Crowds turn out for Berkeley’s inaugural Off The Grid

An estimated 1,000-2,000 people came to Berkeley’s first Off The Grid. Photos: Tracey Taylor

[Update, 8:50 pm: Watch a video of Off The Grid, at foot of story.]

Organizer Matt Cohen needn’t have worried about the weather being a dampener — he estimated that anywhere between 1,000 and 2,000 people showed up last night to Off The Grid’s inaugural Berkeley street food event in the Gourmet Ghetto.

Such was the enthusiasm among locals to sample pockets of falafel, Filipino treats, dripping pulled pork sandwiches and crunchy fish tacos that several of the food trucks ran dry early in the evening.

Cupkates sold out at 6.30 pm, just one and half hours after the start time. By the time Berkeleyside turned up at about 7.15 pm, 510 Burger had shut up shop and neither Skylite Snowballs nor The Taco Guys were anywhere to be seen. (At 8.27 pm, tweeter ak3700 posted a photo of a disappointed young customer who had no doubt been looking forward a Red Velvet treat.) The prospect of rain had been enough to deter some, it seems.

Wating in line to sample food from Hapa SF

Hapa SF, Liba Falafel, and Brass Knuckle were going strong however.

“This is why we billed it as a soft launch,” said Cohen who was seemingly unfazed at Berkeleyans’ eagerness for scrumptious, sustainable food with the added bonus of an enticing price. (That, and perhaps Berkeleyside must shoulder some responsibility for swelling the numbers — the Facebook “Like” counter on our original Off The Grid story gave up the ghost at 1,000 and our follow-up post was showing 174 at last count.)

Cohen expects any wrinkles to be ironed out as the event establishes itself — it will take place every Wednesday evening at the intersection of Shattuck and Rose, between 5 pm and 9 pm. He estimates there will be eleven vendors operating next week. And the hope is that Saul Deli’s Peter Levitt will be cooking up a storm in the Off The Grid truck.

The chilly, overcast evening didn’t deter Wes Lyndberg and his three friends, all recent Cal graduates, from standing in line for more than half an hour to buy some Filipino small plates from Hapa SF. “We would wait for ever,” Lyndberg joked, who was clearly feeling demob happy and enjoying the anticipation of the al fresco feast ahead of him.

Wes Lyndberg (far right) and his three friends, all recent Cal graduates, wait to buy food from Hapa SF

Heather Hensley, Executive Director of the North Shattuck Association, which co-hosted the event, said she was pleased with the turn-out and the general atmosphere. And she wasn’t concerned that the event was a victim of its own success. “Everyone is being very social — there’s lots of chatting in line. It’s going to get better and better every week,” she said.

“The night was great. A large, enthusiastic crowd spilled over into neighborhood businesses which were also filled,” Mark Rhoades wrote in a Berkeleyside comment after attending Off The Grid. “An event that simply uses the street to let people gather, eat and socialize is worth replicating in other neighborhoods. I hope other councilmembers champion this cause in their neighborhoods.”

People used the median and available chairs to eat their street-food dinners

Thanks to Ira Serkes, anyone who couldn’t make Berkeley’s first Off The Grid and would like to see what they missed can enjoy his 2.40-minute video:

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  • another BUSD parent

    it was delightful and yummy!

  • Carolyn

     look forward to the next meet up as we weren’t able to taste goodies at 7:30! Hopefully these small businesses will we ready for us Berkeley eaters next time.

  • Cdale77

    Great event, but at 7:30 the pickins were slim for us gluten-free folks. Somebody, please: it’s easy to make falafel with rice flour!!

  • BerkOak

    So happy to see OffTheGrid come to Berkeley and will be stopping by as often as possible on Wednesdays. ate at @cupkates @libafalafel @senorsisig, all yummy. long lines=no bueno, but that means it’s apopular. i bet the event outgrows the space in no time…

  • I rode by on the #18 bus when Off the Grid was happening . … . long lines.  I am always glad to see other humans finding success.  Honest.

