Scoop: Off The Grid coming to downtown Berkeley

Pelican Po'Boys at Off the Grid Emeryville. Photo: Off the Grid/Facebook
Pelican Po’Boys at Off the Grid Emeryville — the food truck market operator is launching a new market in downtown Berkeley on Sept. 11. Photo: Off the Grid

Food trucks are coming to downtown Berkeley, offering a new option for Sunday lunch.

Off the Grid will launch a food-truck market in Civic Center Park starting Sunday, Sept. 11. The market will be open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and offer eight food trucks and live music, along with beer, wine and refreshments from San Francisco bar Lucky 13.

Off the Grid said the rotating line-up of vendors at the new Berkeley location will include Smoke’s Poutine, Canasta, Passione Pizza, Lexie’s Custard, Cupkates, Flavors of Ethiopia, Curry Up Now, Curbside Kitchen, Señor Sisig, and others.

Read more about Off The Grid markets in the East Bay.


The new market represents the fourth time Off The Grid has opened a food truck hub in Berkeley — the three former market all closed down after a couple of years.

Ben Himlan, a spokesman for Off The Grid, said he is hoping the “fourth time is a charm.” He said he felt hopeful about the prospects for the downtown market because of its location next to a park, close to transit and retail.

The market will also include some non-food-related stands — including a Maker Market with a selection of four local makers a week, providing home goods, jewelry and “everything in between.” Himlan said this is part of a plan to provide more variety to the market.

“The different amenities that we add on will add another level of experience, whether it’s arts-wise, educational programming, etc,” he said. “We are still working on those curations. We’re trying to create an identity for each of the markets, whether it’s in El Cerrito or Berkeley.”

The downtown market will be on Allston Way, on the south side of Civic Center Park, which will be temporarily closed to traffic. It will not occupy the same footprint used by the Saturday farmers market on Center Street. Hamlin said this is because it would require AC Transit to change its route two days in a row.


Hamlin said the idea for the downtown market came from a member of OTG’s business development team who lives in Berkeley. She saw the benefits of the park location, how close it was to downtown, and how it had already been activated by the farmers market, he said.

Off the Grid
The original Berkeley Off The Grid market, in the Gourmet Ghetto, closed down in December 2012. Photo: OTG

Talking about Berkeley’s three previous food-truck markets, Hamlin said OTG had been interested in Berkeley from the start, but acknowledged each launch had brought its challenges.

The first market, on Shattuck and Rose in the Gourmet Ghetto, was “wildly successful,” he said. It opened in June 2011 but was shuttered in December 2012, partly because of the site, which was seen to be too close to traffic, and partly because of concerns raised by some local brick-and-mortar restaurants that complained to the city that the trucks represented unfair competition.

The popularity of the original Berkeley Off The Grid was not forgotten by OTG as it planned a downtown opening, however. Hamlin said there was an element of “Can we get the band back together?” from the first market: “We wanted to see if we could get some of those first food trucks that led the charge back in Berkeley and we do have a few of them back.”

The second market to open — on Telegraph and Haste in Southside in July 2012 — had a different demographic than the original one, and was successful for a time, Hamlin said. However interest waned. OTG experimented with different days for the market, but ultimately closed it down not long after the city requested, due to traffic impacts, that the market move from the west side of the street to the east side nearer to People’s Park.


The third attempt, launched in February 2014 in partnership with BART, was a Sunday evening market in the North Berkeley BART parking lot.  “We could only do Saturdays or Sundays because of BART and that’s not the best time,” said Hamlin. “We don’t run any other markets on those evenings. It’s also primarily a residential neighborhood.” As the number of visitors dwindled, and the market was down to three or four trucks, OTG got to a place where it couldn’t book vendors anymore, and it wasn’t providing a great experience, he said. The last market was held there in February.

One significant factor that has impacted the fate of the food-truck markets in Berkeley is that, unlike in other places, Berkeley has its own health department so applications for permits have to be processed by the city and only apply in the city. “If a vendor pulls a permit for a county like Contra Costa it can work several markets in that county,” said Hamlin. “That’s not the case in Berkeley.”

The 6-year-old San Francisco-based Off The Grid now runs more than 70 food-truck markets, from San Jose to Sacramento. The downtown Berkeley market will be the 14th OTG location in the East Bay. Its latest one is in Pittsburg and it launches Friday night.

Related:
Off the Grid relocates from Uptown to Temescal (07.26.16)
Berkeley’s Off The Grid food truck market to close (02.17.16) 
Bancroft Way food trucks’ days are numbered (11.04.15)
Off the Grid food truck market to Walnut Creek (7.2.15)
Off The Grid launches Emeryville food truck market (08.19.14)
Off The Grid launches Uptown Oakland food truck market (07.09.14)
Off The Grid pulls plug on Southside Berkeley market (03.17.14)
Off The Grid food trucks launch new food trucks market (02.04.14)
Off The Grid aims for new North Berkeley digs (11.05.13)
Off The Grid says goodbye to Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto (12.20.12)
Off The Grid’s Telegraph Ave. debut attracts young crowds (07.13.12)
Off The Grid launches in Oakland for museum nights (01.09.13)
Off The Grid food truck fest to launch on Telegraph Avenue (06.22.12)
Local food names sign up for Berkeley Off The Grid truck (10.19.11)
Crowds turn out for Berkeley’s inaugural Off The Grid (06.02.11)
More local food trucks join Berkeley’s first Off The Grid (05.31.11)
Off The Grid to launch street food event in Berkeley (05.17.11)

Don’t miss Kenji López-Alt‘s “The Steak Myth” workshop at Berkeleyside’s Uncharted: Berkeley Festival of Ideas, just one element of an action-packed two days of provocative thinking, inspiring speakers, workshops and a big party — all in Berkeley on Oct. 14-15. Early-bird tickets available until midnight Aug. 25.