Last weekend was the humble beginnings of what may become a new food phenomenon in Richmond—the pod. How one food cart owner is trying to make a consolidation of carts a nighttime destination, putting the city on par with cities like Portland, Austin, and New York City.
Updated: 02/23/12; 5.00pm
Rooster Cart has posted on their Facebook that they will still be at the 2906 Patterson Ave. location tomorrow evening. They are working to relocate future food cart pods to a different location, yet to be determined.
Updated: 02/23/12; 3.00pm
RVANews has learned that the property manager of Kensington Court Apartments will not allow the food cart pod to take place on the building’s property this Friday evening, as originally planned.
There are no known plans to relocate the pod. RVANews will continue to follow and report developments.
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“We are trying to do something different and new,” says Luke Mindell. He’s one of the co-owners of the Rooster Cart, a new vegan food cart. Since their opening, Rooster Cart has set up shop in a parking lot behind Bandito’s at 2906 Patterson Avenue. It also happens to be the parking lot for Luke’s apartment building.
“We weren’t sure where we were going to set up,” said Luke, speaking in a telephone interview. “We started to look around and see how much real estate there was [in the parking lot]”. He spoke with the owners and pitched them the idea of Rooster Cart serving lunchtime fare in a large, open area of the lot. The owners agreed.
While occupying their newly fortified food area, one with ample space remaining, an idea struck Luke: why not having other people join in? He “started talking to some other carts,” about creating a food cart pod: a designated area where food carts gather and form a collective food destination. So, last Friday evening, the RVA Vegan cart joined Rooster in what is likely Richmond’s first ever food cart pod.
While only two food carts may not seem that noteworthy (Nate’s Taco Truck and the Olio Cart routinely gather in proximity at VCU’s Monroe Park campus), Luke hopes that the pod will grow to include five or six food carts. “There’s no reason food carts shouldn’t be a vibrant part of food culture,” said Luke. He wants to change the misapprehension that food carts are only a lunchtime destination.
Since the food cart pod will take place on private property, Luke said there is minimal coordination and regulation imposed by the City. He said that an official just asked that Luke procure a certificate of occupancy, which he’s done. “We have to go very slowly,” said Luke. Not only to gradually build awareness, but also because there is no specific city code that addresses food cart “pods,” a term that is unlikely found within any city regulatory rule. He hopes that pods (familiar sights in cities such as New York, Austin, and Portland) will become a phenomenon that the city recognizes and will ultimately encourage.
Luke said that Boka Truck, Pizza Tonight, Sustenance, and an ice cream truck have all expressed interest in participating in the new pod west of the Boulevard. “I was definitely excited,” said Victoria DeRoche, owner of Pizza Tonight. “It’s a great way for people to eat local food and be apart of the food cart culture,” something for which she said Richmond is ripe.
Luke said that he hopes the food cart pod will tap into a food culture that is more intimate. “We want that to become the norm,” speaking about how customers can talk directly with the chef who has prepared their food. Victoria agrees that the pod will tap into a unique eating experience. “It’s a whole different dynamic,” she said. “It’s quirky and fun.” She hopes to join the pod in two weeks.
Last week, Rooster Cart and RVA Vegan set up just “a couple of lawn chairs.” Ideally, Luke said that it would be best to have more chairs and table for people to use while they eat. “If all the parties involved are in agreement…we’d love to have tables and chairs.”
When asked about any displeasure that Bandito’s might have because of the increased food competition next to them, Luke said that “they haven’t expressed any to us.” It’s even possible that Bandito’s will see an increase of business, as participating food carts in the pod are not licensed to serve alcohol–which Bandito’s certainly can. Victoria DeRoche said that Bandito’s also has the benefit of offering a climate-controlled environment for patrons in the case of bad weather, a benefit that the food carts cannot match. “Our profits are really seasonable,” she said.
While Bandito’s reaction remains to be seen, the thought of working in proximity with other food carts competing for one’s business does not unnerve Luke. “We don’t like the idea of seeing competition as a negative thing,” he said. “We like to have competition, we think competition makes us better—that’s a good thing.” Victoria echoed similar sentiments. “The food community is so rich and overflowing,” she said, believing that a consolidated location will ultimately benefit all parties involved. “It’s a win-win situation.” Luke hopes that the early stages of the pod will simply help bring a “community spirit to food in this city.”
The food cart pod will be open at 2906 Patterson Avenue each Friday from 6pm – 9pm, with the possibility of adding Saturday hours.
- Year of the rooster: owners behind Café Gutenberg to start vegan food cart; RVANews
- RVA food carts Twitter list; RVANews
- What’s up with food carts in RVA?; RVANews
photo of Luke and Jen Mindell, Rooster Cart owners, by Fionnuala Bradley