Off The Grid, the food truck fest that has been a fixture on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto every Wednesday evening since June last year, had its last day in that location yesterday.
The city took the decision to stop hosting the market due to its impact on local brick and mortar businesses and property owners, and also because a reconfiguration of the space it used — at the intersection of Shattuck and Rose — is due to begin next year.
The sudden departure of the hugely popular street food gathering will come as a surprise to the estimated 1,500 people who make a beeline there every week to tuck into on-the-go edibles from the likes of Brass Knuckle, Fiveten Burger, Liba Falafel, and the CupKates Truck.
“Some businesses have taken a really big hit,” said Michael Caplan, Economic Development Manager for the City of Berkeley. “What was meant to be a special event became a competitive challenge for some existing brick and mortar stores.” Caplan said he had spoken to local restaurants who were losing $1,000 worth of business every Wednesday night. “One business owner said to me, ‘How would you feel if you saw your sales drop by a significant percentage on 50 days of the year?’,” he said.
Caplan said he had mixed feelings about the decision. “It’s a really cool thing, but the exciting food choices that Off The Grid brought in were also creating competitive pressure.”
Off The Grid organizer Matt Cohen said he had been told the reason for the cancellation was that the North Shattuck Association is planning to reconfigure the space used by Off The Grid, at the intersection of Shattuck Avenue and Rose Street, and therefore opted to not renew the mobile food gathering’s permit for 2013.
Cohen said work on the reconfiguration — which calls for more parking spaces and “parklets” (outlined in the the North Shattuck Pedestrian Improvements plan) — would have compromised the site. “The size of the space available after the reconfiguration is uncertain, and the city was reluctant to issue a short-term use permit.”
Cohen was told an annual permit would not be forthcoming two and half weeks ago and said he is sorry OTG could not have alerted its customers sooner. “We would have liked to have given more notice,” he said.
Heather Hensley, Executive Director of the North Shattuck Association, said the owners of the building at 1400 Shattuck had wanted OTG to leave for some time. “They are fairly upset at having the entrance to their businesses blocked twice a week,” she said. (There’s a weekly farmer’s market on the site, as well. The building is home to Lo Coco’s restaurant, Maru hair salon, and a chiropractic center among many others.)
“We decided to take a hiatus while we do the reconfiguration which should allow us more flexibility. Hopefully this will take the pressure off,” she said. The nonprofit farmers market which holds a weekly market in the same space every Thursday will stay for now, Hensley said. She added that it had been a hard decision to not reissue the annual permit. “Off The Grid has been very professional and good to work with. This is through no fault of theirs.”
The Shattuck market has been a winner for Off The Grid and the food trucks that made their weekly stop there. Cohen said it easily brought at least 1,500 people to the neighborhood every week, usually more. “It was very successful in bringing in a different demographic,” he said.
But he acknowledges there have been detractors whose main complaint has been the market’s effect on parking. “That more than anything has been an issue, and I’m very sensitive to that,” he said, adding that parking in the Gourmet Ghetto had always been problematic.
Off The Grid opened a second Berkeley location on Haste at Telegraph Avenue in July of this year which, Cohen said, was doing “steady” business. While the North Berkeley market has focused on interesting, chef-leaning food in keeping with the neighborhood, Telegraph has been a magnet for students seeking value-driven dishes, he said.
Cohen is intent on finding a new space in North Berkeley, but whether the city is as open to the idea is another matter. “We are looking for an alternative location and the city is helping us with that,” he said. (He also urged Berkeleyside readers with ideas of possible spots to email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Hensley said Off The Grid might potentially be able to return to the same area on a monthly basis. Caplan said the food truck market was invited in as a way to help boost the North Shattuck district’s identity and he could see applying that goal to another area of Berkeley. He said he could also envisage food truck markets operating on a special event basis.
Off The Grid makes its debut on Telegraph Avenue (07.13.12)
Off The Grid food truck fest to launch on Telegraph Avenue [06.22.12]
Local food names sign up for Off The Grid truck in Berkeley [10.19.11]
Crowds turn out for Berkeley’s inaugural Off The Grid [06.02.11]
Off The Grid to launch street food event in Berkeley [05.17.11]
Why does the street food scene bypass Berkeley? [10.18.10]
A small correction was made to a comment by Michael Caplan after publication of this story to reflect a mistake in quoting him made by the reporter.
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