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By Elena Kadvany

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About this blog: I am a perpetually hungry twenty-something journalist, born and raised in Menlo Park and currently working at the Palo Alto Weekly as online editor. I graduated from USC with a major in Spanish and a minor in journalism. Though my...  (More)

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Off the Grid plotting Menlo Park food truck market

Uploaded: Jan 1, 2014
Off the Grid, an incredibly popular Bay Area food truck gathering, might set up shop in Menlo Park this year.

The organization has applied for a use permit to operate in the Caltrain parking lot at the corner of Merrill Street and Ravenswood Avenue.

If the permit's approved, about 10 food trucks would convene on Wednesday nights from 5 to 9 p.m. by the Caltrain station, with live music from 6 to 8 p.m. Food vendors rotate every week, bringing new faces and eats to the market, but no alcohol.


Off the Grid currently coordinates 25 weekly markets, from San Francisco and Berkeley to Hayward and San Mateo. Many operate in parking lots or city gathering places, but Off the Grid also has a partnership with Caltrain and runs markets at the Belmont and Burlingame stations.

"We were looking at other opportunities and Menlo Park became tangible because the location is highly under-utilized," said Ben Himlan, Off the Grid's director for business development, about the organization's decision to expand. "And we were interested in going further down the Peninsula."

Food trucks became a contentious topic in Menlo Park in 2012 when the City Council floated a proposal to bring them to the city's downtown area. The idea met strong opposition from local business owners and residents.

"As a restaurant owner on Santa Cruz Ave. for over 12 years, I have to voice my displeasure on the plan for food trucks to occupy an area near my restaurant," Ali Elsafy, owner of Bistro Vida, wrote in a letter to the Almanac in June 2012. "Has anyone looked into the mess that these trucks will create? Are there going to be public toilets available? Is there going to be someone cleaning up the overflowing garbage cans at the end of the evening? Will someone be cleaning the mess off the stained sidewalks, or is it just going to look disgraceful until the morning? Who is paying for this clean up?" he asked.

"Also think of the businesses, homes and apartments in the immediate area that have to suffer from hearing engines running for hours and general disturbance of their standard of living."

Another letter, written by resident Cherie Zaslawsky and titled "The horrors of paseos and food trucks," bemoaned that food trucks would spoil downtown, the "jewel" of the Menlo Park community.

Off the Grid mailed two notifications in late November and early December to those living in the area near the Caltrain station. The first was a letter of intent from the city and notification of a public hearing to take place at the Planning Commission's next meeting on Monday, Jan. 13.

"There was some opposition from that," Himlan said. "People (were) highly concerned about the music and noise from that."

He added that some residents also expressed concern about drug use and drinking, though the market will not serve alcohol.

"It really is about those food tucks," he said. "They are the star of the show. It's not about partying. It's activating a space that otherwise wouldn't be activated on Wednesday nights and actually might deter any drug use that might be going on there."

Himlan said that after receiving critical response from the first mail notification, Off the Grid sent out a second postcard with further details to clarify what the market and music would be like.

"People are assuming we are having a concert out there," he said. "That's really not what it's about."

Off the Grid's application, submitted in October, states that live music will be performed by typically one to two musicians playing mainly acoustic instruments for only a portion of the evening; the music will play via speakers facing the center of the market and with limited amplification. Any noise from food truck generators will be a "minimum." However, the application acknowledges that the noise may exceed ordinance limits.

The application also promises that Off the Grid staff will leave the market space "cleaner than (they) found it" and that vendors are required to provide garbage, recycling and compost cans in front of their vehicles. Setup would begin at 3:30 p.m. and cleanup would conclude around 10 p.m.

Off the Grid would also provide necessary lighting, and 200 chairs for customers.

The event would initially be approved for only one year "so that its operations can be evaluated prior to any long-term approval," according to the application.

"What we've learned from every location that we go to and every permit we go after is that the outreach portion is really important and the notification process is really important," Himlan
said. "We don't ever try to sneak these things in We're not looking to upset people; we're looking to build relationships."

This would be Off the Grid's first foray south of Belmont, joining a scattered few other food truck events in the area.

The Willows Market in Menlo Park hosts a smaller-scale food truck night every Monday; many of those vendors also participate in Off the Grid.

Popular food-truck event Edgewood Eats in Palo Alto was shut down in April after it was forced to leave Edgewood Plaza and unable to find a new home. Moveable Feast and Mobile Wednesday, two roaming food truck markets similar to Off the Grid, continue to operate in Palo Alto for weekday lunches.

In May Mountain View revamped its 57-year-old municipal code to allow food trucks in parts of downtown, but also added various permits and requirements.

