On March 20, developers for a new restaurant project invited neighbors to Neyborly Community Space in Southwest Berkeley to preview the plans for the two buildings at 2609-2613 San Pablo Avenue (just south of Dwight Way). The proposed project, called Route 123 and being developed by NX Ventures, is ambitious. The plan is to convert the existing buildings, which are currently vacant, into a large outdoor food truck marketplace. The spaces were last occupied by Red Sea Tobacco and Gifts (2611 San Pablo Ave.) and KC’s Bar-B-Que (2613 San Pablo Ave.), the nearly 50-year-old restaurant that closed last February after it incurred severe damage from a fire.
Nosh spoke with Xin Jin, one of the two NX Ventures managing partners. (The other partner is developer Nathan George; the duo were also behind Gio’s Pizza & Bocce in Berkeley.) Jin said the San Pablo Avenue food truck marketplace will be similar in format to San Francisco’s SoMA StrEat Food Park and its spin-off, Spark Social in Mission Bay, in that it will be a dedicated gathering space for food trucks. Route 123 (a reference to San Pablo Avenue’s official state highway moniker) will have spaces for up to 14 food trucks, nine of which will be permanent vendors, with the remaining slots reserved for a rotating line-up of operators. There will also be a bar serving wine and the existing restaurant space where KC’s Bar-B-Que once stood will become an indoor dining hall.
Tuesday’s meeting was the second community outreach effort that NX Ventures has made for the project. Jin said that the neighbors have been very positive about the plans, although a few issues have been brought up, including noise and parking. Jin said they are looking into noise mitigating building materials and will be coordinating with nearby businesses to figure out potential solutions to parking issues that may arise.
In a follow-up email with NX Ventures project manager Ann Simmons, Simmons said the group will have a website up in the next week that will give more information about Route 123, including real-time updates on the status of the project and information about upcoming vendor fairs for food truck operators who want to participate. Although it is not currently live, the website will also be a place where community members can contact with NX Ventures to give further feedback.
There have been several food truck markets in Berkeley in the past, all of them operated by San Francisco-based Off The Grid, but none survived very long. The first one, in the Gourmet Ghetto, was closed down after 16 months after local restaurants complained about unfair competition; one on Telegraph Avenue shuttered after less than two years due to lack of business; and a dinner ‘pod’ at North Berkeley BART lasted two years before closing in February 2016.
The plans for Route 123 are currently being submitted to the city of Berkeley for review. Although the project is still in a very nascent stage, Jin said he is hopeful that the West Berkeley food truck marketplace will be up and running by late summer or early fall. We’ll keep you updated on Nosh as the project develops.