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food trucks

Editor’s Note: This story is part of Good Times’ annual Santa Cruz Visitors Guide 2019. Read the full publication here.

In the 21st century, one of the measures of any city’s dining scene is its food truck culture. But while the food truck scene in nearby Silicon Valley is one of the most innovative in the country, Santa Cruz’s has been a long time coming. It took local trailblazers like Lali Kates’ event series Food Trucks A Go Go to get the Santa Cruz City Council to loosen some of its smothering restrictions on mobile mealmakers, beginning in 2015. Despite a number of popular and offbeat vendors in the area, Santa Cruz was still rolling through the Food Truck Dark Ages in terms of complex and outdated limitations—most notably in the city’s reluctance to allow food trucks on downtown’s main thoroughfare, Pacific Avenue.

Who would have thought that the woman to finally break through that particular roll of red tape would be a local jewelry vendor who knew nothing at all about food trucks? And yet that’s exactly what Kathryn Walsh did when she organized the Food Truck Summer Series, which will be held one evening every month through October on the north end of Pacific Avenue between Locust and Water streets, and will feature top local food trucks as well as free live music and activities for kids.

Walsh, who moved to Santa Cruz from Australia 28 years ago, says this is exactly the kind of thing her extremely outgoing nature gets her into.

“Because I’m an obnoxious Australian, I don’t mind going up and talking to people,” says Walsh, who still has an Aussie accent, although it’s an unusual one shaped by also living in England.

When she approached her first food truck owner, Ed Fordyce of the artisan meat-pie company Rogue Pye, all Walsh really knew about the food truck business was what she had seen watching hours and hours of the Food Network. But since Fordyce was South African, she knew she could at least get him interested in a conversation about cricket. He was the first to sign on for the summer series.

“She came out of left field,” says Fordyce, with a laugh. “She’s got the energy.” For a food truck community that has always felt like it’s been kept on the fringes, he says, “This opportunity means a lot. It opens a door.”

Walsh was surprised to get almost universal support for the idea, including from the city, the Downtown Association and Santa Cruz County Bank, which became the series’ first sponsor. She assembled a roster of food trucks eager to sign on: local fixture Ate3One, which serves up everything from poke nachos to shrimp tacos to tofu bowls as part of its shifting menu; the Asian-Mexican fusion of Union Foodie; Tibetan dumplings from Nomad Mono; Shockwave’s blend of international street fare and comfort food; and Scrumptious Fish and Chips.

Live music will include the Cement Ship and Battle Mountain String Band (June 21), Coastal Greeting and Singing Wood Marimba Band (July 19, with the latter returning Sept. 27), Sasha’s Money Band and Devil Sliders (Aug. 16), and Simply Put (Oct. 25).

Perhaps the reason everyone has trusted Walsh with this event, despite the fact that she’s never run a food truck or organized a street festival, is the fact that she has 25 years experience as a vendor—she’s sold her jewelry at art fairs, wine festivals and every other kind of event all over the West Coast, and she’s seen the best and worst of how they can go. Locally, she’s worked everything from the Santa Cruz Antique Fair to the Greek Fair to the Church Street Fair.

Though she may not have run a food truck, she empathizes with the culinary entrepreneurs who will be at her event. “I’ve very much stood in their shoes. When you’re working as hard as you can, and there’s no one in front of your truck,” she says. “I’ve stood in the pouring rain, I’ve stood in the blistering sun. Most promoters haven’t been vendors.”

Despite the huge learning curve with city regulations, not to mention figuring out the complexities of both presenting a food festival and promoting live music, Walsh thinks that ultimately, the success of the food-truck series could come down to something remarkably simple.

“The number one thing that makes events good is when they’re fun,” she says. “They need to be fun for the vendors, and fun for the public. That will bring people out.”

The Food Truck Summer Series will be held from 5-9 p.m. on June 21, July 19, Aug. 16, Sept. 27, and Oct. 25 on Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, with free live entertainment on Memorial Plaza. To find out about more food truck and other dining events throughout the year, pick up a copy of Good Times newspaper each week.