    But I am wondering about a concept from the Talmud. In ancient Jewish culture, when someone wanted to open a new business, they asked permission of the rabbi. If a community could only support one shoemaker, the rabbi would not give permission for a second one — to use a blunt example. Obviously, how many shoemakers a community can support depends on many factors. The point is, just like an ecosystem has limited resources, our economic world does.

    I happen to believe there is enough for all, although I also believe that ‘enough’ really should be ‘enough’. I think our economy should be more balanced, generating only what humans needs and not generating excess and accumulated wealth. Manna from heaven can be ours each day.

    With these reflections on my mind, I wonder how Off the Grid affects eateries in this city paying rent, paying staff and losing biz to the trucks on Wednesday evening. And I would like to know what benefits accrue to the city for allowing this use of our commons.  The truck restaurants benefit. And the social benefit of people coming out for a nice experience is a meaningful benefit.

    I’m just wondering how Off the Grid affects the ecosystem that it now invades every Wednesday.

  • Andrew

    Actually, it’s been argued that the food trucks are a great way for entrepreneurial chefs to get up and running fast without the overhead of rent, equipment, staff, etc, etc. But each one is unlikely to want to do this forever and they probably have ambitions of owning their own restaurant someday.

    Frankly, if competition helps the more established businesses to up their game then that is good for all of us eaters. But let’s face it, it’s just one night a week. And last night many trucks ran out of food fast, and where are those hungry folks with hungry kids going to eat? Sauls, Cheeseboard Pizza, Lococos, Cesar, the food court…

    The food truck thing is a fad. It won’t last forever. Or will it?

  • deirdre

    All the more reason to rotate the Off The Grid events at spots throughout Berkeley.  City Hall Park and Derby Street already host farmers markets.  Can intermittent Off The Grid nights take place there?  What about West Berkeley, too?

  • Not to mention that the experience of buying something from a truck and eating it while standing in the street or sitting on a lawn is a lot different than the experience of eating in a restaurant.

  • Emunah Hauser

    Off the Grid is in North Berkeley due to the hard work of the North Shattuck Merchant’s Association and persistent advocacy of forward-thinking neighborhood restaurants and businesses. Why would they risk the “competition”? Though steeped in food history, these Berkeley food leaders have their ear to the ground: emerging chefs serving up creative small bites with good ingredients take excitement around food to a new level. They know what OTG brings to the table: thousands of NEW potential, food-astute customers into the neighborhood. It’s a misperception that food trucks and storefronts compete for the same customers. Maybe in some instances, but not here, and not when you’re working with OTG’s outreach power. It’s as plain as the new faces and diverse demographics we saw last night, and the sheer volume of people who are willing to travel far to gather around new food movement energy.

  • Anonymous

    It will be great for the local merchants and restaurants – details later

  • Mark Rhoades

    Actually, because of the crowds that were drawn in, local businesses did far better than they would have on a typical Weds. That’s why this is probably a good idea for other Berkeley business neighborhoods that have suffered as a result of the economy. It also goes to show that Berkeley CAN do something new and fun, and not take several years to make it happen. 

  • Guest

    I was so excited for this event, but it was a huge disappointment.  I got there around 7:30PM and there was not a single vegetarian option left at any of the food trucks.  The vendors seemed completely unprepared for the piddly crowds.  I will come back, but I expected more organization from Off the Grid.

  • Guest

    I was so excited for this event, but it was a huge disappointment.  I got there around 7:30PM and there was not a single vegetarian option left at any of the food trucks.  The vendors seemed completely unprepared for the piddly crowds.  I will come back, but I expected more organization from Off the Grid.

  • Anonymous

    A moveable feast … not just in Paris. We really enjoyed last night’s “Off The Grid” street-food truck event.

    Saw lots of people we knew, had some great food, and a great time was had by all!.

