Published on November 11th, 2012 | by Laurie Lyons0
Save Austin’s Food Trailer Carts: Move Them to East Riverside
Feature image by Texasfoodcard.com
Austin’s food carts have certainly helped to give personality to the city’s landscape over the past few years. Austin was at the forefront of the food cart movement, witnessing steady increases in the number and quality of food carts over the past few years. It was also named one of the top 10 hottest cities for the food truck scene in 2012 in a Zagat survey, according to an infographic by Carinsurance.org. Unfortunately, all that is starting to change. The impermanence of the cart locations has now seen many of the trailer parks get pushed out by the need to develop the land where the carts sit, such as the recently closed South Lamar Food Park and the impending closing of the beloved South Congress trailer park. Instead of shutting down altogether or moving toward West Austin, as some carts are, these food carts should turn into mobile oases for eastside food deserts, especially the East Riverside corridor.
A large part of the East Riverside corridor is designated by the USDA as a food desert, an area, according to Julie Smith in “Green Cities: An A to Z Guide,” that is defined as “low-income neighborhoods with poor access to fresh and affordable food. One criterion for defining a food desert is when people have to walk more than 500 meters to a shop selling healthy food—or, expressed another way, the distance it takes a fit person to walk in 10–15 minutes.” City of Austin is currently working on measures to make the area more walkable and pedestrian-friendly, and though the measures are admirable, they are still a few years from happening.
In a strip of Riverside less than one mile long, there are four pizza places and 10 fast food restaurants. Try as they may, with items like low-fat subs at Subway and the new Cantina line at Taco Bell, there just aren’t enough healthy options at the fast food restaurants. That’s where food carts can really come in and provide more fresh, healthy food options where they are really needed.
Of course, East Riverside is still not downtown, and even with the addition of new clubs like Beauty Ballroom and Emo’s, as well as the soon-to-open Buzz Mill coffee shop, there will certainly be some initial difficulty luring a clientele over to a new area. According to an infographic about food trucks from Dailyinfographic.com, as well as the one by Carinsurance.org, however, social media is such a strong part of marketing food trucks that focusing efforts on Twitter, Facebook, and the like could potentially compensate for the inconvenience that it may cause some clients.
Another solution to make a move like this successful for the carts would be to focus on the people already in the neighborhoods. East Riverside is rife with college students, as well as working families who may not have time to cook. Being innovative in how they package and market their meals, for instance family type meals, price breaks on large purchases, and special discount days, may give them an edge over their fast food competitors. Offering healthy options at fair prices, rather than the fried fast food alternatives, gives people who may not have the healthiest choices more of a chance at eating a good meal. Carinsurance.org’s infographic says that the average price of a food truck entree is $6.33. That’s not much more than the cost of a run-of-the-mill fast food burger.
Another reason that these carts should revamp their models and their locations has to do with how fickle their current clientele can be. Whether or not food trucks are just a fad is still up for debate. According to DailyInfographic.com, “91% of those familiar with mobile food trucks say the trend is here to stay.” On the other hand, Austin Business Journal reports that food trailers are going to become old news in 2013, according to research firm Culinary Vision’s 2012 food trends report. Trends next year are supposed to see chefs displaying their talents at empty storefront, farmers’ fields, and kiosks. Also, pickling is supposed to be a big trend next year.
As much as I love pickles, I also like diversity in my dining, healthy food options for low income neighbors (and myself), and supporting local small businesses. Hopefully, Austin’s food trailers can regroup, refocus, and reenergize their businesses, as well as the areas of town that really need them.