SF: Gourmet Eats on the Move to Suburbia

Cabana Dave's Catering Truck

By Robert Jordan | Contra Costa Times

Cabana Dave's Catering Truck

LIVERMORE — You don’t have to cruise the streets of San Francisco or Berkeley for the latest food truck sensation: mobile gourmet trucks have hit the ‘burbs.

An East Bay caterer who has whet the appetites of Silver and Black royalty for nearly a decade has added a new kitchen to his company — complete with wheels and an exhaust pipe.

David Victor, owner of Cabana Dave’s Catering, tossed his hat into the realm of Twitter followers, mobile apps and social media that help foodies track down tasty lunchtime treats served out of gourmet food trucks.

After 15 years of serving up Cajun, Caribbean, and southern and Texas barbecue to clientele that ranged from brides and grooms to the Oakland Raiders, as of this week Victor is the owner of the first known gourmet food truck based in the Tri-Valley.

“People come out of the woodwork for these (trucks),” said Victor, who owned Cabana Dave’s restaurant in Pleasanton for five years before selling it and starting his catering venture in 2000. “And they are willing to stand in long lines.”

With roots on the streets of Los Angeles and spurred by short-rib tacos made famous by Kogi in 2008, gourmet food trucks have sprung up throughout the country, serving everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to cupcakes.

The Bay Area has also been swept up in the gourmet food truck movement and has no signs of slowing down.

Ryan Sebastian, an urban planner by day, founded SJ Eats last

month, a food truck festival in downtown San Jose that has nearly 2,000 Facebook fans. With a marketing budget of $150 and social media spreading the word, Sebastian expected a crowd of 4,000 to show up for their first event in April. Instead more than 10,000 attended, causing long lines and trucks to run out of food.

“The demand out here is off the charts,” said Sebastian, who along with his wife, Christine, started Treatbot, a karaoke ice cream truck in April 2010.

“There is a huge fan base, but most of the events are in the city (San Francisco),” he said. “We are the first ones out of the gate with food trucks meeting regularly.”

Victor is one of 20 trucks signed up for SJ Eats’ next event later this month.

He is banking that his Caribbean-basted baby back ribs and jerk pork will be a hit at business parks in both Alameda and Contra Costa County and will translate to big business to help him survive the NFL lockout.

The Oakland Raiders are one of Victor’s biggest clients, providing his Livermore-based company with 40 percent of his business for the past eight years. The current labor dispute between players and owners left Victor in limbo and looking for ways to grow his business.

Cabana Dave’s has been working street fairs and other festivals for years, serving upward of 500 people in three hours, Victor said.

“The truck is new,” said Victor, who has entrees starting at $7. “But it is not a new concept to us.”

The truck was designed and built in Southern California by LA Catering Truck Manufacturing, dubbed the Cadillac of food truck manufacturers by Don Atkinson-Adams, the supervising environmental health specialist for Alameda County.

A truck designed by that firm starts at $85,000. Jorge Gomez and his father, who run the company, have more than 20 years of food truck experience that includes operating, repairing and building.

“It needed a change,” said Jorge Gomez Jr. about the food truck industry.

“Everyone thought of them as roach coaches doing the same old thing, but everything changed with Kogi and the gourmet tacos.”

Alameda and Contra Costa counties have a total of 383 food trucks with valid permits, 313 of those in Alameda County.

Atkinson-Adams’ department issues permits on a yearly basis with food truck owners paying $564 for a permit plus a one-time $150 application fee. A permit in Contra Costa County costs $522. In addition, food truck operators also must receive permits or have a business license in the cities they serve.

“It has become fashionable to eat off trucks,” said Atkinson-Adams, who has worked with food trucks for the past 10 years and issued a permit for a truck with a Tandoori oven last year.

“I can’t give an exact date, but things have slowly been changing,” he said.

“And now it’s a lot like real estate where it’s location, location, location.”

The days of food trucks traveling from construction job site to job site have been pushed to weekly rotations at business parks and festivals.

Victor is aiming to make the rounds with his truck in Livermore, San Ramon, Walnut Creek and San Francisco. He said he doesn’t plan to interfere with the brick and mortar businesses and will keep his truck cruising in business parks.

“People have been asking if I was going to open another restaurant ever since I closed the first one,” Victor said. “Now, we have a mobile one.”