Recap: What the Truck?! @ Churchill Square

September 8, 2012 saw the biggest What the Truck?! take place in Churchill Square. Twelve trucks congregated downtown for our final hurrah for the 2012 season.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

WTT @ Churchill Square

As with our penultimate event on Victoria Promenade, we again lucked out with the weather. And though it started out unbearably hot, the shadows cast by the surrounding buildings in the early evening soon made the conditions absolutely ideal for an outdoor food festival.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Enjoying summer

There were other benefits to setting up on Churchill Square, which made it immediately obvious why it is Edmonton’s de facto events space – the infrastructure, which includes built-in power hook-ups, on-site washrooms and a multitude of seating options is efficient, and cost-effective. It also does, in a way, spoil us for any other location in the city, but given the pop-up nature of the event, we hope you’re willing to bear with us in the future!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Lots of seating

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Loved that newly-married Nadine and Glyn stopped by!

That said, we also recognized that in order to even attempt an event at Churchill Square, we needed to have our biggest turnout yet to not only animate the area but also enough people to patronize the trucks. Thankfully, we were thrilled for the support we received that night. One of the pieces of feedback we did receive was that people appreciated the expanse of the location – lines had enough room to breathe, and those browsing through menus could do so fairly easily. We do have to thank Northlands for stepping up and lending us stanchions for this event – they did wonders for directing and managing lines!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Yay, stanchions!

The trucks all deserve a standing ovation for what they did that night – all twelve absolutely rocked it, serving the huge crowds tirelessly and with grace to spare. We are very lucky to have such a great food truck community in Edmonton that seems to be getting bigger by the season! Among our WTT newcomers this time around were Little Village, Yellowbird Cafe and Bully.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Little Village

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Nachos from Yellowbird Cafe

Bully is the shiniest new truck on the scene, the city’s first American-style truck. I tried their grilled salmon served on salad – the fish was deliciously flaky, with a nicely seared crust. The portion was so big that I didn’t have room for any other savoury dishes that night!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Bully

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Buttermilk and basil marinated salmon from Bully

This time around, we also had volunteers helping us out with set-up and clean-up. Especially when things got going, it was great to have extra pairs of hands changing garbage cans so we could ensure the Square stayed spic and span. Thanks again to Brittney, Fel, Kathy, Kim, Patrick, Su and Thom for all of your help!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Some of our great volunteers – Kim, Thom and Patrick

It was great to work DJs Raebot and wijit, who really helped set the tone for the evening. No doubt Churchill is a large space, but their tunes helped bring it all together.

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

DJs Raebot and wijit

Thanks to everyone who came out to What the Truck?! in 2012, and to those who voted us Edmonton’s number one pop-up event in Vue Weekly’s Best of Edmonton poll. We really appreciate the support!

What the Truck?! at Churchill Square

Churchill Square

And though we might be done for the year, that doesn’t mean all of the trucks are! Bully, Drift and Little Village among others will be serving into October. Keep the truck love going!

Check out the full photoset here.

September 8, 2012 What the Truck?! @ Churchill Square

Churchill Square is a beguiling landmark in Edmonton. I think most people would argue that we need a large, open, centrally accessible space in our city, a blank slate that could be transformed into any number of things. It would be hard to argue against the opinion that part of the reason why we have become known as festival city is because of Churchill Square – from mid-June until mid-August, those that wander by will almost surely find some sort of entertainment to capture their attention.


The Works in Churchill Square

That said, for most of the year, Churchill Square still lies frustratingly vacant. City Council has tried to solve this problem, by providing funding to the Edmonton Arts Council to program the Square on a year-round basis. But the difficulty isn’t just about making something – anything – happen, but the stark reality that Churchill is an indomitably large area. And for most festivals without massive installations, staging, or the magnitude to draw hundreds of patrons, it really is a challenging space to animate and encourage a vibrancy that befits Edmonton’s town square.


Churchill Square

When Mack and I first approached the City last spring with our idea for a food truck festival, the events planners immediately directed us to Churchill Square. In a way, it made sense – the level, concrete pad was perfect for vehicles, and the concrete staircase on the west side was essentially built-in seating. It’s one of the most transit accessible locations in the city, visible from the street and located in a dense neighbourhood.

