Off the Grid Finally Makes it to Oakland
Foodies, parents with kids in tow, and Oaklanders just eager for an antidote to winter darkness -- all turned out to mill around a corral of food trucks at Tenth and Oak last Friday night.
Until last year, the city had restricted food trucks to particular streets east of Lake Merritt. But the city has now christened the Oakland Museum of California as the weekly gathering place for food, music and dancing.
Matt Cohen, the creator of Off the Grid, walked along the strip of vendors, marveling at the diversity of cuisines.
“El Porteno, Argentinian empanadas which are fantastic; Hapa SF, which does all local sustainable produce in modern Filipino food; Vesta Flatbread, in an oven in her truck she makes fresh flatbread; the Crème Brulee Cart, which speaks for itself..."
Cohen continued through the list of ten food trucks before taking a moment to reflect.
“This is a really, really good lineup of trucks. I'm getting a little hungry”, he said.
For UC Berkeley film major Melissa Perez, part of the excitement here is the chance to try something new. Asked to identify the pile of food in her hand, she wasn't quite sure what it's called.
"I just pointed at the sign and said, "give me item A"", said Perez, who said live music, dancing, and half-price admission to the Oakland Museum are all others reasons she came downtown.
"It's short ribs with BBQ and sesame seed on it, and these fries that look like they’re going to give me a heart attack.”
Oakland has been slower than some other Bay Area cities to approve Off the Grid, which now operates 15 weekly Bay Area markets. But there have been some hitches along the way in other locations. The North Berkeley market recently shut down after merchants complained their customers couldn’t find parking.
Sonya Rifkin, a Mills College grad who did her master's thesis on mobile food vending policies in Oakland, says the best policies are those that can be tweaked.
"There’s two different approaches,” said Rifkin. “You can either take the approach of being really stringent, and saying ‘you can locate here at these times’, or you can be a little more flexible, and then get people doing all kinds of creative things, and then as problems arise, you deal with them."
Oakland’s year-old mobile food vending pilot program was recently extended through July. So at least for now, Off the Grid will be at the Oakland Museum every Friday night, rain or shine, with new trucks rotating in every week.