The Menlo Park Planning Commission is scheduled to review Off the Grid's permit request at its Jan. 13 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Comments

Posted by localresident, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 12:58 pm

What fun! I've been to Edgewood Eats in the past and it was great. Very mellow atmosphere, terrific food trucks to choose from. It would be amazing to have something like this in downtown Menlo Park!


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 1:52 pm

I am very opposed to allowing those food trucks to do business anywhere in Menlo Park. Why?

1. Those food trucks will make a lot of pollution, because they have to keep their diesel engines running continuously in order to keep their refrigeration units running, so that perishable foods stay safe to eat (below 40 F). This pollution is bad for everyone's health The CO2 emitted by those diesel engines also contributes to global warming. "Off the Grid" -- and into your lungs!

2. The proposed site at the Caltrain station will use up a lot of precious parking spaces. Where are commuters and other Caltrain users supposed to park on Wednesdays?

3. Will these food trucks be regularly inspected by the county Health Department to ensure that the food they sell is safe to eat? These inspections must be a surprise, so that the operators will not have a change to "clean up their act" just for the inspector --and this is almost impossible to do with food trucks.

4. These food trucks are bad for our local restaurants, as they do not have to pay rent to landlords, as do local restaurants, nor do they have to follow all the rules that restaurants have to follow.

5. I do not trust them to leave the area clean.

6. I do not trust that the music will not be too loud.

7. Will these food trucks have to pay any kind of use fees to the City of Menlo Park for using up all those Caltrain parking spaces, and for disposing of the garbage they will generate? There is no room on those food trucks for the many garbage containers they will need, nor should they be allowed to carry garbage in the same area as food, so someone else will have to haul it away. No trucks = little garbage.

I hope any and all permissions for food trucks to operate here in Menlo Park will be withdrawn immediately. (I am aware of the operation on Middlefield at the Willows Market. I don't approve of it, either.)

Food trucks are a very bad idea.


Posted by Derek, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 4:36 pm

I am a mid-20s male and I think food trucks would be a great addition to Menlo Park\\\'s dining options, which are predominantly not as affordable as food trucks are. Food trucks typically offer interesting takes on popular food items, and the noise from the live music would surely be less loud than the Caltrain horn. I have never seen anyone at a food truck gathering get out of hand and I think that the concerns regarding public nuisances are overblown.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 5:51 pm

Louise:

if you think food trucks are such a bad idea, don't eat off of them. I've been eating off of food trucks, or as we often refer to them "roach coaches" for over 20 years. Hasn't hurt me a bit. Never have had food poisoning.

I think this is a great way to bring some different food to town. Menlo Park, while it has some very good restaurants, also has some pretty mediocre ones. Frankly, I'm surprised some of them are still in business. A little once a week competition might a light a fire under some of them and maybe get them to produce some better food.


Posted by Member, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 9:13 pm

I think this is a great idea! I have attended Of the Grid frequently over the years and always found great food and a good time. Off the Grid is an incredibly popular lunch gathering in the SOMA area for the SF tech scene and after finding out other cities had started doing this I've always wondered why Menlo Park or Palo Alto hadn't started it either.

Because the food trucks tend to offer gourmet street fare the crowd tends to include more "foodies" than anything else. There's a truck called "Bacon Bacon"...need I say more. 3 Sum Eats is another great truck and Casey's Pizza makes fresh "pies" right from their oven in the truck. If they all showed up with the Rib Whip it would be amazing...i'd be in heaven.

I can understand why the downtown restaurants might find this to be a cause for concern, but, to be honest, there are very few things that happen in downtown to bring the community together - this could very well be a popular one. If anything, giving people an excuse to actually hang around downtown could be a great help to the local stores and restaurants. Even better, it's at the train station, which is probably already the loudest part of Menlo Park.


Posted by Clarence , a resident of Atherton,
on Jan 1, 2014 at 11:27 pm

the problem with the food trucks are their negative effects on the community's downtowns. People pay a lot of money for their homes and in rents, relying that their downtowns stay viable. When the brick and mortar are in unfair competition with other competitors (i.e. food trucks pulling customers away from their downtowns) it will create a negative impact on the brink and mortar. They will turn these downtowns into a impaired retail that will lead to vacancies. Therefore effecting the demand of home and rentals in the area hence reducing values to the resident owners. People like viable downtowns to live next to for the convenience and attractions. We should not kill our downtowns for temporary food trucks


Posted by MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 7:15 am

This is a great idea. Downtown MP restaurants are *boring* - we live in MP but usually end up in PA/RWC or farther afield when eating out. There are a few good options, but way too much seems to cater to a very non-adventerous blue-hair set.

Maybe some competition will inspire the locals to kick it up a notch, enticing people to eat downtown instead of in neighboring cities.


Posted by mr Niceo, a resident of Bailey Park,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 7:57 am

[Post removed.]


Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 8:24 am

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

I hate to add fuel to the fire, but it might be helpful to read about some issues Off the Grid has had operating in Burlingame: Web Link . As many commenters are mentioning, brick-and-mortar business owners in Burlingame said they felt the pinch after the food truck market started operating there this year and proposed that it change locations, from the Caltrain parking lot to Broadway Street, and the day of the week it takes place. This is also a unique situation: The city of Burlingame didn't require OTG to apply for any special use permit (which is unusual), as the market was to be held on Caltrain, not city, property. The Burlingame City Council voted in December to keep the market at the train station: Web Link

Definite other issues at hand: parking and traffic.

Also, in response to any insinuations about the quality of food these trucks serve: Don't knock it before you try it. In my experience, OTG vendors are all incredibly high quality and take much care to create special, really good food (sometimes more so than restaurants I've been to). And though this article is a bit old now, for more info on the inspection process, etc.: Web Link


Posted by MoreOptions, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 10:00 am

This is a nice idea, offering other choices beyond the regular (boring) fare currently available downtown. If businesses are so concerned about competition, become more competative! Remember all the negative press when BevMo wanted to move in? Has Draegers, Safeway or Beltramo's really suffered as a result? Don't think so! As others have stated, we end up in PA, RWC, even San Carlos when we want a fun and engaging atmosphere.

Loosen up! It's all the uptight people in MP that make anything fun, difficult for everyone.


Posted by emily, a resident of Downtown North,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 11:24 am

Awesome! I would love to see this come to Menlo Park. The downtown is DEAD in the evenings. We love Borrone's and The Refuge for good food and drinks, but most of the other selections downtown are pretty boring or too expensive. My husband and I would love to be able to ride our bikes to downtown MP and check out the food trucks. Sometimes the ones at Willows Market are a bit too chaotic for my husband and me. We'd love to see the trucks have more space!

I love your column, Elena! It's great to hear all the news about restaurant updates!

Any ideas on what's going on in the following places?
-Former BBC in MP
-Former Roast Shop in downtown PA
-Former Mango restaurant on Hamilton
-Opening date of Blue Bottle in downtown PA

Any other juicy news about new places opening up?!


Posted by Elena Kadvany, a resident of another community,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 12:49 pm

Elena Kadvany is a registered user.

Emily: Thanks very much!

- Last I heard about the BBC was what the Almanac reported last summer: Web Link. Any updates I find out I will post here.
- Roast Shop is closed. Perhaps a new tenant will take over in 2014.
- Check this week's edition of the Weekly for details on Mango.
- Blue Bottle is aiming for spring 2014, I believe. Check back here for updates in the coming months.


Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Hmmm is a registered user.

What happened to Mango???? When did they close?


Posted by Catherine McMIllan, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 1:15 pm

I understand some of the concerns expressed about noise and hygiene but some are just typical NYMBY-esque. Merrill Street @ Ravenswood is the "jewel" of Menlo Park?? Drug use and drinking?? This is not going to be a choice between "Where shall we go tonight, LB Steak or the food trucks?" Some people eat at both, but for many, the food trucks are the only place where they will/can eat out in MP. I would wager that there are vast groups of hungry people who do not eat out in Menlo Park because the available options are quite traditional at prices above many budgets (Galata is a notable exception.) Some diners like a leather banquette and others have more fun enjoying a spicy samosa with a side of fish taco. Why not expand the dining opportunities to include more of the people who make MP their home, across the economic and age spectrum. The Planning Commission should issue clear guidelines that mitigate legitimate concerns ... and then give OTG a chance.


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 3:01 pm

1. Those food trucks will make a lot of pollution, because they have to keep their diesel engines running continuously in order to keep their refrigeration units running, so that perishable foods stay safe to eat (below 40 F). This pollution is bad for everyone\'s health The CO2 emitted by those diesel engines also contributes to global warming. "Off the Grid" -- and into your lungs!

>>> they use small generators, do not run their engines during service. Regular restaurants consume energy as well - power provided by power plants, which also pollute.

2. The proposed site at the Caltrain station will use up a lot of precious parking spaces. Where are commuters and other Caltrain users supposed to park on Wednesdays?

>>> Wednesday night, not Wednesday morning and all day... And plenty of room at the Caltrain station every day.

3. Will these food trucks be regularly inspected by the county Health Department to ensure that the food they sell is safe to eat? These inspections must be a surprise, so that the operators will not have a change to "clean up their act" just for the inspector --and this is almost impossible to do with food trucks.

>>> Food trucks are inspected by county health just like restaurants.

4. These food trucks are bad for our local restaurants, as they do not have to pay rent to landlords, as do local restaurants, nor do they have to follow all the rules that restaurants have to follow.