But that June, with only seven participating trucks, it just didn’t fit the scope of What the Truck?! at the time. Churchill Square seemed a little too obvious for a venue. Besides, we really loved the pop-up, roving idea of a festival based around mobile vendors, taking advantage of underutilized spaces in Edmonton and demonstrating the possibilities of thinking outside the box.

What The Truck?!

Our first WTT was located in one of Edmonton’s gems, Beaver Hills House Park

Fast forward fourteen months, and in many ways, we have come a long way – food trucks are on their way to becoming mainstream in Edmonton. The ten trucks that participated in What the Truck?! at Victoria Promenade in August were absolutely mobbed. Then a week later, Food Network’s popular Eat St. came calling, really highlighting that our scene features some trucks that can stand proudly amongst some of North America’s best street eats.

Drift filming Eat Street!
Drift on filming day

So when Mack and I were scouting locations for our final What the Truck?! this season, Churchill Square was at the top of our list. Building on our momentum from Old Strathcona, 104 Street and Victoria Promenade, we think Edmonton’s food trucks are finally ready to take on the Square.

What: What the Truck?!, Edmonton’s food truck extravaganza
When: Saturday, September 8, 2012
Where: Sir Winston Churchill Square
Time: 5-9pm

Not only will this be our biggest event ever, with a total of twelve trucks, but it will also involve three vendors new to What the Truck?!: Little Village, Yellowbird Cafe and Bully.

Little Village Food Truck

Little Village is one of Edmonton’s newest food trucks

The menu is now up – just make sure you’re not hungry when you peruse it! Hope to see you down at Churchill Square on Saturday!

Recap: What the Truck?! at Victoria Promenade

Organizing outdoor events can be nerve-wracking, because they are so much at the mercy of the weather. So when we had our first cloudless, rain-free What the Truck?!, we made sure to count our blessings!

What the Truck?!

Before the storm

It seemed even more fitting last Friday, given it was our most scenic location to date, with ten trucks set up along the beautiful stretch of the Victoria Promenade. In our opinion, it is an underappreciated and underutilized gem in Edmonton, so we were even more thrilled at the amazing turnout!

What the Truck?!

Huge crowds

We also think it was the largest and more diverse crowd we’ve seen at any What the Truck?! event, and though it had to do somewhat with the location and perfect conditions, we also believe it had a lot to do with the dense neighbourhood of Oliver it was situated in. No doubt, the wafting of food aromas helped entice more than a few residents in the surrounding towers!

What the Truck
The Promenade, by Ian McKenzie

It was really neat to see people setting up picnics anywhere and everywhere along the Promenade. From benches to curbs to apartment stoops, it was casual al fresco dining at its best!

What the Truck?!

Phil was among the early birds

What the Truck?!

Fel and Jeff enjoy the mac melt from Molly’s

What the Truck?!

Joe and Vicky at their first What the Truck?!

What the Truck?!

Loved their buffet spread

What the Truck?!

Who says a stoop can’t be a perfectly suitable table?

For whatever reason, Mack and I don’t actually end up eating all that much at the events. But we did enjoy what we did sample!

What the Truck?!

Pork belly adobo from Filistix

What the Truck?!

Siu mai from The Lingnan

Of course, we do recognize the shortcomings of this location. Because we needed to maintain access to the residential garages situated along this road, we were only able to claim half of the street. This meant that unlike our previous two events, we weren’t able to situate trucks in a way that would have provided some line separation. As well, though our intentions were to have sidewalks as clear as possible, the length of many of the lines made this improbable. We appreciate the patience people had with navigating the Promenade, and your feedback will help us improve future events – for instance, we are looking at stanchions for our next go-around.

What the Truck?!

This event would not have been possible without the generosity of our partners and sponsors. The Oliver Community League was with us from the beginning, eager to help bring What the Truck?! to their neighbourhood. They also hosted a community social at their local hall afterwards, and it seemed to be a very well-attended opportunity for neighbours to meet one another.

What the Truck?!

