shop vendors were hoping the fourth time could be the charm for Off the Grid, which returned to Berkeley on Sunday, but overcast skies and low turnout put a damper on what many had hoped would be a vibrant comeback for the street food market.

Now located at Allston Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Off the Grid — which operates in 27 cities in California — has closed all three of its past Berkeley locations in Gourmet Ghetto, Telegraph Avenue and the North Berkeley BART station. Beth Andreoli, partner of the Lucky 13 Beer Truck, said Sunday’s event was attended by a mix of families and college students, but she had expected bigger crowds.

“This was the first event today (at this location) so we’re hoping for a better turnout in the weeks to come, and get the word out there,” Andreoli said. “I think that when the word gets out, this will be a really good market.”

At its peak, there were about five customers waiting in line for each food truck with some patrons sitting at nearby tables, said Alexandria Rodriguez, an intern at lifestyle boutique Concept Forty-Seven, which had a booth at the event.

Ben Himlan, director of business development at Off the Grid, has previously said he is hopeful that the new location will succeed due to its proximity to the Downtown Berkeley BART station, noting nearby similar events, such as a popular Saturday farmer’s market, that already exist.

Along with Lucky 13 Beer Truck, there were six food trucks at the event, including San Rafael-based Johnny Doughnuts, San Francisco-based Señor Sisig and Smoke’s Poutinerie, which began at 11 a.m. and ended at 3 p.m. Unique to the event, according to the Off the Grid website, was a “Maker Market” that included four local artisan vendors.

While most food truck operators said they were generally happy with business Sunday, some local businesses selling non-food items at stalls were disappointed about sales and their booth location on the street.

“The food trucks did really well but we’re at the end here so (customers) didn’t really know what was going on,” said Sarah Carter, who owns an organic skincare product business called Salinity.

Carter added that she hopes that Off the Grid management will reconsider the layout of the different food trucks and vendors so that all the businesses benefit.

Despite the lackluster turnout, many of the businesses are optimistic about the new Off the Grid location and are ready to sell their local products and foods to the community. Off the Grid is set to hold two more Sunday events in September and one Sunday event in October, with the food truck selection and artisan vendors rotating each week.

“It started off a little slow but it definitely picked up towards the end,” said Johnny Doughnuts employee Kelsie Niemetz. “Everyone was super into (the doughnuts), and it was a diverse group of people, which was nice.”

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ayoonhendricks.