FOOD TRUCK GOING FOOD COURT Next venue for the 2-truck Chinese-food-about-town hotspot known as the Rice Box? A non-mobile location in the food court at 5 E. Greenway Plaza, Alison Cook reports: “[Owner John] Peterson has signed on Jim Herd’s Collaborative Projects to design a Rice Box Greenway prototype that will set it apart from its more conventional neighbors. Under a crimson sea of 80 Chinese lanterns (one of the visual totems on the original Rice Box truck), informal barstool seating will range across a counter overlooking oscillating video panels and a custom tea bar. The menu will appear on its own video screen. Red roof tiles from China have been ordered to construct an awning over the counter. ‘It’s one step closer to the White Dragon Noodle Bar,‘ jokes Peterson, referring to the Blade Runner food stand that was his visual inspiration for the Rice Box truck. (All he and Herd need to do is rig some kind of periodic rain showers.)” [Food Chronicles] Photo: The Rice Box
ACTING ON HER OWN, MAYOR WILL ALLOW FOOD TRUCKS DOWNTOWN Note: Story updated below. Hopes there wouldn’t be much opposition this time to changing the city’s fire and health codes to allow food trucks a few niceties such as the ability to park near seating for their customers (if not actually provide it) may have been dashed by objections aired by restaurant owners and the Greater Houston Restaurant Association at yesterday’s city council committee meeting, but Mayor Parker said she plans to go ahead and let propane-fueled mobile food units operate downtown anyway, by acting on her own — an administrative change that doesn’t require council approval: “Parker said she has received an opinion from the fire marshal’s office deeming propane tanks of up to 60 pounds safe for mobile food units in the downtown area. It was not clear Wednesday when that rule change would go into effect, though it is likely to be coupled with smaller, more technical regulatory changes to the food truck policy that the City Council could vote on as soon as this fall.” Update, 1:30 pm: A spokesperson for Mayor Parker tells Swamplot the fire department expects to implement the propane rule change, which would allow trucks in the Texas Medical Center as well as Downtown, sometime in September. Changing the rules to allow a food truck to park closer than 60 ft. to another food truck — another administrative change not requiring a vote from city council — “isn’t likely to be considered until the end of the year or early next year when other changes to the fire code are proposed.” [Houston Chronicle; more info; previously on Swamplot] Photo: Coreanos food truck
CITY MAY SOON CAN RULES THAT FORCE HOUSTON FOOD TRUCKS TO SPACE OUT What makes Houston’s food truck scene so quirky, so scrappy, so outré? Well, it could be some of the wacky rules mobile food units are required to follow when they’re operating within city limits — to guard against terrorism, major explosions, and other all-too-common street-food hazards. Three such rules — the fire code regulations that mandate that trucks park no closer than 60 ft. away from one another and that propane-equipped vehicles stay out of Downtown and the Texas Medical Center, and the health code ruling that subjects owners of mobile food vendors to fines if they’re found parking within 100 ft. of any table or chair — could be going away soon, however. A task force charged with looking into the issue is recommending the city 86 those particular regulations but keep in place others, including the requirement to visit a commissary every day. A city council committee meeting this afternoon will be the first opportunity for public comment on the proposed changes; the city’s Laura Spanjian tells Culturemap’s Eric Sandler that she doesn’t expect to the Greater Houston Restaurant Association to object to the recommendations. [Culturemap; more info] Photo: UH
Where’s the bus in the new Bellaire location of Bernie’s Burger Bus? Parked inside, finally, after going in through the east-facing wall of the corner shopping-center storefront yesterday (as shown in the video at right). The mobile food vendor turned immobile food vendor will still be serving food out of a bright yellow vehicle in its upcoming indoor location in the former Christian Community Service Center Sunshine Retail Shop at 5407 Bellaire Blvd., just steps away from the Metro 33 bus stop at Chimney Rock. (Though Mapleridge is closer if you’re headed east.) Architecture firm Collaborative Projects is handling the buildout.