The Urban Monks DJs, Thomas and Marc, also brought their creative spin to the table! They didn’t need to DJ in extreme conditions this time around, but they still brought down the street with their beats. Thanks, guys!

What the Truck?!

The Urban Monks

Last but not least, Tri-Line Disposal came through with their handy toters. Mack and I always like to return the event site to the community in the same condition we found it, and it really wouldn’t have been possible to do this without their mobile waste containers.

Thanks to everyone who came out to support the trucks! But if you missed the event, you’re in luck! Our next Truck Stop will be taking place on August 15, in the form of a Pulled Pork Throwdown! Hope to see you there!

You can take a look at the photoset here.

What the Truck?! @ Victoria Promenade on August 3, 2012

One of the best things about food trucks is their mobility, and the fact that they can set up virtually anywhere. If What the Truck?! was well received, Mack and I planned to move the festival around, with the knowledge that there are numerous underutilized places and parks in Edmonton that we couldn’t wait to colonize with food trucks. Thanks to the Edmontonians who have embraced food trucks in droves, we have that flexibility!

When we started to plan out our 2012 season earlier this spring, we identified Oliver as a prime potential site. The densest neighbourhood in the city, with great access to public transportation made Oliver ideal. We connected with the Oliver Community League to see if this was something they were interested in supporting, and to our delight, they were right on board.

We jointly identified a number of suitable locations, which included Paul Kane Park and Oliver Pool. But without a doubt, Victoria Promenade was the street at the top of our wish list.


Victoria Promenade (picture from marceloilers)

It is often lamented that to animate the river valley, more amenities are needed. Although the Victoria Promenade doesn’t offer quite the same natural escape, we think it’s still one of the most meditative spots in the City, with expansive views and benches to relax on. Even better, there are numerous restaurants and cafes just one street over. In our opinion, the Victoria Promenade is one of the best kept secrets in Edmonton.

Whether or not you’re already familiar with the Promenade, we hope you’ll consider joining us for eats and beats on the street next week! It will be unlike any other What the Truck?! we’ve organized so far.

What: What the Truck?!, Edmonton’s food truck extravaganza
When: Friday, August 3, 2012
Where: Victoria Promenade (100 Avenue, south of Jasper and 121 Street – very limited parking, so walk, bike, or ride transit!)
Time: 5-9pm

We are also happy to now be able to share the menus with you. With ten trucks in total, there should be something for everyone.

See you there!

One Last Hurrah: Old Strathcona Truck Stop

Our final Truck Stop in Old Strathcona took place last Wednesday. Mack and I nervously watched the skies all day, as it had started off rainy and overcast, but thankfully, the grey mostly cleared by the time the trucks pulled up at McIntyre Park.

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona - June 27

The sun was shining!

The crowds weren’t as robust as those that were seen towards the end of May, but a fair number (including many young families) came out to enjoy a casual picnic in the park. A band, Yikes, were also on hand to lend some music to the event (we were told that music programming will be consistent on Wednesdays throughout the summer).

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona - June 27

Lounging in the grass

We recognize that the June series of Truck Stops weren’t as successful as the preceding May dates. Weather played a big factor, and because McIntyre had been booked by another group on June 20, we weren’t able to make it known that “every Wednesday in June” would play host to the event.

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona - June 27

Mack’s calzone from Battista’s

That said, as a whole, we think the venture of What the Truck?! across the river had been very well received! Though we suspected the appetite for food trucks in Edmonton wasn’t just confined to downtown, the response to these Truck Stops proved that. It was also wonderful working with Stephen Liley of the Old Strathcona Business Association and Kathy Stanley, the City’s Vending Coordinator, who helped make this series happen.

Truck Stop in Old Strathcona - June 27

Great day for food trucks

As for the rest of the summer, we’ll be retiring Truck Stops for at least a month. Many events in Edmonton’s packed festival calendar will feature members of our local brigade (including Curb Your Hunger at Taste of Edmonton), not to mention the outdoor farmers’ markets where trucks have become a staple to feed hungry shoppers (124 Street Grand Market and the City Market, just to name a few). And don’t forget – many trucks are out and about every day – just check their Twitter feeds for details!

