El Paso, TX: Food-Truck Court to Cater to Downtown El Paso Crowds

By Vic Kolenc | El Paso Times

The food trucks are coming to Downtown El Paso.

Lane Gaddy, 29, an El Paso businessman who is part of an investors group that in recent months purchased three large Downtown buildings, is turning a small parking lot behind one of those new purchases into a court for mobile food vendors.

“We’re not making money on this, but it’s a good way to get foot traffic in the area” and help push further redevelopment Downtown, Gaddy said this week as he sat in his office at W Silver Recycling, an El Paso metal recycling company where he’s president.

“This is a good use of empty land, it’s aesthetically pleasing, and it will help the (food truck) entrepreneurs,” he said.

The food court, named Foodville, is scheduled to open Nov. 19 inside a recently fenced parking lot in the 200 block of Mills Avenue, near Stanton Street. It’s behind the Martin Building, which Gaddy and his partners bought in late 2011, and across from the Downtown post office. It initially will operate from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays.

The food court will feature Crave Kitchen & Bar’s trailer, dubbed “Crave to Go,” which will serve salads, sandwiches and other fare for prices ranging from $4 to $10; and food trucks Create Gourmet Eats, which serves $8 gourmet burgers, and Tacoholics, which makes gourmet tacos selling from $2.50 to $7 per order.

Another one or two food vendors may be added later.

“I think El Paso is ready for this,” said Octavio Gomez, 32, Crave co-owner and an entrepreneur instrumental in helping to develop Downtown’s Union Plaza District into an entertainment area.

 “This is one of the small things that make a big city. I think it will help keep people from leaving Downtown for lunch,” Gomez said.

Steven Hernandez, 27, who’s operated Create Gourmet Eats for about two years, said he’s ready to get back Downtown after a policeman kicked him out of a parking space along San Jacinto Plaza in late 2011.

Other cities have places for food trucks to operate Downtown, Hernandez said.

Hernandez has been operating his truck mostly on the East Side.

Gaddy said he’s heard some Downtown restaurant operators are concerned about the food trucks taking away sales. But, he said, there’s enough business Downtown at lunchtime for everyone.

Joseph Odeh, who owns the 50 year-old Big Bun Hamburgers, which in August relocated to 209 E. Mills, across from the food court, said he isn’t happy about the incoming competition.

“I think it stinks. There are only a limited number of people (who eat) Downtown,” Odeh said. “I hope it brings in new people Downtown, but I don’t see it.”

Another Downtown restaurant owner is organizing restaurant owners to complain to City Hall, he said.

Virginia Howell, who with her son and husband owns Pike Street Market, has a different view. Her restaurant offers sandwiches and other food and is next to Big Bun.

“I like the idea of being part of a restaurant corridor,” Howell said. “I think it will bring more people to this area. But come and ask me in six months,” she added with a smile.

Frank Mares Jr., owner of Leo’s Mexican Food Restaurant and Luigi’s Homestyle Pizza in the 300 block of Mills, a block from the food court, agreed the food trucks could pull in more people Downtown. He said he doesn’t see the competition hurting his long-established restaurants.

Gaddy said wall murals and other public art will be added to the food court. Gomez said plants also will be installed. El Paso artist and photographer Peter Svarzbein will open a temporary art gallery, called a “pop-up gallery,” in about a month inside a vacant storefront next to the food court in another building owned by Gaddy and his investors group, Gaddy said.

If the food court succeeds, Gaddy said, he’d like to put another one in another part of town.

Jessie Peña, Tacoholics owner, said the Downtown food court will offer people a variety of foods in a central location.

“I think this will expand the audience for all the trucks in the food park,” Peña said.

Vic Kolenc may be reached at vkolenc@elpasotimes.com; 546-6421.