Oakland, CA: “Bites Off Broadway” Features Food Trucks Offerings Every Friday Evening

By Annalee Allen | Oakland Tribune

Last week I went with a friend to the “Bites Off Broadway” mobile food pod in North Oakland organized by Karen Hester. A half-dozen food trucks were parked on 45th Street in front of the Studio One Art Center, and we came upon groups of friends and families with young children, clustered near the pickup windows, waiting to arrange themselves on the lawn and “dig in” to their bites.

Many know Hester as the mastermind behind a host of East Bay community events, including the annual “Rockridge Out and About” street festival in October and the Temescal Street Fair in July. Hester is also an advocate and devotee for cohousing living; she is a founder of the Temescal Creek Cohousing, a multifamily property with common areas and gardens, as well as 12 individual living units located nearby on 45th Street.

The idea for tapping into Oakland’s burgeoning mobile food vending scene, while at the same time seeking to activate the north end of Broadway, came to Hester this year. She approached the Oakland Unified School District to see about using the open plaza space at Oakland Technical High School. The plaza is underutilized when school is not in session, she felt, and requisitioning the space in order to enjoy a mobile meal on a mild summer evening seemed like a good fit.

“My partner and I came up with ‘Bites On Broadway,’ and set up a Facebook page to let people know that the food trucks would be there on Fridays, 5:30 to 8:30

p.m., June through October.”

However, soon OUSD risk managers saw potential liability issues with having the public on the premises; use of the plaza in front of the 1915 landmark restored high school was not going to be permitted after all, Hester told me.

Not to be deterred, Hester adjusted, and came up with “Bites Off Broadway.”

“I got permission to set things up in front of Studio One, which is down from the Tech campus, on 45th Street next to Temescal Pool.” she said. “I hope this will be our permanent home until we can convince OUSD that it is in their best interest to let us be next to Tech.”

I have been a big fan of Studio One Art Center over the years. I know about its history as an orphanage, built in the 1890s, in an era before today’s foster child-care system was established. The sturdy masonry and shingled U-shaped structure reflects its utilitarian function. The orphanage was founded by a ladies’ charitable group with ties to a number of prominent families of that period.

After World War II, the ladies sold the property to the city and it was converted into a recreation center, geared toward classes in the arts, including ceramics, jewelry-making, photography and glassblowing. Classes were taught by well-known instructors such as Peggy Voulkos, Robert Arneson and Stephen De Staebler.

The building underwent a seismic and accessibility retrofit and reopened in 2008. Because of its historic character and changes of its use over the years, Studio One is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

I think Karen Hester’s concept of setting up her summertime Friday night “Bites Off Broadway” food truck cluster is a win-win for the community. Folks not only get to sample the interesting and eclectic fare, they get to enjoy a picnic-like summertime supper on the lawn in front of one of Oakland’s unique landmarks.

For more information, call 510-654-6345 or go to www.hesternet.net/events. For more on Studio One classes and programs, go to www.studiooneartcenter.net.