Hoover welcomes mobile vendors in communities

By Heather Jones Skaggs

August 2016 saw a new concept for food trucks in the city of Hoover. The growing popularity of food trucks brought classification issues since Hoover did not have any regulations or ordinances on file to deal them. Hoover needed an ordinance that would allow entrepreneurship without harming established brick-and-mortar stores.

Councilman John Lyda led the way in developing the ordinance that made mobile food units legal to operate in the city.

“The ordinance created a business license category and detailed the inspection standards that food trucks and other mobile food units must comply with,” Lyda recounts.

The ordinance was crafted in a way to help create a level playing field for the traditional brick-and-mortar restaurants while allowing the emerging market of food trucks to operate. “Many of Hoover’s traditional restaurants also have mobile trucks, so it’s great to see demand from the Hoover community creating additional supply in this market.”

Just shy of a year with trucks operating in the city, the response from truck owners and the community has been well received.

“Food is a common denominator,” Lyda points out, “And that always brings people together.”

Mobile food units provide opportunities for people to get out of their homes, enjoy a meal in a casual outdoor setting, dine with others and make new friends.

“It’s as much a social gathering as it is about eating out,” he adds. “They create an ‘environment of community’ that residents are yearning for.”

Two neighborhoods taking advantage of the popularity surrounding food truck culture are Green Valley and Bluff Park. Both have prime locations for outdoor social gatherings and active communities with a wide range of age groups.

Connie Goodwin, who lives in Green Valley, says the concept for events around Star Lake started after her family visited Friday night events at Ross Bridge.

“We enjoyed the food trucks and loved watching the families and neighbors having fun together and enjoyed shopping at the vendors that they had attend,” she said. “We said several times in conversation how fun it would be for our little corner of the world in Green Valley to have a similar event.”

From that conversation the Star Lake Street Fair was born. Friend and neighbor Sommer Thompson posted to the Green Valley Neighbors Facebook group with the idea of bringing food trucks to the lake, and Goodwin began making calls lining up two trucks for the community’s first event in November 2016.

“Sommer and I were overwhelmed at the response, and so we began working on trucks for December and so on,” Goodwin says. The name “Star Lake Street Fair” came from a contest on the Green Valley Facebook group.

“We had folks submit their ideas and then we compiled all and had a vote and that is where the name came from,” Connie explains.

Street Fair events are the second Thursday of each month from 4:30 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.

They also have an occasional Treat Truck Sunday in the afternoon or Breakfast at The Lake on Saturday morning.

Organizers began to branch out and schedule other vendors to join the trucks.

“We found that some of our neighbors were small home business owners and were interested in setting up booths and tables, and that is how the ‘marketplace’ portion began,” Goodwin says.

Now vendors from across the county are looking to set up at Star Lake.

One problem to address was the fact that Star Lake lacks lighting, so a solution was found for winter months to keep the visibility level safe for fair attendees.

“Our local Station 1 Fire Department came out and set up spotlights that would light up the whole area around Star Lake and made it safe and easy to walk around. A fireman from the station would set up the light and generator and stay with the light the entire time of the event,” Goodwin explains.

The Star Lake Street Fair continues to draw neighbors in and also other Hoover residents looking for a great way to enjoy an afternoon.

“We just wanted to provide a neighborhood, which is and always has been a tight-knit group, a place to come together and have fun. I have heard countless stories of how friends who lost touch have reconnected and so that makes it totally worth the effort.  The response from the community has been just amazing,” Goodwin says. “Everyone has been so nice! Every food truck that we have had has complimented our neighborhood and the people!” Also, only trucks with proper licenses and certifications are invited.

Like Green Valley, Bluff Park began inviting trucks to set up in the park at the Bluff Park Community Center (by Shades Cliff Pool) in an effort to engage the community.

“I’m always trying to think of ideas to get my neighbors to hang out with one another. It was just an idea I had about bringing downtown food to Bluff Park. Food trucks are sort of a fun attraction,” says Brandon Gossett, one of the organizers. “Sam Swiney and I began brainstorming one day at Mr. P’s (a deli in the community),” Brandon says.  “When he pitched the idea to me, I knew it would be a home run,” Sam continues. “We both wanted to see our community come out and socialize in a comfortable neighborhood setting, and it has been a great success many times over.”

The two Bluff Parkers turned their idea into Trucks On The Bluff, a monthly gathering that is normally on a Thursday or Saturday evening. They created a Facebook page to get the word out, and local resident Travis Bryant created the logo.

“We just like to see good turnouts for the events. The community has a nice time, and the food trucks have a successful night as well,” he said.

Gossett and Swiney say they have worked to bring many different food options to the community that Bluff Park does not currently have in its local restaurants and diners.

“I think it has accomplished more than we originally thought it would,” Swiney says. “Our main goal when putting this together was to see the community come out and get to know one another.”

At Trucks On The Bluff events, people bring chairs and blankets and hang out at the park while enjoying a meal from one of the trucks. Gossett and Swiney are on hand for any troubleshooting and to enjoy the event themselves. As the event is ending, the Gossett family walks the grounds with trash bags to clean up.

“We don’t want our community park to be a mess, but neither does anyone else so there’s very little to pick up,” Gossett says.

“We try and make sure we leave the park cleaner than we found it,” Swiney adds.

Both neighborhoods find a variety of tastes with popular trucks that meet the city’s classification and ordinance guidelines.

Saw’s Street Kitchen (barbecue), Eugene’s Hot Chicken, iCantina on Wheels (Mexican), Bendy’s Ice Cream, Rooski’s (flatbreads and more), The Heavenly Donut Company and The Neighborhood Brew (coffee) to name a few.

A new truck making its way around Hoover is City Bowls, who serve all-natural, gourmet acai bowls and smoothies.

Fetch, A Treat Truck For Dogs, has also been active for four-legged family members. “Fetch has been fun as more and more people are bringing their dogs with them now to the Star Lake Street Fair,” Goodwin says. Fetch also headlined at Pets On The Bluff, another Bluff Park community event organized by resident Tiffany McNair and other Bluff Park residents.

Organizers in both communities say the social atmosphere and good food is the goal, but it also helps benefit other businesses and organizations in the area.

“We have been fortunate enough to partner with some local businesses in Bluff Park, such as On a Shoestring and Sweetspire Gardens,” Swiney says. “If we can help draw additional traffic to our local businesses, then we are more than happy to do what we can to make that happen. It is a win-win. We have also had the opportunity to work in conjunction with Bluff Park Elementary School and the PTO, in bringing trucks out to the school for different functions.”

“My hope is that with vendors from other parts of Hoover at the Street Fair, people learn about their store and will shop there,” Goodwin adds. “Jamie Thursby, owner of Park and Crest Market, sets up a tent each month with items from his family’s shop On A Shoestring along with Darrell Graf of Farm Stand Bham. People here learned about them, and in return, attend their events and shop at their stores.”

As the trend continues to be successful, Lyda says the free market will continue to drive the future direction of the mobile food truck business in Hoover.

“If demand and popularity continue to grow, we’ll see more vendors enter the market,” he says. “I’m excited to see how we can incorporate food trucks into the future of the Hoover Met Complex. Given the high numbers of visitors that will be drawn to Hoover as a result of the complex, a significant market will be at one location, and local vendors deserve the opportunity to showcase their food products and serve our visitors.”

Star Lake Street Fair events can be found on the Green Valley Neighbors Facebook Group and on Green Valley Nextdoor.com.

Trucks On The Bluff events can be found on their Facebook page @TrucksOnTheBluff.