It’s an idea that has long been imagined for Tacoma but finally took off with the help of two separate city entities whose needs converged.
There’s now an official gathering place for food trucks in the city.
Chowtown, a food-truck marketplace, had its soft opening in July. The marketplace next will be in operation Aug. 2-4, with regular operations starting in September.
The location is a corner of the James Center North parking lot, 1602 S. Mildred St., and is complete with a shade awning and bark-mulched sitting area.
“We’ve got seating, umbrellas, picnic tables ... some bistro tables,” said Tacoma resident Devon Long, one of the project’s organizers. Vendors can rent space at $50 a day or $150 for the entire three-day August event or $200 when Chowtown switches to a four-day operating schedule.
Different food trucks will rotate in and out of the site to offer customers a variety of offerings. For Chowtown’s next event in August, vendors include Thirst Responder, Kama’aina Grill, South Beach, Rain or Shine, Boss Mama’s Kitchen, El Argento, Kona Ice and Arnold’s Happy Days.
The marketplace will have more open days starting in September, after there is a power line running to the site. For now, the trucks use generator power.
Long and Kirsty Kalkhoven got the idea for the marketplace last fall.
“We’re both foodies,” Long said in a recent interview with The News Tribune. The two met five years ago while doing fundraising work for their children’s preschool.
The original inspiration for Chowtown came after Kalkhoven saw a “food pod” operation in England that involved a group of restaurants housed in converted shipping containers.
“They double them up to make multiple levels and put the restaurant in, but then you can walk up and sit on top of the container,” Long explained. “They have outdoor seating. And that’s kind of where we started.”
The duo soon found retrofitting such containers would be cost-prohibitive and instead shifted to food trucks after visiting a site in Olympia.
“In Olympia, there’s a little pod there, and we were there in November. The weather was horrible. It was raining. But people were still coming,” Long said.
They also were familiar with similar concepts in San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.
It soon dawned on them, Long recalled, that “we can do this in in Tacoma. It doesn’t just have to be limited to Portland.”
It’s one thing to have the dream and quite another to make it happen, she acknowledged. The two women applied through a Spaceworks Tacoma program, which helps offer training to local entrepreneurs.
They graduated from the Spaceworks Incubator Business Planning Cohort in May.
Spaceworks promoted the concept in a news release earlier this summer.
“For food trucks and vendors, Chowtown offers a stable location without opening a brick and mortar restaurant. The creators plan to be an incubator and support network for culinary entrepreneurs to follow their passion,” Spaceworks said.
Kalkhoven explained the concept in the release as “the place that we wished Tacoma had already.”
While Tacomans may have “wished” for this before, it took the help of another local entity to bring it into reality.
Gwen Kohl, Spaceworks Incubator coordinator, told The News Tribune that finding the site for the marketpace happened through “a connection made by our program director, Michael Liang.”
Liang knew Josh Jorgensen, project manager of real estate development for Tacoma Housing Authority, which is exploring redevelopment in its James Center North project north of 19th Street West and South Mildred Street.
He also knew that Jorgensen “was looking for interesting businesses who could activate space, and so introduced him to Devon and Kirsty of Chowtown,” Kohl explained via email.
The permanent plan would be to run Chowtown Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Chowtown also will offer games (cornhole, Jenga) and music.
Long is happy to see the city growing and adapting to a plan like this after years of seeing food trucks scattered around town.
“I think there are new people coming into Tacoma, I think they’re looking for something different,” she said. “I’ve heard a lot from different families saying, ‘Hey, we want someplace where we can go, we can be outside, we can hang out with the kids where they can run around, and we can sit and have something to eat. There’s something for everybody.
“Come give us a try. Eat, drink, play.”
Where: 1602 S. Mildred St. Tacoma
When: Next opening is Aug. 2-4.
▪ Aug. 2, 12-9 p.m., with Audubon Society outdoor movie night showing of “The Big Year” at 8 p.m.
▪ Aug. 3, 12-9 p.m., with live music starting at 7 p.m. by Stingy Brim Olde-Time Blues Project.
▪ Aug. 4, 12-9 p.m., with live music starting at 7 p.m. by Miranda Kitchpanich.