Mack and I are in the process of organizing two big What the Truck?! events to take place before the close of summer, however. We will announce the dates and locations when they are confirmed. In the meantime, keep on truckin’!

What the Truck?! @ Al Fresco: June 9, 2012

It’s that time of year in Edmonton – because our summer is so short and precious, every weekend is an opportunity to take in something outdoors. Next weekend, the place to do this will be downtown, with numerous events and three festivals colliding on the same day.

Downtown Edmonton Community League is kicking things off at 8:30-11am, with its annual Pancake Breakfast (all proceeds benefit charity). The 4th Street Promenade summer mainstay, the City Market, will be running from 9am-3pm. Midway through at noon, the Pride Parade will wind down 102 Avenue from 108 Street all the way to Churchill Square. And to round off the night from 5-11pm, the 4th Annual Al Fresco Block Party will take over the Promenade from Jasper to 103 Avenue. Expect a wine and spirits tasting tent, extended patios, a great musical line-up, fashion show, and a kids zone.

Al Fresco Block Party

One of the extended patios in 2011

Mack and I are two of the members of this year’s Al Fresco organizing committee. After attending the festival in 2009, 2010 and 2011, we thought it was time to give back, especially because we now live on the street and love events where neighbours can get to know one another. On the committee, Mack represents our condo (The Century), while I represent the Downtown Edmonton Community League (of which I volunteer as a Board member).

IMG_3382

Volunteering for the 2011 DECL Pancake Breakfast

That said, we’re also involved in another capacity – Al Fresco was looking for a different way to feed hungry festival goers. Last year, the food component was expanded by hosting several downtown restaurants on the street – you may remember Tres Carnales in particular, because their Rice Howard Way digs weren’t yet complete at the time.

Al Fresco Block Party

Tacos to the people!

Given the rise of food trucks in Edmonton over the last year, the committee thought they would be a wonderful addition to the festival. Mack and I might be a bit biased, but we agreed with them.

As a result, our first What the Truck?! extravaganza this year will be taking place in conjunction with the Al Fresco Block Party.

What: What the Truck?! Edmonton’s Food Truck Extravaganza
Where: 104 Street, north of 102 Avenue
When: June 9, 2012
Time: 5-11 p.m.

This will be the largest What the Truck?! we’ve ever organized, with ten of Edmonton’s premier food trucks ready to show the city why street cuisine is here to stay:

Best of all – the trucks will all be donating a portion of the evening’s proceeds to Zebra Child Protection Centre, Al Fresco’s charity of choice this year. A non-profit, community-based organization that improves the lives of children who have suffered abuse, the Zebra Centre is able to provide children and their families with essential social, medical and mental health services and supports.

We will be updating the website with menus on Tuesday – so check back then to whet your appetite. Hope to see you there!

Check out the Facebook event here, and follow us on Twitter! Read more about last year’s What the Truck?! events here and here.

Announcing: Truck Stops in Old Strathcona!

Although Mack and I are stalwart supporters of downtown, we also wanted to spread the food truck festivals to other neighbourhood as well. So we are thrilled to announce a series of Truck Stops (our mini What the Truck?! festivals) that will be taking place in Old Strathcona.

Every Thursday from 5-9 p.m. in May, you’ll be guaranteed great eats at McIntyre Park, where four trucks will be serving up dishes both savoury and sweet.

What: Truck Stop
Where: McIntyre Park, 8303 104 Street
When: May 3, 10, 17, 24, and 31, 2012
Time: 5-9 p.m.

The line up of trucks will change from week to week, but most of the vendors you are familiar with from farmers’ markets, festivals and street side will be represented this month. There will also be a few new trucks who will be debuting at Truck Stop later in the month, including Battista’s Calzones and The Next Act.

On deck this Thursday, May 3: Drift, Eva Sweet, Fat Franks and Molly’s Eats. A menu will be posted on the What the Truck?! website on Wednesday at the latest, so check back for updates.

Thanks to the Old Strathcona Business Association for their support in getting this off the ground!

Hope to see you there!

Check out our What the Truck?! website here, or follow us on Facebook.

