For decades, mobile food trucks have been a staple of the San Antonio diet. On any given night there are dozens of taco trucks and other vendors selling all types of food on street corners all across the city.
As the popularity of gourmet food truck continues to grow city leaders are now considering a pilot program that would allow the trucks to sell their culinary treats in the central business district downtown.
While other cities like Austin and El Paso have embraced the virtual kitchens-on-wheels, San Antonio has sort of been stuck in the past. The trucks have been banned from downtown due to concerns about traffic and safety problems.
Since December the city has been holding meetings about mobile food truck vending in the downtown area and now they are ready to present a six month pilot program to city council for approval.
"The advantage of coming sort of late to the program is that we've seen some of the programs that haven't worked in other cities and we've seen what programs have worked," said Mark Brodeur, Director of the Center City Development Office. "We've developed the rules and regulations to allow mobile food truck vending on public streets in downtown."
Brodeur is trying to create a "culinary master plan" for the food trucks. Right now, the pilot program calls for allowing preselected vendors to set up in three locations; Hemisfair Park, Maverick Park on Broadway and at the Civic Center Annex parking lot across from City Hall.
Interested vendors will be able to apply to take part in the program. Brodeur said the vendors would need to submit pictures of their truck and a sample menu which will be used to select the vendors that will be allowed to set up in the designated areas.
The city would charge the vendors a onetime $225 fee which would defray the costs of reserving parking spots and support the administering of the program.
The goal is to select a variety of food trucks for each location and keep them rotating.
"The locations will have various food vendors on different days at different times and those mobile food vendors will either circulate to another site or they'll move of out of downtown and mobile food vend on their own," Brodeur said.
Another concern being addressed by the program is cutting down on the amount of competition with existing brick and mortar restaurants.
"So if we have let's say a Mexican restaurant, we're going to try not to put a Mexican food truck out in front of the store," Brodeur said, adding variety will be key to the program's success. "We don't want to have a lot of cheeseburger trucks in one place, we don't want to have a lot of Italian trucks in one place."
At least one spot in the city, Alamo Street Eat Bar located on South Alamo, has already become a haven for trendy foodies. The location has room for 6 trucks and has a permanent bar. Regular vendors at that location said they would be interested in taking part in the downtown pilot program.
"I think it's great, I think the public is going to respond to it well and I think it's going to give young entrepreneurs a great chance to get started," said Christopher Cullum, owner of Attaboy Burgers. "We need more creative thought in this city and this exactly what it's going to do for it."
Anna Fernandez owns a truck that serves chili and other Tex-Mex inspired dishes. She calls her mobile restaurant the Chili Queens which ties into some San Antonio history. For more than 100 years, women would cook chili over open fires in the city's plazas. Their customers were soldiers, cattlemen, tourists and business men working in the downtown area. In a way they were the first mobile food venders in the city, but they disappeared in the 1940's when new health laws were passed.
Fernandez is on board with the pilot program and believes it could benefit the tourism industry.
"Part of the experience of being in the downtown area is being able to have the experience of having food from the street made by people who are from the city," Fernandez said. "So I think it's really great, I think it's going to enhance the tourist experience."
This Thursday, Brodeur will present the food truck pilot program to city council for approval. If they sign off on it the trucks could start selling food in the approved locations by the first of May. The program would run through the end of October when it would be reconsidered as a permanent program.