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Bites off Broadway returns as new food truck “food pod” ordinance is introduced

on May 17, 2012

Bites off Broadway is back, and maybe this time, thanks to a new food truck ordinance in Oakland, it’s here to stay for the summer.

The weekly gathering of about a half dozen food trucks at 45th Street and Broadway began its second year last Friday evening, when about 300 people showed up to dine on fare from food trucks like Tina Tamale, Go Streatery and Doc’s By the Bay.

“I thought it would be slow at first because word needs to get out that we’re there,” said Danvy Vu of Go Streatery, which serves made-from-scratch dishes featuring local produce. “But people were just waiting for it, probably counting down the days. The feedback I got from customers was, ‘I’m so glad you’re back, we’re going to be here every week.”

Bites off Broadway began last June. But in July, the event was shut down by Oakland police because organizer Karen Hester didn’t have the necessary permits to operate the food event. Under the city rules at the time, food trucks were only allowed in certain parts of East Oakland and Fruitvale. Though city officials later relented and let Hester operate Bites off Broadway for the rest of last summer, the question of how to regulate mobile food in the city remained.

Then in the fall, Councilmembers Jane Brunner (District 1) and Rebecca Kaplan (At-large) introduced an ordinance for a pilot program through which mobile food vendors could gather to form “food pods” at different places in the city. At a press conference in December, Brunner noted she had attended Bites off Broadway and that helped inspire the legislation. “Oakland is in a food renaissance,” Brunner said in December. “So we really needed to step up and make it a legal action.”

The ordinance took effect in May, and there are now five food pods that will open within the next few weeks: At Snow Park on Wednesdays from 11 am-2 pm, starting May 23rd; at Splash Pad Park on Thursday nights from 5-9, starting May 24; at 12th and Franklin on Thursdays from 11 am-2 pm starting Thursday, May 17. The food pods at Clay and 16th Street on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 10 am-2 pm and the 365 block of 45th Street on Fridays from 5:30-8:30 pm are already in operation.

Hester said while she’s glad the ordinance is in place, but it still needs some work. She said she’s paying $200 a week for the permits and the process was arduous and took months. Hester said she had to take on additional expenses, like buying liability insurance for the event, even though each truck has its own insurance. She said she has to reapply for the permit every two weeks.

Still, Hester said she’ll take a permit that’s difficult to obtain over operating without one, or the possibility of being shut down again.

“The bottom line is we need more Oakland trucks out there selling because it’s good for the economy,” Hester said. “The Oakland trucks need to have the assurance that they’re going to have plenty of pods to choose from and participate in.”

Bites off Broadway returns this week on Friday on 45th Street in front of Studio One. The food trucks scheduled to be there include Tina Tamale, Le Truc, Doc’s of the Bay, Nick’s Breakfast Truck, Annakoot and Fist of Flour.

Image: Bites off Broadway began last week outside of the Studio One Art Center. (Photo courtesy of Bites off Broadway.)

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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