The people asked, and Hermiston listened.
The city’s new food truck pod is now open for business after residents asked the city to reconsider its restrictions on mobile food vendors. Third Street Eats will have its official grand opening on Wednesday, but the pod is in soft opening mode now.
Last week Southern Twain BBQ, the Owie Outlaw Tribe Cafe and Tacos Garcia were serving customers in the parking lot at 240 S.E. Third St., across Orchard Avenue from McKenzie Park. Quality Concessions is also participating in the pod by selling elephant ears and other “fair food,” but they were not parked there last week.
Patrick Hunt of Southern Twain BBQ said he has been doing good business so far. His truck sells everything from pulled pork sandwiches to brisket by the pound.
Previously, Hermiston had restricted its food truck licenses to three — all held by local taco trucks. Hunt, a Hermiston resident who perfected his culinary skills while living in North Carolina, had not been able to operate in Hermiston until several residents approached city hall and lobbied for changes that would allow for more food trucks in town.
He said he was grateful for those residents, and those who voiced their opinion in a survey the city put out afterward.
“You guys are great because you spoke up and the city council followed your directive,” he said. “If you want positive change in town, that’s how to get it done.”
Hunt had been traveling to Pendleton every day with his truck, but will now serve up ribs, sausage, brisket, pulled pork and coleslaw in Hermiston while Third Street Eats is in operation. He said he hopes to do enough business in Hermiston to afford a second truck that could return to Pendleton.
“I’m still loyal to Pendleton, but this is right around the corner from my house, so it’s a no-brainer for me,” he said.
Monica Todd, who operates the food truck pod on behalf of the city, said there are other food trucks that have expressed interest in participating this summer but have not yet gotten the required license from the Umatilla County Health Department. Space is still open for more vendors, who can pay for space by the month, by the day or by the weekend.
Technically, Tacos Garcia is on private property and is not part of the food pod, but vendors are glad it offers another option to draw in customers.
“We look at it like a co-op process,” Todd said of the food pod. “We help each other out and we’re finding what works for us.”
In addition to the food trucks, there are picnic tables, garbage cans and a portable restroom onsite. Todd said she is getting in more tables soon, along with giant shade umbrellas donated by Pepsi. She plans to get live music at the pod going on certain days in the future, and will host special events on days such as Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and graduation.
The city is requiring the food trucks to move once a week so that the parking lot can be cleaned. Participants plan to close up shop at 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoons and return at 4 p.m. on Mondays.
Angela Todd, Monica’s daughter, was operating Owie Outlaw Tribe’s pink food truck April 24, selling everything from corn-chip-and-chili “haystacks” to chili lime popcorn.
“We offer a lot of keto-friendly, gluten-free, carb-free options,” she said.
They are also offering a “Bang for your Buck” lunch special adding a Bang energy drink to any lunch for a dollar, in the hopes of attracting students from nearby Hermiston High School.
So far, however, the food pod’s customers have mostly been adults on their lunch break. On April 24 Travis Hulse, Jared Chandler and Ricardo Curiel were sitting at one of the tables enjoying sandwiches from Southern Twain BBQ.
“The brisket has got a lot of flavor,” Chandler said, commenting he was happy the city had gotten the food truck pod idea off the ground.
Hulse said he liked the idea as well, and hoped word spread and more vendors joined the pod.
“I like the idea of bringing variety to town,” he said. “We’re kind of saturated with certain types of food here.”