In the year since the inception of Curbside Cuisine in downtown Colorado Springs, food trucks have come and gone, all helping to transform a once-derelict corner into a hot spot for urban living.
“It sends the message that we’re a community that innovates and tries new things and provides that urban experience that a lot of millennials are looking for,” said Susan Edmondson, president and CEO of the Downtown Partnership. “Curbside has created an environment to try out their products — this is helping them get out into the community with their food and see how it goes.”
Since starting last summer with a handful of food vendors at the southeast corner of Nevada and Platte avenues, the project has shifted from a trial run by Colorado Springs Urban Intervention to a self-sustaining microcosm of the downtown business scene. Curbside transitioned to becoming an autonomous organization in December.
Business for the tricked-out trucks is primarily lunch-driven. Much of its clientele comes from the downtown workforce and seasonally from Palmer High School students.
“The variety is remarkable,” said Sandy Vanderstoep, founder and organizer of Curbside Cuisine. “There is everything from Slovakian to Mexican.”
Curbside’s current lineup includes:
• Maco’s Tacos, an authentic Mexican eatery offering tacos, burritos, tamales and glass-bottle Coca-Cola;
• Wada Wada. a Korean family operation specializing in all things bulkogi and kimchi;
• Za Pizza, which serves thin-crust personal pies in a variety of gourmet combinations;
• Heavenly Desserts, owned by a husband-wife duo and making smoothies and baked goods;
•Kolyba, one of the most recent additions to the market bringing a variety of traditional Slovakian foods;
•Pig Latin, for the pork lover;
•Jamaican Jerk, a truck operated by High Grade Catering and offering Jamaican fusion cuisine;
•Suppen Bar, another recent addition specializing in German fare; and
•Mercken, a Chilean sandwich vendor serving such items as empanadas.
Some of Curbside’s initial vendors, including the Creole Kitchen and Crepe Crusaders, have backed away for personal reasons.
But Curbside Manager Amy Van Wuffen said that business is good for those that have stayed — with tripled sales for many vendors, including her daughter’s business, Heavenly Desserts.
“What I see is a very resilient food truck vendor group, which has carried on through a tough winter,” Vanderstoep said.
“In any business, the first year is always a year of discovery. What we’ve discovered is that we need good on-site management.”
“What I see is a very resilient food truck vendor group, which has carried on through a tough winter.” – Sandy Vanderstoep
“What I see is a very resilient food truck vendor group, which has carried on through a tough winter.”
– Sandy Vanderstoep
Curbside uses a Portland (Oregon)model, in which the food trucks gather to create a destination rather than visiting different locations each day, Vanderstoep explained. The number of vendors at the former gas station site varies day to day, with a maximum capacity of eight or nine trucks, according to Van Wuffen.
Each truck applies to be included and is approved by a board made up mostly of current truck owners. Each member samples the food and the board together determines whether the truck would be a good fit based on a variety of criteria.
Since opening last year, each truck has paid a flat monthly rate of $400, which includes water, electricity and the space. Looking toward Curbside’s second year in business, Van Wuffen said the board is currently re-evaluating that rate.
“We can only power so many trucks at once,” she said.
To fill in the gaps created by inconsistent vendor availability, Van Wuffen said it is in the midst of approving trucks for trial runs. The vendors chosen will fill in for other vendors in the event of their absence, she said.
The project began as an experiment by Colorado Springs Urban Intervention last summer with the help of private funding and support from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which manages some aspects of the umbrella business.
But now, Vanderstoep said the group is working with a positive cash flow from the eight or so trucks that gather on the corner throughout the year.
“Groups that have been helpful have been the YMCA … and the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, which has provided infrastructure, billing and financial support,” she said.
The rolling lease with the Y may expire in the time to come, with the organization planning a revamp of its downtown property. Until then, Curbside Cuisine helps to “fill in the holes in the spine of downtown,” said Vanderstoep.
She said an essential part of Curbside’s mission is to create usefulness for that property where there previously was none. That corner of Platte and Nevada had sat empty for years, decaying and attracting unsavory characters who treated it like a cheap motel, Vanderstoep said.
“It was trashed out with homeless people hanging out in the back,” she said. “I think this has been truly transformative for downtown — and that falls on the backs of the food truck vendors.”
Edmondson said she hasn’t heard any concern as to adverse effects on local brick-and-mortar shops downtown, which had been an early concern. Instead, the community has welcomed the family-friendly corner, which also includes the classic summertime game Cornhole, the opportunity to create sidewalk chalk art and an old upright piano. Some Palmer students even offered their artistic services and painted designs on metal planters around the market, making the lot more aesthetically appealing.
“It provides a better pedestrian experience,” Edmondson said.
Van Wuffen said the board is in the beginning phase of looking for another Curbside site downtown. One option under consideration is a vacant space on the corner of Nevada and Vermijo avenues, which would allow five to six more vendors to expose their businesses to the marketplace. nCSBJ
Number of trucks: 8
Location: Platte and Nevada avenues
Years in business: One