>>> they pay for their trucks, pay for their supplies, pay sales tax on every sale (take out), pay rent for the location, pay the organizer for promotion, pay their employees...what rules?

5. I do not trust them to leave the area clean.

>>> it will be the diners who leave the trash, which is another story if necessary

6. I do not trust that the music will not be too loud.

>>> by the train tracks? Really?

7. Will these food trucks have to pay any kind of use fees to the City of Menlo Park for using up all those Caltrain parking spaces, and for disposing of the garbage they will generate? There is no room on those food trucks for the many garbage containers they will need, nor should they be allowed to carry garbage in the same area as food, so someone else will have to haul it away. No trucks = little garbage.

>>> I\'m sure they have to rent the space from Caltrain. No doubt MP will charge for a permit, which will include refuse removal. Typically the event organizer provides for additional trash receptacles and clean up - part of the overhead costs that the food truck operators pay to the organizer.

I hope any and all permissions for food trucks to operate here in Menlo Park will be withdrawn immediately. (I am aware of the operation on Middlefield at the Willows Market. I don\'t approve of it, either.)

>>> outside of your dislike for the Willow operation, note that their have been no complaints about garbage, noise, etc.

Food trucks are a very bad idea.

>>> don\'t go. The free market will determine its viability.


Posted by Downtown MP Resident, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 2, 2014 at 9:46 pm

I agree the that restaurant choices in downtown MP are *boring* and could use a nice dose of reality. I understand the restaurant owners' desire to limit competition in their own market but that to the detriment of the residents and our palettes. Have they noticed yet that the restaurants in Downtown Redwood City offer better variety, quality, and atmosphere? Have you seen how vibrant their downtown is during the day and night? Do you think they question why someone who could walk two blocks to downtown and eat would rather drive to RWC or Palo Alto?

OTR vendors offer gourmet food made fresh to order by acclaimed chefs and savvy cooks. I have yet to have a bad meal from the Rib Whip, Bacon Bacon, Casey's, Senor Sisig (the longest line in SOMA for lunch) and Curry Up Now.

I would also point out that it's not OTG that would cause vacancies downtown but the ridiculous zoning regulations that prevent viable businesses from establishing themselves here. How many rug, art, salon, barber, boutique, eyebrow waxing salon, real estate offices do you need on one .5 mile strip?

It's time to embrace a little change and give it a chance. If it doesn't work out...it won't be around for long anyway.


Posted by Louise68, a resident of Menlo Park: other,
on Jan 4, 2014 at 4:53 pm

Crescent Park Dad:
Thank you for your reply to my comments. I appreciate that.

I was not aware that they had any other way to operate other than to run their main engines -- and for 3 hours straight. I had no idea they had an second engine just for refrigeration and food prep.

I hope they DO have to pay for garbage removal and the use of those precious Caltrain parking spaces. I understand that they will be at the Menlo Park Caltrain station from 5-8 pm every Wednesday -- which would require every one of those spaces to be clear well BEFORE almost all commuters return to Menlo Park. The only practical way to make sure there is room for those food trucks is to block off the spaces first thing in the morning -- so that no one can park there any time on Wednesdays. Many people who use Caltrain are commuters, and need those spaces most of the day. They pay to use them.

What about other riders who need to park in the Caltrain lot on Wednesdays -- such as Giants fans? Are they to be prohibited from using a good portion of that lot every Wednesday?

BTW -- I am in favor of more affordable eating places here in Menlo Park. I just don't like food trucks using the Caltrain lot. -- which should be reserved for Caltrain patrons, first and foremost. And I don't trust the sanitation of those food trucks. Some commenters have said they have eaten off of food trucks for many years, with no problems. That is great --as long as that is true of ALL food trucks ALL the time!

Thanks for your input!


Posted by Jackie, a resident of Menlo Park,
on Jan 11, 2014 at 7:26 pm

I'm sorry, but this is ridiculous. Downtown Menlo is sooooo boring. The only people out at night are homeless, and especially at the Caltrain station. It would be nice to have a little fun in my own neighborhood once a week. We pay a fortune to live here. Why can't we have more food options? Is having food trucks one night a week really going to put you out of business? Better rethink your business, if so. Venting your negative attitudes about this is just going to push people AWAY from wanting to try your overpriced restaurants.

As far as parking is concerned: commuters park in the morning, last time I checked....


Posted by Joseph, a resident of another community,
on Jan 28, 2014 at 9:52 am

Hello:

I wanted to invite Elena to add her blog to our free directory. I have a website that focuses on food trucks and would like to offer food truck related bloggers to add their site to our directory. It is free, human moderated and free of spam.

We just launched and are growing quickly. Please feel free to check us out and give us a try. If you have any questions please contact me via the website.

Joseph
Web Link


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