Adams Avenue businesses are considering a pitch from a San Francisco Bay Area company that holds pop-up events with food trucks, music, and more to start an event at the Masonic meeting hall on the corner of 34th Street and Adams Avenue next spring — a pitch that's reputedly been rejected in other San Diego neighborhoods.
Off the Grid's director of business development, Ben Himlan, met last week (November 10) with the Adams Avenue Business Association to talk about the coming events and to ask for the association's support. The meeting was informational and no vote was taken, according to business association executive director Scott Kessler.
"They said that if we don't want them on Adams, then they are not going to come," Kessler said.
In order to be profitable, the company has to set up a number of the events in San Diego, and they've been asking around to see where to hold the events. North Park already said "no, thanks" to the group; rumor is that Ocean Beach did, too.
"When I want to add food trucks, I already have a full list of operators I've worked with and can be confident in," said Catt Fields White, director of San Diego farmers' markets, including those in Little Italy and North Park. "We have well-established and well-run business improvement districts here that are already doing these things where they're viable."
White said the group also approached the Waterfront Park and was rejected. If the group decides to go ahead, it still has to obtain conditional use permits from the city.
Food trucks aren't new to Adams Avenue; Mike Magers set up a Tuesday food-truck night about five years ago that is still running in the parking lot of his car-repair shop, Smitty's.
"I'm all food-trucked out," Magers said. "When I first did it it was the new cool thing but with the artisan breweries, now they all have food trucks, everyone has them."
Multiple calls to Himlan and his marketing director were not returned.
Off the Grid started in the Bay Area, with particular focus on the East Bay. The pop-up events have a kind of mixed history there: they were kicked out of Berkeley's "Gourmet Ghetto" after restaurants said they saw their business decline. The company reportedly beat an unfair competition lawsuit filed by seven restaurants in another location. While the Bay Area events — said to draw more than 1000 customers through social media — are prospering, the group's push into Sacramento appeared to fail.
Opinions at the meeting, attended by about 25 people, were all over the place, according to attendees. Some restaurant owners say that the vast majority of their clientele is from the neighborhood, and they shouldn't have to compete for business after they've bought the permits to establish their restaurants. Others were mainly concerned about competition for parking, already a problem in the neighborhood.
"It all depends how you see the business pie," Magers said. "I see it as it just keeps growing and we'll always be able to get a slice. I think the problem we'll have is parking because that's already so scarce around Adams."
The Masonic Lodge is on a block with four or five restaurants.
Others think that if it was done well, Off the Grid could benefit the neighborhood.
"I like bringing new businesses here because it builds foot traffic and brings new people to the area," said Mike DiMille, who owns and runs DiMille's. "I don't think they picked a good location — that area is already full of bars and restaurants and parking is pretty difficult, but if they did the event east of 35th, where there's more space and fewer competing restaurants, it might work pretty well."