    I think this will be boon for North Berkeley for many reasons … it brings people out, attracts visitors from other areas, and tonight’s opening night lines were sooooo long that many people will come for the event, and then eat at one of the wonderful neighborhood restaurants such as Saul’s Deli, Cesar, Cheese Board, Guerilla Cafe, Poulet, and even Cafe Gratitude, to name a few.
    I heard they selected Wednesday night in part because it’s typically a slow night for local restaurants

    Calibration Data: “sooooo long” means Carol was on line for 90 minutes!

    We’ll be back for the fun of it … and even for the food of it. I realized  that 10-15 minutes is about my personal wait time limit, and expect that with more trucks the lines will be shorter.

    Ready – Fire – Aim – Now that they know what didn’t work, I’ll bet future ones will be better.

    Did a scientific survey – 100% of the respondents said that they wouldn’t have been on North Shattuck if it weren’t for the event.  Only 50% actually ate from the food trucks.

    Here’s the raw data for interpolation, extrapolation, correlation or interpretation to prove whatever position you take.  The best position to eat the food would be standing next to a food truck or sitting on the median strip or chairs.

    SURVEY 1

    Ira: Would you have been on North Shattuck if it weren’t for “Off The Grid”

    Friend: No

    Ira: Did you eat there?

    Friend: The lines were too long; we ended up having a burger at Barney’s where there were no lines.

    SURVEY 2

    Ira: Would you have been on North Shattuck if it weren’t for “Off The Grid”

    Ira: No

    Ira: Did you eat there?

    Ira: Yes – we had a 90 minute wait which only felt like 60-75 minutes.  

    There you have it!

  • Guest

    Your “flimsy statistical methodology” aside, the falafel were “iconic”.  I came, I saw and I ate.  And, will return.  Next time, I might both eat from a truck and eat from a nearby restaurant, for future statistical analysis.

  • Mark Rhoades

    Exactly. We have two small children so the lines weren’t going to work. It was super fun though, and we will be back earlier next week. We ate at Saul’s last night, which we would not have done but for the event.

  • Tony H

    Delighted that Off The Grid has made its way to Berkeley, but… when I arrived just before 6 PM, Cupkates had already run out and closed its windows and 10 minutes later just as I was two people from ordering at 510 Burgers, they announced they had no more burgers — just fries. The lines for the remaining three trucks were monumental. Did the food truck folk simply underestimate the response or what? We’ll try again next week when hopefully the vendors will have more food.

  • Birdie Bauer

         Just a heads up, I work at one of the many local restaurants in the Ghetto and must tell you that business was great due to the happy arrival of the trucks. It makes our lovely community even stronger and richer. Great points you made however. People like yourself is what make North Berkeley such a wonderful place to live and work! Here’s to great dining and eats! Cheers, Birdie Bauer

  • Anonymous

    Falafel is gluten-free. It’s made with chickpea flour. Enjoy it!

  • annie painter

    I had to smile at the comments below from people with food aversion philosophies, whether occasioned by politics, religion, or allergies. Folks — look at the pictures of those healthy, strapping, hungry college students, and the pix of parents with hungry kids. The trucks can barely keep up with customers willing to eat ANYTHING, even paper, after standing in line a half hour or more. I think we need to be realistic about our expectations about such events. Go with an open mind and take what they offer, or choose to eat at a sit-down resto where you can negotiate special meals. There are a lot of choices in Berkeley!

  • Cupcakes sold out before 6pm.  Did they not think the event was supposed to last until 9pm?  Really disappointing, but looking forward to next week and the additional trucks!

  • Anonymous

    There needs to be more places to sit over there.  What ever happened to the plans to change that parking area into a plaza?

  • Susan

    I have often thought about how to create community, this may be a beginning of a Berkeley version of the Italian passeggiata.

  • Mo420

    Only my first time going today, and it was pretty awesome!  Only had the HAPA SF fair but plan to go trying a different truck each time.  I love Berkeley!