July 9, 2013 Updated: July 10, 2013 at 11:38 am
The crowds aren't setting records, but a steady stream of customers is buying enough breakfast, lunch and dinner at the Curbside Cuisine food trucks downtown that business is exceeding most expectations.
The mix of food trucks, trailers and cars has been open about two months in a former gas station parking lot across from Acacia Park on Nevada Avenue. They'll celebrate their grand opening Friday through Sunday with samples, specials and entertainment to build more awareness of the trendy downtown dining option.
The number of trucks has grown from three since Curbside Cuisine opened May 15, and now eight vendors are selling a variety of foods that include tacos, pizza, barbecue, coffee, desserts and crepes.
"We have a waiting list of three to five trucks, but eight seems to be about right for the traffic we are generating. The truck owners seem happy with what we are doing," said Sandy Vanderstoep, founder and organizer of Curbside Cuisine. "We have demonstrated that food trucks can create a gathering place and dining scene or pop-up businesses. The average customer is spending 20 to 30 minutes there, not just going there and picking up food. We are getting more pedestrian traffic each day, which is something we were trying to generate."
Vanderstoep said each food truck operator is completing 30 to 50 transactions a day during operating hours, which vary between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m. daily. Colorado Springs Urban Interventions, an arm of the Pikes Peak Community Foundation that is managing the project, eventually hopes to turn operation of Curbside Cuisine to participating business owners.
"It is a completely different concept than most restaurants," Vanderstoep said. "By having them in one location, it allows the food-truck owner to concentrate on the quality of the product rather than on where to set up the truck. These trucks could be mobile, but then the owners would have the added cost of fuel to transport the truck to a new location every day and the need to attract customers to that location."
Thom Herold, owner of The Chuckwagon barbecue food truck and onsite manager of Curbside Cuisine, said his operation is attracting about 25 customers a day. It's enough to "make a little bit of money, but not enough to live on, though each week we get a little more business," he said. He has operated the food truck as a catering operation for about 10 years.
Steve Draper, co-owner of Za Pizza with Bill Miller, said sales are exceeding his expectations with a steady lunch crowd that generates 20 to 25 sales a day, mostly between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Draper also is co-owner of the Motif restaurant and club in Old Colorado City.
Gus Bootle, owner of Creole Kitchen, had his share of problems opening his food truck in May; he had to periodically shut down when his truck blew out circuit breakers and lost power. Those problems were solved quickly, and he said Creole Kitchen bas been breaking even after the first three weeks of operation.
Heather Engle, a Colorado Springs Utilities employee, said she visits Curbside Cuisine weekly to try different menu items from the trucks. She said the variety of food available at the location is "like a picnic," and she often brings coworkers along for impromptu team-building.
Four executives from Chef's Catalog said Tuesday they visited Curbside Cuisine on the recommendation of coworkers because they were "in search of a new food experience," Chef's President Tim Littleton said.
Nearby restaurants contacted Tuesday reported that Curbside Cuisine hadn't affected their sales. But Brad Haptonstall, manager of the downtown Borriello Brothers Pizza, located next to Curbside, said he had seen a "noticeable" increase in the store's customer traffic in recent days.
Curbside Cuisine is leasing the former service station at 225 N. Nevada Ave. from the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region for six months, with options to extend the lease for a year or two. Vanderstoep said no decision has been made on extending the lease beyond November.
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