Pleasanton, CA: Food Truck Mafia Muscling into Gourmet Customer Base

People attending the Food Truck Mafia event in the parking lot of Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. The Food Truck Mafia started by Phil Woodman and Pat Clarke stops weekly in Fremont, Union City, Newark and Pleasanton and is working to establish weekly events in Milipitas and Sunnyvale. Doug Duran/Staff

By Robert Jordan | Contra Costa Times

People attending the Food Truck Mafia event in the parking lot of Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. The Food Truck Mafia started by Phil Woodman and Pat Clarke stops weekly in Fremont, Union City, Newark and Pleasanton and is working to establish weekly events in Milipitas and Sunnyvale. Doug Duran/Staff

PLEASANTON — Some Bay Area chambers of commerce are getting an edible economic boost from the mafia.

A family of gourmet food trucks, known as the Food Truck Mafia, rolled into Fremont, Newark, Pleasanton and Union City this summer, giving East Bay foodies an eclectic weekly fix of cuisines and providing much-needed cash for the local chambers of commerce.

“This was a way for us to cut the red tape and just run our truck,” said Phil Woodman, co-founder of the Food Truck Mafia and owner of the Grillstars truck, which puts a spin on classic American cuisine.

“The partnership with the chambers made it easier on us,” said Woodman. “The chambers already work with the city, and this is an event that is good for everybody.”

Woodman and his business partner, Pat Clarke, adjusted the business model of the weekly San Francisco and Berkeley Off the Grid events. The trucks still pay a fee and percentage of their gross sales to be at the events, but Woodman and Clarke instead give that money to the cities’ chambers of commerce. In turn, the chambers of commerce deal with the cities over permits and securing locations.

Erin Shuell, of Antioch, works in the Cabana Dave’s Gulf Coast Catering food truck in the parking lot of Stoneridge Mall in Pleasanton, Calif., on Friday, Aug. 26, 2011. Cabana Dave’s food truck is part of the Food Truck Mafia

For the past three months, Food Truck Mafia and the chambers in Fremont, Newark, Pleasanton and Union City have held events with anywhere from six to 12 trucks. Some chambers have turned it into community events with music and other local vendors.

“We haven’t had a significant hit, but we have taken a hit,” Dana Hernandez, executive director of the Union City Chamber of Commerce, said about the impact of the economy. “Things were kind of dormant, and this event not only stimulated the economy but our reputation as well.”

The Union City event on Thursday nights in the Walmart parking lot on Dyer Street has consistently attracted a crowd of 1,000 to 1,500 people since it debuted June 30.

Things have gone so well that the Food Truck Mafia is now in negotiations to hold events in Milpitas, Campbell and San Jose. Fremont and Pleasanton are each working on holding a second event. The Mafia also has plans to partner with schools to help with extracurricular funding.

“This is not like going to a restaurant,” said Clarke, who met Woodman last year after spending six years in the Army as a cook, including time in Kentucky with Ft. Campbell’s Culinary Arts Team.

“The food here is inventive,” Clarke said. “We are bringing a whole new taste to food.”

That taste includes Grillstars’ cheeseburger with peanut butter, jelly, bananas and a Krispy Kreme doughnut bun, a concoction that Clarke and Woodman created.

“There isn’t a recipe card sitting in front of you,” Clarke said about the gourmet food truck menu. “You get to make the recipe card.”

Pleasanton, which began its event Aug. 19, is the only lunchtime event the Mafia holds, and it has already attracted hundreds of fans to the Stoneridge mall parking lot.

Dan Moy, 36, of Livermore, was one of six co-workers from Blackhawk Network who walked over on Friday to seek out MoGo, a Korean-style barbecue truck known for its burritos and tacos.

“For me, it’s the food,” said Moy. “There is variety and something for everyone at each truck.”

Foodies are not the only ones benefiting.

Jose Hernandez, who owns Marisco’s El Malecon, a truck specializing in Mexican food with a seafood twist, originally had his truck parked at a spot on International Boulevard in Oakland.

In June, Hernandez joined the Mafia and saw his customer base expand.

“They put us out there, and more people get to know us,” Hernandez said.

http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald/ci_18771813