Food trucks at The Porch find success

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Link to original article

Each Wednesday, Josh Kim can be found grilling gourmet burgers in his food truck at The Porch, an outdoor seating space next to 30th Street Station . At Spot Burger, Kim’s truck, burgers are built from scratch, from the butchering and grinding of the meat to the homemade condiments.

To escape their routine eateries, workers, students and commuters flock to The Porch each weekday. There, on the white pavement lined with umbrellas and bright chairs, they can find a variety of local food trucks serving dishes like pulled-pork tacos, “grilled cheese mac ‘n’ cheese” and vegan chili.

“Whenever there are trucks at The Porch we find that there are more people loitering in that area, utilizing the architecture and furniture, having a meeting outside because the atmosphere is a little more festive,” Kim said.

Food trucks started vending at The Porch in 2012, as a once a week operation sponsored by University City District to attract customers to the struggling farmer’s market next door. Soon, however, The Porch was teeming with commuters, Drexel University students and city employees sick of their typical lunch spots. Within months, The Porch eliminated the farmer’s market and increased the days food trucks served breakfast and lunch. As of December 2013, vendors have been serving breakfast, lunch or both meals five days a week.

For food truck owners, this location is a chance to reach a more diverse clientele and get more business.

Marti Lieberman, who manages the food truck Mac Mart, said she averages about 145 customers when serving at The Porch, as opposed to the 120 she averages when serving at Drexel and Love Park, her other locations. This March, she will be serving at The Porch every Wednesday. Mac Mart serves 53 types of mac n’ cheese — one of the most popular items being a roasted red pesto dish with basil, pecorino and walnut.

“When I’m at 30th Street I get a lot of my regulars from both Drexel and Center City, and it’s nice to meet the commuters too,” Lieberman said. “You give them a little taste of the Philly food truck culture, even if they might be there for just a few minutes.”

However, Kim said that since UCD’s decision to make the food trucks a daily staple at The Porch, he has not noticed an increase in customers. He does think The Porch is livelier because of the food trucks.

“Whenever there isn’t a food truck at The Porch, there’s not too many people lingering so it doesn’t look like a public dwelling space — it just looks like a well decorated pedestrian walking space,” Kim said.

Food trucks at The Porch started offering breakfast in 2013 because of “the nature of [it] being this commuter hub,” Lori Brennan, the director of marketing and communications for UCD, said. “What if people could enjoy fresh bagels or donuts or egg sandwiches while they walk to work?”

Brennan described the offerings at The Porch as “diverse” and complementary to the food options available inside of the station. “On any given day you might have American burgers next to tacos next to handmade pizza next to an Asian food truck,” she said.

Taco Mondo, a popular food truck at The Porch, serves favorites like smoked pork tacos with homemade hot sauce, homemade empanadas and burritos. Michael Sultan, one of the truck’s co-owners, also enjoys the mix of clientele at The Porch.

“I think [The Porch] is great,” he said. “My overhead is low, so I can serve [a] product that people can get in a restaurant for a fraction of the price.”

Jackie Borelli, owner of Just Jackie’s, which serves new age comfort food with both meat and vegetarian options, spoke about the energy and excitement her clientele have for her food.

“[The Porch] is a really controlled environment where people know that your truck is going to be there well in advance, and they really look forward to your truck coming,” Borelli said. “They make it part of their week to get over there and try something new.”

The space is open year-round, with special events that occur in the summer — such as outdoor concerts, mini-golf and craft fairs. However, food truck offerings are limited during the winter, with only one truck stationed there each day.

“I think that The Porch is a really unique space because it allows visitors, employees and students to take advantage of being in an outdoor, urban environment where you can sit next to beautiful plants, listen to live music, enjoy food from a truck, simply enjoy a book,” Brennan said. “There are so many uses for the space, and we are still in the beginning stages of identifying how we can use [it].”