Street Food for Lunch: Truck Stop

This afternoon, from 11am-2pm, we hosted our inaugural Truck Stop, a smaller offshoot of What the Truck?! at Churchill Square.

At this point, we’ve resigned to the fact that the weather won’t be on our side. We recognize that it could have been much worse – the rain held off until the very end – but after three events in less than ideal weather, we don’t know what we have to do to get some sunshine on our side!

Anyway, set-up this morning was seamless – 102A Avenue in front of City Hall has been closed to vehicular traffic for a few years now, and as we found with What the Truck?! 2, curbside is the best way to go with food trucks. By 11am, all five vendors were ready to go – but would Edmontonians brave the elements for street food?

Truck Stop

Ready to go

Of course they would! The crowds didn’t swarm in droves as they did for WTT, but we didn’t expect them to, given the lack of notice and the inherently smaller nature of the event. We had pulled some of the colourful bistro tables from the centre of the Square to create a more inviting space, and were happy to see the slight chill didn’t deter people from al fresco dining.

Truck Stop

Lunch time!

Smokehouse BBQ, with its wafting aromas of wood smoke, had a pretty solid line up during the noon hour lunch rush. They tweeted later that it was indeed a good day – they sold more today than they would have over four days in their usual spot in Nisku! So fans of Southern BBQ – if you give them a reason to come back – they will!

Truck Stop

The line at Smokehouse

Mack and I had been looking forward to trying Smokehouse BBQ ourselves – and they didn’t disappoint! The three rib mac and cheese was my definite favourite – the meat just slid off the bone! And the creamy mac and cheese was especially comforting in the cold.

Smokehouse BBQ

The bacon bomb and the three rib mac and cheese

But the beauty of food truck gatherings is the variety – and it was great to see groups of diners arriving together, but ultimately choosing the truck that would best fit their craving, whether it was from Bo Thai, Drift, Fat Franks or Eva Sweet.

Jill

Jill enjoys her pork belly sandwich from Drift (and tries not to look cold!)

At noon, a zumba class on the Square definitely enlivened the atmosphere. Mack and I weren’t sure that the dance class would go forward with the numbers that were anticipated, but boy, were we wrong. Upwards of forty people joined the instructor for an up-tempo work out right in Churchill! Unfortunately, this was the last zumba class of the year, but given its success, it sounds like programmers will want to continue it next year.

Zumba

Zumba on the Square!

Halfway through the event, we noticed some fire pits and heat lamps on the Square. It’s too bad we couldn’t have put them into use today – I’m sure it would have encouraged more people to stick around to have lunch outdoors – if places like Earls and Joey’s can extend their patio season with heat lamps, why couldn’t food trucks?

Chris and Brittney

Chris and Brit are content with al fresco dining

Thanks to everyone who came out to Truck Stop today – you helped us prove that food trucks aren’t just a warm weather phenomenon! Thanks to the City for helping us to make this happen. And a big thanks to the vendors who stuck with us through the rain – we couldn’t have done it without you!

Mack and I don’t have plans for any more food truck extravaganzas this year, but that doesn’t mean food trucks are disappearing from Edmonton streets. Drift, Molly’s Eats and Bo Thai will be out at the Movies on the Square on Friday, and Bo Thai will continue to serve in Churchill Square on weekdays until October 21. For the whereabouts of Eva Sweet, Drift and Smokehouse, be sure to follow them on Twitter!

You can see Mack’s photoset here.

Truck Stop, presented by What the Truck?!

Although food trucks in our city are likely to be associated only with warm weather, there’s no time like the present to change that! What the Truck?! 2 on September 16, 2011 brought out a sizable crowd in spite of the overcast and breezy conditions, and we’ve been told by some vendors that they will continue to operate as long as patrons are game to dine.

So, inspired by the pods of Portland, Mack and I are organizing Truck Stop, presented by What the Truck?!

Date: October 6, 2011
Time: 11am-2pm
Location: 102A Avenue, in front of City Hall

Truck Stop is a gathering of a smaller number of food trucks, with the goal of highlighting the idea that trucks can complement one another. Besides offering diners the beauty of savoury choices, the availability of dessert vendors also mean that a meal can be capped off with a sweet treat as well!

