First Pop-Up Stores, Now Rolling Food Courts

January 06, 2010

Food trucks are not a new idea.

Food trucks are not a new idea. Think of the aroma of hot dogs, hot pretzels and honey roasted peanuts that is present on almost every corner in most major cities. But what is new is the quality- gourmet, the cuisine- ethnic or themed, and the markedly different target audience; one that seeks out fresh, local, authentic, often healthy, affordable gourmet food. The Gap and Toys R Us brought the concept of short term high visibility mini-retail locations mainstream; and with the amount of “for rent” signs in most shopping areas throughout the country, there is little doubt it’s a trend that will continue.

And now the trend has hit food service with a twist and a tweet.

It appears that Santa Monica, California, the birthplace of many celebrity trends, and our backyard, was the birthplace to the first ever mobile food court. A vacant used car lot on the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and 14th street boasted a menu of cuisines from gourmet barbeque to tasty Indian cuisine and even homemade cupcakes; all this served out of the side of up to 12 trucks at a time. But these are not your typical food trucks or carts – custom painted, high-end food trucks that also served as homage and advertisement to the type of cuisine being served. Locals could choose grass–fed beef patties for $7, a wild albacore tuna sandwich for $9 or for the displaced New Yorker, a falafel wrap for $5.

As the food courts in many of America’s shopping malls became less crowded with less offerings and more homogenized, shoppers looking for a snack quickly found themselves with the typical McDonald’s, Burger King, Auntie Annie’s and Starbucks rather than exciting and different foods that made their shopping drudgery more palatable; and kept them in the mall longer.

It’s 2010, and the new breed of food service operator has taken to the streets, literally. Building on the concept of the lunch trucks which once dotted construction site, these trucks went to where the people were and built a following on Twitter where a hungry gourmet could find out their favorite truck’s location and hours of operation (@SMFoodtrucklot or

Creating buzz about food is nothing new. After all that is what the Food Network is all about. What is new is combining the pop-up rolling location with gourmet taste and instant messaging in a very, very hip and classy way.

“The Gourmet Food Truck Corner” was  shut down due to zoning issues just 25 hours after its highly publicized launch, but this is not the end of the story by any means. The newly formed Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association’s goal is to advocate for food trucks, set up and maintain “permanent” mobile food courts, and create a unified voice representing vendors – an essential entity in the success of this popular and tasty phenomenon.