A crowd of nearly 10,000 swamped midtown’s Fremont Park on Saturday for the Sacramento Mobile Food Festival, hungry for food trucks and sending a message that Sacramento is ripe for a mobile food scene.
Dubbed SactoMoFo, the event featured 21 mobile food vendors, selling items ranging from Indian samosas to escargot lollipops and street tacos. Some lines required up to a two-hour wait.
While such cities as Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles are home to thriving food truck scenes, Sacramento ordinances prohibit mobile food vendors from parking for more than 30 minutes or staying after sundown. SactoMoFo organizers received a one-day permit to showcase food trucks from Sacramento and other parts of Northern California.
“We want mobile food,” said Catherine Enfield, a Sacramento food blogger and SactoMoFo organizer. “The next step is to have a roundtable discussion with restaurant owners, the California Restaurant Association, truck operators and city officials.”
Randy Paragary, the restaurateur behind Esquire Grill, Cafe Bernardo and other local eateries, expressed concerns that food trucks could hurt brick-and-mortar restaurants that are already struggling in a tough economy.
“To me, the ordinance that we have now is adequate,” Paragary said. “There’s a construction site across from Cafe Bernardo, and I watch the mobile food trucks come every day to sell coffee, muffins and sandwiches to the workers. We sell (those same items), but I don’t get to pull my truck up.
“It’s a very different model and makes it harder for those of us that are anchored and committed to paying leases for decades,” he said.
Some local politicians are showing interest in revisiting ordinances to make Sacramento more food truck-friendly. City Council members Kevin McCarty and Darrell Fong appeared at SactoMoFo to lend their support, along with Assemblyman Roger Dickinson, D-Sacramento.
“It’s an overwhelming experience and more of what Sacramento needs,” Fong said. “The next step is for the City Council to take a look at the ordinances, and I think there’s an opportunity to show that (food trucks) can co-exist with other restaurants. I would be surprised if it didn’t happen.”
Meanwhile, Fremont Park filled with the savory smells of curry, sizzling mini-burgers and Korean barbecue all blending together. Scoring a pork belly bao from the Chairman Bao food truck meant enduring a line that stretched nearly the entire length of Fremont Park. Spencer on the Go, the San Francisco mobile vendor featured on the Food Network’s “The Great Food Truck Race,” was so swamped that it ran out of food in 90 minutes.
While some griped via Twitter about long lines and food shortages, many relished the opportunity to sample mobile street food.
Some neighboring restaurants and bars benefited from the overflow Sacto MoFo crowds. Jason Boggs, co-owner of Shady Lady Saloon at 14th and R streets, reported a 200 percent increase in business over a typical Saturday afternoon. Andrea Lepore, managing partner of Hot Italian on 16th and Q streets, said business was up 50 percent on Saturday.
Others simply had an appetite for mobile food trucks, and were willing to endure the long lines.
“It’s a nice day of culture in Sacramento,” said Laura-Alexis Harvey of midtown, waiting patiently to place an order at Chairman Bao. “I’ve had a lot of friends who left Sacramento because they said there was nothing to do. It’s nice to see this develop.”