A group of food truck operators called T-Town Food Trucks is launching a pilot program with the city of Tacoma to host regular food truck gatherings from May to July. The trucks will serve Fridays through Sundays at locations in downtown Tacoma and along Ruston Way.
The first gathering will be in downtown Tacoma on May 1, on Market Street between South Ninth and 11th streets.
Donna Gross, founder of T-Town Food Trucks, has worked with the city for about three months on the pilot project, and other members of her group approached the city months earlier about the idea. The group originally wanted to operate along Ruston Way. City officials suggested they expand to Market Street and Tollefson Plaza.
In exchange for use of city spaces for the gatherings, “the city wanted a commitment the trucks would be there and that we would have a variety of trucks,” said Gross, who opened the Arnold’s Happy Days burger truck this month with fiancé David Arnold. The T-Town group will manage the trucks that appear at the events. Trucks that want to participate will have to seek approval from the organization. Arnold said she expects at least three to four trucks at each of the gatherings.
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T-Town Food Trucks currently represents a half-dozen truck operators offering a range of cuisine, including Arnold’s, Budha Bear Bagels, Kerry’s Caribbean, Lumpia World, Gibson’s Frozen Yogurt and Da-Van That Know The Man barbecue truck. Those trucks will serve on a rotating basis at the gatherings, but more trucks are expected to sign on. Gross said the group is currently recruiting a taco truck.
Gross said only trucks that are licensed through the city of Tacoma and have an annual permit from the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department will serve at the gatherings. That means the gatherings won’t likely attract Seattle trucks, unless those trucks pursue local licensing. “We kind of made it a little limiting because we wanted to focus on Tacoma and local trucks,” Gross said.
Added Gross: “I can’t believe it’s come to fruition, it’s something that’s filling a need that Tacoma has had for so long.”
The new program will be one of few opportunities for local trucks to gather in a single spot in Pierce County, aside from a few annual food truck festivals open to mobile businesses from Tacoma to Seattle. There’s also the small, privately hosted pod that’s operated on-and-off the last few years at downtown Tacoma’s old post office building, but the number of operators has remained small and service is infrequent. In addition, a city-sponsored pilot project in 2010 attempted to attract food cart vendors to downtown’s Tollefson Plaza, but that program never gained momentum.
Kala Dralle, an economic development specialist with the city who helped work on the project, said city officials believe Ruston will be “a no-brainer” for attracting diners to an area with heavy foot traffic, but described the downtown locations as “activating sleepy spaces.” She said, “The City Council is very excited about Tollefson and Market.” Dralle said there’s potential for the program to grow beyond the four locations.
In addition to the city and T-Town Food Trucks, the Health Department also contributed to the pilot project, Gross said. “We’re all trying to be on the same page, and that’s what’s exciting. I’m very thankful to both departments, the city and Health Department. They have been listening to us and meeting us halfway and understand we have a need that they haven’t been able to meet yet.”