Here’s more video of the install action:
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Yesterday at Bernie’s
Swamplot reader Dave spots the signs up for Bernie’s Burger Bus in the Bellaire Triangle, giving an actual address (5407 Bellaire Blvd., in the former Christian Community Service Center Sunshine Retail Shop) to the growing vehicle-and-restaurant chain’s previously announced somewhere-in-Bellaire location. Like the other non-wheeled Bernie’s locations, this one will be called a Bernie’s Burger Bus Stop — but Bus Station might be more accurate: Owner Justin Turner told Eater back in September he plans to use the Bellaire spot as a “hub” where production and prep takes place and deliveries go out for all the restaurants — including the new one planned for Katy. And in addition to an in-kitchen table for occasional (non-burger) pop-up dinners, there’s an actual bus planned for the interior. Collaborative Projects’ design will let you pick up your orders as they’re passed through a bus window.
Hamburger Transfer Station
OMG! A RICE VILLAGE FOOD TRUCK CLAMPDOWN After receiving complaints from restaurant owners and residents, police have launched an inspection sweep of food trucks in the Rice Village area, an HPD spokesperson tells reporter Terrence McCoy. At least 50 citations for various violations were issued in the last month, and the campaign is scheduled to continue for another month. Recipient of 4 of those inspections: Korean barbecue and taco vendor Oh My Gogi!, which typically parks outside Brian O’Neill’s on Morningside Dr. on weekends. Manager Daniel Davenport says police walked away without giving him a citation last Friday night, but on a previous weekend the truck chalked up 3 infractions for having business permits on hand, but not displaying them in open sight. [Hair Balls] Photo: Houston Food Crawl
UNBAKING A LONELY STRIP CENTER SPOT Saddled with a “terrible” location — a lonely strip center on Barker Cypress Rd., halfway between Katy and Cypress, year-old Ranch Bakery is taking to Kickstarter to raise funds to — break its lease? No — start up a food truck, explains owner John Homrighausen. It’ll be a souped-up delivery truck with “a giant pair of longhorns for the front & a horn that plays ‘The Eyes Of Texas,'” he promises. The spot at 5431 Barker Cypress is good for his catering company, Homrighausen explains, “but an unfortunate one for a retail store.” He hopes to lure fans of kolaches and Big John’s King Kong Ding Dongs to donate a total of $19,965 towards the effort by the end of the month. [Kickstarter, via Eater Houston] Photo: Ranch Bakery
Why is Houston the only major city in the country that bans propane-equipped food trucks from operating Downtown — and one of the few that prohibits all food trucks from serving near seating areas or even setting up their own chairs for customers? A few clues appear in Katherine Shilcutt’s fascinating account of Tuesday’s city hearing, during which council members expressed a few concerns: that food-truck purveyors might be selling “other items” on the sly, or that there might not be a sufficient number of city inspectors to police the existing fleet. But, Shilcutt reports, “The questions got even stranger when Council Member Andrew Burks began hinting at the possibility of terrorists using food trucks’ propane tanks as weapons, a comment that prompted laughter from the audience.”
The possibility of overfueled taco trucks blowing up Downtown Houston, however, wasn’t the only frightening specter Burks conjured up before the mostly mobile-food-friendly crowd:
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COMMENT OF THE DAY: DICK CHENEY’S BIRD SHOT AND MY FOOD TRUCK PEDIGREE “‘glorified Roach coaches’? Some maybe but certainly not all. I was one of the first to start a gourmet food truck in the Houston area almost three years ago. I have been interviewed by several newspapers in Houston and have done numerous live television cooking from that truck. I am no longer in the business of food trucks because Houston guidelines made it too difficult to make any money. Now to address your ‘glorified Roach coach’ comment. I have a degree in Culinary Arts from Le Cordon Bleu in France. I have been in kitchens for 24 years and currently work as a Corporate Executive Chef for a very large food purveyor. My work history includes having run 4 and 5 star hotels as Exec Chef, working as Exec Chef for numerous high-end New American cuisine restaurants, I have developed many menus in many cities and chances are you have probably eaten at one or more of them. I worked at The Food Network in NYC and was personal chef for George and Barbara Bush and yes I was at the ranch when Cheney shot Harry Whittington while bird hunting (it was Harry’s fault by the way and I have proof!) When I owned the food truck I carried an insurance policy with 2 million dollars of coverage (the same that any restaurant carries) and my kitchen was always spectacularly clean. I, like many other chefs, take a lot of pride in what I serve to you. My food is my craft and what I put on the plate is a direct reflection of me, my integrity and my love for what I do. Unless you have ever worked in a kitchen professionally, please refrain from making blanket statements about the men and women that run some of these fabulous mobile kitchens. You would be surprised about the background of many of them.” [Jason, commenting on Mobile Food Vendors Mobilize]
