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The Bay Area Is Hungry

Did our downtown merchants miss the boat (or truck) by not bringing Moveable Feast to their neighborhood?

Here's what I saw on July 1 at the : Thousands of people from Palo Alto, Brisbane, the East Bay and most cities in between, gathering for a gourmet street food and music event.

Let me rephrase that. Thousands of new faces visited San Mateo without even a glimpse of the many businesses housed here. Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with comments. Newspapers, PBS, and my own San Mateo Patch all .

So how did we fail to see what a boost to the downtown area a large street food event could be?

I know, I know. will be held downtown in the coming week. If it has only a fraction of the draw of the Event Center's street food festival, it will have to grow, and fast. The Caltrain station setting may be a start, but I think not a finish. Also, if it operates independently of our merchants and eateries, how will it benefit the community?

If only we had a large park setting with public transportation nearby. Someplace with multiple parking structures where event attendees would have to stroll past our many merchants to arrive at the festival. Someplace with an organization in place to coordinate our local eateries and multicultural entertainment into the mix. 

Hold the phone! You say we have all that? Yes, and the surrounding area is perfect! Then why, I ask myself, isn't this being used to boost our local economy? Has the Downtown San Mateo Association put all its eggs in one basket focusing on the possible Property Business Improvement District (or PBID) to the apparent exclusion of all else? I digress, that is .

OK, so I sound like a Negative Nellie. Let me jump off my a moment and share my evening at Moveable Feast.

I drove over to the Event Center at 7:15 and queued up to happily pay my $10 to park. The 25 minutes in line for parking might seem like a bad thing to some. However, it just increased my excitement at going to an event so popular. No one seemed to be leaving!

I'm not shy, so as I walked in, I chatted it up with all the others hoofing it from the parking lot. By a 5-to-1 ratio, they were there from someplace other than San Mateo! It's not a scientific study, but it is a sample.

Upon entering, my jaw dropped. There were people everywhere! Lines, and I mean a lot of lines. Not one of the 25 trucks had a line of fewer than 20 people. I asked how long the people in the front had been waiting. Most had waited between an hour to two hours!

Call me a food snob, but only the French Laundry would inspire me to stand and wait that long. Lucky for me, I attended with a handy husband to stand in line while I scoped out seating and spoke to a couple of chefs.

From the Whisk Truck I feasted on a dinner that was unexpectedly fabulous. I ordered their Angus Burger with a roasted pepper-onion blend, sweet roma tomatoes with baby greens, and cheese along with a roasted red pepper stuffed concoction on the side. The Panna Cotta was also delicious.

OK, that meant we had to try another truck, so onto Yumsilog for a fried rice and egg dish that was also to die for.

The muddy lawns didn't deter anyone from from sitting down and tucking in to their food while upbeat music lent an air of festivity.

Judging from Twitter and Facebook comments, one's experience depended on one's time of arrival and how savvy one was in street food gatherings. For example, not bringing your own portable chairs marked you as a newbie.

Some trucks ran out of food. The band announced that 5,000 had been expected and they were guessing that 10,000 were actually there. The vibe was a bit frenzied rather than relaxed due to the unexpectedly large crowd.

To me, none of that is a negative. It screams that the Bay Area is hungry for a new-style multicultural event. The Street Food Revolution is no longer a trend when mainstream media such as Sunset Magazine cover it.

I'm not going out on a limb saying it is here to stay. So come on San Mateo! Let's hop on that bandwagon (or truck) and give the people what they want while helping our local economy.

Denise Nelson July 12, 2011 at 01:18 PM
Hi Ryan! Urban planner to karaoke ice cream truck is a very interesting career path! I agree that both Off the Grid & Moveable Feast can provide great exposure for a commercial area when coordinated with the local merchants. San Mateo is fortunate to have both groups in our town & I look forward to great food & fun at both.
Bill Moore July 12, 2011 at 03:48 PM
I got there towards the tail end, around 7:45. There were 6 trucks parked in a single row so all lines were perpendicular. One truck sadly was out of order and couldn't serve. There were about 100 folding chairs arranged in small circles, like banquet seating without tables. A few people sat on the curb. There was an aggressive barrier telling eaters not to enter the Caltrain platform. The area was blocked off to cars and four police officers were on duty. There was the perfect number of people there when I arrived--not crowded, but still lively. Most of them were eating, but some trucks still had a dozen or so people in line. I was told the trucks all had steady business all night. The weather was cloudy and cool, but nobody seemed to mind. I heard that some people were observed hopping off Caltrain and heading straight for the trucks; this could easily become a weekly ritual for some commuters. I spoke with the organizers and they were very happy with the soft launch, and they'll be aiming for a bigger event next week.
Denise Nelson July 13, 2011 at 02:46 AM
Thanks for the update Bill! I'm looking forward to next week's event & hope I see you there...
Jeanavive Marie Janssen July 14, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Yep, next event is August 5th at the San Mateo Event Center...and it is so wonderful that there isn't porta potties!! real bathrooms available for attendees...you know that makes it worth it to pay parking if it ensures that...and there was no lines at the bathrooms that I noted...
Jeanavive Marie Janssen July 14, 2011 at 10:26 PM
25th street merchants felt the compressions of the First Friday events to the local eateries with bars; especially the Entertainment sponsor The Swinging Door, they got slammed as the nearest after-party bar....

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