Cassandra Buckalew, who owns the Marietta Trolley Company with her husband, Brian, has made it her mission to bring the popular food trucks that have swept Atlanta in the past year to the vacant parking lot of the underdeveloped Meeting Place complex on Roswell Street, just off the Marietta Square.
“I’ve been to a few of the food truck events in Atlanta, and to me, they’re this unique, mini-traveling culinary experience that begs to be explored,” Buckalew said. “Every truck is unique in its personality and food, and it’s all really gourmet, incredible food. A weekly event like this would bring an intown vibe to Marietta, and would bring together that kind of foodie-friendly group. I just think it would be a really great event.”
Buckalew said she is not being paid, nor will she be seeking any money for her efforts.
The food truck craze first came to the Atlanta area in March 2010, Atlanta Street Food Coalition President Greg Smith said, and has grown from meeting once a week at the Sweet Auburn Market in downtown Atlanta to making stops in over six areas of the city as well as other festivals and foodie events. Smith said there are nearly 30 trucks in the coalition now, though he said there are usually no more than 12 at an event.
Foods offered from the different vendors range from authentic Mexican tacos to organic hot dogs to Cajun po’boys. The concept lends itself to a very open-air, sociable environment, as people try foods from various trucks set up in the same location. Smith himself is co-owner of the Westside Creamery food truck, which sells quirky flavors of tasty and unique ice cream.
Smith said the coalition requires anyone operating a food truck at one of its events to have a commercial kitchen and each truck is inspected by members of the coalition for safety and quality. He said he and other members eventually want every truck to be fully permitted and given the opportunity to pass a health inspection with a written score.
Buckalew reached out to Walton Communities Development Director Matt Teague in June to talk to him about having the event on the Meeting Place lot, which his company owns, every Monday during lunchtime. Teague said he and the company thought it was a great idea, and with no immediate plans for further development of the complex, jumped at the chance to host a weekly food trucks gathering on the property.
“We really just think food trucks are one small way we can engage the community and bring more people together,” Teague said. “It’s a different and unique way for people to dine, and it’s very walkable no matter where they go. It’s almost like a food festival held every day in a different spot.”
But the food trucks business is a tough one to operate and get started from a permitting and licensing standpoint.
“In Atlanta, you have to get a permit from the Fulton Health Department, a vending license from Atlanta police and a business license from the folks at City Hall,” Smith said. “Then there are further restrictions on where you can operate. And there’s a whole new and different set of requirements if you want to take your truck to Marietta. You have to get a permit from the Cobb County Health Department, a business license from the city, and just different offices you have to stop in and maintain permits with. It can be difficult to understand, so the job of the coalition is to figure out what these processes are and help to streamline them.”
Additionally, Marietta Zoning Manager Rusty Roth said the event would have to be approved by the Marietta City Council to operate, as the current zoning for the meeting place property does not have stipulations that would allow for the event to take place on the property.
Roth said Buckalew would simply have to write a letter to his office with a Walton Communities representative’s signature, requesting the City Council amend the property’s zoning so that the event can take place. At that point, it would take about a month to get before the City Council, Roth said.
Buckalew said she has been urged by the city’s economic development department to wait until all of the department’s permitting and licensing questions have been answered before writing the letter. As soon as they have their questions answered, however, Buckalew said the letter would be written and sent.
Councilman Johnny Sinclair said he had not yet viewed all of the details of Buckalew’s proposal, but that he is definitely on board with bringing food trucks to the downtown area.
“I absolutely love the idea,” Sinclair said. “It sounds like a really novel and unique idea. We want to continue to make the Marietta Square a destination for innovative dining and entertaining, so this would fit perfectly and it would be good for the whole Square. There are people who follow those things so it would bring a lot of new people to the area, but would also be great for the people of Marietta to enjoy.”