MOBILE FOOD VENDORS MOBILIZE A collective formed by more than 2 dozen food-truck operators plans to roll on city hall later this month — to present the mayor and council members with a list of proposed changes to city ordinances, fire code, and health regulations that restrict where and how Houston’s growing fleet of mobile food units can operate. The changes promoted by Mobile Food Unit Houston would get rid of current rules requiring food trucks and trailers to park more than 60 ft. away from each other, allow a single propane permit to cover multiple locations, and lift the ban on using propane fuel in the Med Center and Downtown. The changes would also allow their customers to sit down, lifting current rules that prohibit the sale of food-truck food near seating areas and letting them to set up limited numbers of tables and chairs on their own. [Mobile Food Unit Houston; previously on Swamplot]
EATSIE BOYS TAKING OVER KRAFTSMEN CAFE SPACE IN MONTROSE The end of the month will mark the end of a 10-year run for the cafe run by Kraftsmen Bakery in the small enclave of eateries carved out of the former Church of Christ building at 4100 Montrose, just north of Richmond. But Eater Houston reports Scott Tycer’s bakery operation plans to keep its Heights cafe and open an additional location within the next few months. Meanwhile, moving into the space next to the Black Lab, beginning in June: the first non-mobile location for the Eatsie Boys. Ryan Soroka and Matt Marcus say they’ll keep their original food truck available for private events, but otherwise will keep it parked outside Agora on Westheimer or their not-yet-opened 8th Wonder Brewery in East Downtown. Their new Montrose cafe will add pastries and coffee to the food truck’s sandwiches-and-ice-cream mix. [Eater Houston] Photo: Emily Duff
Making its debut last night at the Sabine Promenade downtown: The Buffalo Bayou Invasive Plant Eradication Unit, equipped with gardening tools, microscopes and plant presses, and a taco-truck style ordering counter where you can report or learn about the latest local vegetation battles. The food-truck-style mobile exhibit and lab is the work of New York artist Mark Dion, commissioned by the Houston Arts Alliance and the Buffalo Bayou Partnership. Next stops: the Holly Hall Retirement Community Plant and Bulb Mart at 2000 Holly Hall St. (on Friday) and the Native Plant Symposium at the Omni Hotel at Eldridge Parkway and the Katy Freeway (Saturday). Look for the converted Ford van with the skull and crossed pitchfork and shovel.
Photo: Meredith Deliso
COMMENT OF THE DAY: MORE EXPERIMENTS ON WHEELS, PLEASE “so what if it’s a passing fad? i don’t see anything wrong with that. if/when the food truck era passes, we won’t be left behind with a bunch of crappy ass buildings that no one knows what to do with. if we don’t like their food or their business, we can just wheel ’em away. wish i could do that to a few mcdonald/king/fil-a/aburgers round here . . .” [cooperella, commenting on Comment of the Day: Can’t You See Where This Is Headed?]
COMMENT OF THE DAY: CAN’T YOU SEE WHERE THIS IS HEADED? “At some point, the successful food trucks that provide consistently good food will setup tables and chairs, stake out an “area” in this experiment that is their spot, get so busy they’ll need someone whose only job is to take food orders and handle payment, even bring the food to your table. Eventually, they might even stake out parking just for their customers. OH WAIT, WE ALREADY HAVE THOSE, THEY’RE CALLED RESTAURANTS. This food truck-mania is just getting silly. Now pass me an apple/lemon-strudel cupcake with neon princess sprinkles with 15% of the profit going towards gloves for people displaced by encroaching solar panel farms.” [SL, commenting on Heights Shipping Container Food Court]
HEIGHTS SHIPPING CONTAINER FOOD COURT A food-truck-court-like conglomeration of shipping containers housing vendors selling waffles, burgers, barbecue, Mexican, Asian, or Cajun cuisine is being planned for a 25,000-sq.-ft. lot co-owned by the proprietor of C&D Scrap Metal at the corner of North Shepherd and 14th St., the Chronicle‘s David Kaplan reports. “Kitchens on 14th,” as designed by Uptown Sushi and Tiny Boxwood’s architect Issac Preminger, is expected to include trees, water features, and communal eating areas in a park-like setting. [Prime Property]