We are aware that a number of trucks already vend on 102A Avenue on a regular basis, and we want to build on their presence. So in addition to Bo Thai, Eva Sweet, Fat Franks and Drift, we are happy to welcome Smokehouse BBQ, a barbecue truck usually found only in Nisku, to the streets of Edmonton. Smokehouse BBQ is the brainchild of the couple behind La Pisana in Leduc, and offers pulled pork, barbecued beef, sausages and their signature “bacon bomb” sandwich. Given the general dearth of good barbecue in Edmonton, it’s great to have a mobile vendor specializing in this!

Smokehouse

Smokehouse BBQ (thanks to Tanis for the photo!)

As with the previous events, there is no admission fee, but come hungry! Hope to see you there on Thursday!

You can RSVP to the Facebook event here.

What the Truck?!: The Location

Leading up to the second What the Truck?! taking place on September 16, 2011, we will be posting about some of the stumbling blocks we faced in organizing the first event. Today, I will discuss how the location of What the Truck?! came to be.

The ideal venue for What the Truck?! in our minds was a parking lot. What better way to repurpose those single-use eyesores than to fill them with people, animating an otherwise empty space downtown? After some scouting, we identified two lots that we thought would work, both in terms of location and size.

Option one already had precedence for alternative uses – the Melcor-owned lot on 104 Street, between the Great West Saddlery Building and the Armstrong Block had been used for Al Fresco events. Given Melcor’s enthusiasm for Todd Babiak’s Interventions project involving the beautification of a parkade wall, we thought they might be more than open to our idea. When we met with a Melcor staff person, however, because we weren’t attached to a charity, the answer was no. The lot was leased out to monthly parking pass holders, and in order to justify taking away that paid privilege, they needed a good excuse. We were aghast, if only because we live on the street, and know that the lot sits completely empty most nights (we should mention that for What the Truck?! 2, Melcor has allowed us to use their privately owned park).

Melcor Parking Lot on 104 Street

Option two, a lot between the Jasper 105 Dental building and building that houses Pub 1905, had a similar feel to the Melcor lot because it was also enclosed on two sides, and was equally accessible. We contacted Precise Park Link who manages the lot, and on our behalf, they asked the owners of the lot (who happened to be the same dental folks) whether or not they would be amenable to What the Truck?! renting out the space for the evening. They said no. The kicker was the fact that the dental office is closed on Friday afternoons anyway – so they really had no good reason to turn us down.

Parking Lot

At that point, we decided to consider public, City-owned spaces. Although Churchill Square is the “natural” fit for a food-related event, we wanted to buck the trend. Everything happens in Churchill Square, to the point where it is almost cliché. Besides, we felt Churchill Square was much too big and impersonal for What the Truck?!

We first considered Centennial Square, the tumbleweed-inducing concrete pad behind the Stanley Milner Library. Equipped with a stage and easy access, we remembered the space being used as a part of the Grey Cup festivities back in November. Liaising with the Civic Events office, we found out that because of the parkade underneath, the surface wasn’t structurally sound to support the weight of vehicles. For the Grey Cup tents, we were told, the event planners had to work with engineers to distribute the weight safely. Well, without engineers on our non-existent payroll (and for an event all about trucks), we were out of luck.

Centennial Square

Last on our list was Beaver Hills House Park, on 105 Street and Jasper Avenue. It’s in a great location, accessible by public transit and highly visible, both for those passing by on foot and in vehicles. It’s also framed by both residential and commercial towers (which would be a boon for attendance on a Friday evening), and had built-in seating in the form of grassy knolls and park benches. It’s definitely an underutilized space, and with the talk about the need for more green space in the core (with another park development in the works for 105 Street and 102 Avenue) we thought What the Truck?! would be a great way for people to realize one of the fantastic assets that already exists in the core.

Beaver Hills House Park

In spite of some logistical difficulties we faced loading the trucks into Beaver Hills, it ended up being a great location for the first event. For What the Truck?! 2, we again looked for a location downtown, but this time, wanted to avoid the issues with a raised concrete pad. That meant closing a street for curbside cuisine!