Friday, May 20, 2011

Food fight! #SDFOODTRUCKGATE

On top of a $10 admission price/$20 for VIP, suckers like these paid full price for food items at yesterday’s San Diego Food Truck Festival. There was no entertainment or seating, and several complained about the lack of electric boxes. Worst of all? Only 17 of the promised “30+” trucks showed.
A couple months ago, San Diego got its first taste of a food truck party– that is, one where guests had to pay admission to access the lot where trucks were parked. Although the cost was only $2, criticisms flew via social media, such as: “why pay to access food trucks that are parked around town every day?” In the days leading up to the event, the venue announced that $2 would afford an entrance fee plus a wine voucher. Cool for those who wanted to drink wine, a pointless fee for those who didn’t.
Next up was Boomers’ three day Food Truck Festival in late May that brought 10 trucks from San Diego and 10 from LA, including the winner of the Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race. For $5 admission, guests were credited the same amount for a miniature golf, go cart, or video game voucher.
An admission price implies that consumers get something in return, be it a crappy wine taster, tickets to play ski-ball or petting zoo privileges at the county fair. So when the latest San Diego Food Truck Festival announced its event details, a lot seemed to be missing. According to the Los Angeles based event company Drink Eat Play’s website, for $10, attendees would have access to 20+ trucks just from LA/OC, and 15 from San Diego, and for $20 a full hour “VIP” head start on the eating festivities. Then, starting at 3pm and lasting til 7, tickets would be available at the gates for $10. With a price steeper than past  events, no music, entertainment or activities and a BYO chairs/blankets advisory for the Liberty Station park setting, the San Diego Food Truck Festival didn’t sound like it was going to be much of a “festival” at all.
Local foodies on Twitter were first to attack, dubbing the event #SDFoodTruckGate, while Yelp.com had its own event-thread mayhem. The consensus on both social media sites was the rip-off factor in charging admission for access to full-priced truck food with minimal accomodations and no seating. Drink Eat Play promoter Dan Silberstein responded via Yelp.com by saying:  ”As the promoter, I had to comment in response to some of these (comments)… with calls for “boycotts” and such strong convictions, you’d think children were getting raped. ” Gee, he sure sounds like a winner!
Despite all the negative social media attention, local media from print to online and television blitzed this event as the place to be on Father’s Day, when in fact, event organizers did not deliver what was promised to attendees. Only 17 of the original “30+” trucks showed, one of which was dedicated solely to giving away bottles of terrible tasting juice. Just 2 days before the festival, event listings around town from Discover SD to Liberty Station’s website still showed 30 trucks with links to purchase tickets online, and on Friday, Drink Eat Play revised its listing to include only 20 trucks, which didn’t come to fruition, either.


Some people brought their own chairs, but most did not. 

Luckily the only rape that took place yesterday was on peoples’ wallets, something that did not go over well with the many festival-goers I spoke with who spent on average $35 per person. The number one complaint was the lack of trucks in attendance, followed by the wait time to get food, and the mysterious beer garden that was announced, but then went missing from the production company’s website sometime last week.
So how did Drink Eat Play make out? According to Silberstein’s comments on Yelp.com, Drink Eat Play projected crowds of 2-3,000 attendees. He went on to say that an event of this scale costs $15,000 to produce, and upon further investigation, it turned out that food trucks had to pay a $250 event registration fee. In the best case scenario profit-wise, selling  3,000 tickets at full price plus $250 from each of 30 trucks would result in a gross revenue of $37,500. After covering $15,000 in event costs, that would have left the company with $22,500 pure profit.
In reality, numbers were far from the ideal projection; with a reported 1,600 pre-sale tickets sold, including a  mix of 2 for 1 deals, and only 17 trucks in attendance, Drink Eat Play couldn’t have made more than a few grand to split among themselves.
After charging both trucks and attendees, you’d think Drink Eat Play would have shelled out for event seating or an ATM, as most trucks were cash only. But then again, the company couldn’t  even lure half the promised food trucks, and continued Tweeting requests for more trucks to participate as late as June 16th, just 3 days before the event. One blogger re-posted the event details from Drink Eat Play’s website, dated June 17th, that still listed 30 trucks. Sometime on Friday, Drink Eat Play updated their site to list 20 trucks, but the screenshot with the original event details lives on.
Long, slow moving line at Chunk n Chip.
Also a long line at Devilicious.
Right next to Devilicious, a truck with only 2 menu items remaining at 4:45pm had no line at all. Did this truck even have a chance to last from 12-7pm?
By 4pm, several food trucks were down to just a couple items, likely due to the many trucks that didn’t show, and not enough supplies to go around. Long lines resulted and many said they waited anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour for a single item. India on Wheels was the first truck to depart at 5:30pm. Despite dwindling supplies, the 3pm general admission price maintained its $10 cost, when just 2 days prior, websites around town were selling  tickets for that same $10, advertising a vastly different event lineup.
Perhaps Saturday’s Inland Empire Food Truck Festival– a true festival– had an impact on yesterday’s San Diego event. Featuring 50+ gourmet food trucks, skate demos, live music, activities for children, giveaways and more, several of the food trucks from LA/OC that were slated to attend both fests only made it to Saturday’s. Poor planning, misleading promotions and a failure to deliver what was promised to consumers begs the question: “Ok, so the event sucked. Now what?”
Social media is a communication tool, and for weeks users expressed their concerns regarding this event’s bogus admission fees and the potential backlash for participating trucks.  Despite this, San Diego entertainment media/service journalists promoted the event, failed to update their listings, and got suckered in to falsely advertising 30+ trucks and a beer garden to its readers and viewers (save for the UT’s Nina Garin who reported 20 trucks in her Friday, June 17th article, and NBC online whose Sunday post listed 20 trucks, too). This event benefited a Los Angeles production company, not San Diego’s local food truck scene or its enthusiasts. Hopefully the next trendy event coming to San Diego evokes more due diligence from local media outlets. Warning: Drink Eat Play’s next exploit is July 17th’s San Diego Beer Festival.  Read about it here, and attend at your own risk.
Co-owner of MIHO, Juan Miron, jotting menu offerings at yesterday's Lafayette Hotel pool party event. 
To end, just 4 days before the San Diego Food Truck Festival, the popular San Diego farm-to-street MIHO Gastrotruck announced on Facebook that it would not be participating after all. I caught up with co-owner Juan Miron yesterday to find out more. “The event details kept changing, and when we found out there wasn’t going to be entertainment or beer garden, we decided this event isn’t what we’re about as a company.” Kudos for listening, MIHO. Your loyal fans appreciate it.
Above: From MIHO’s website.
  1. They don’t give a shit, they took the money and ran. And all the local publications will continue to promote their events b/c no one works there but a bunch of interns and hacks who get press releases and just copy them under “What’s hot” or some other bullshit.
  2. I waited in line for more than 1 and 1/2 hr for 1 item, food was good, but I deffinitely agree to the above statements. I feel so lucky that my first food truck experience was with Miho, so that I know it can be a cool, fun and yummy time!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pig on Market Street



I’ve seen stranger things on Market Street in downtown, San Diego. Meet Petunia, the pink Pot Bellied Pig. She was both sweet and spunky.
Oh, Petunia!
“How could you ever want to eat pork again?” My companion asked. I had to think about it for a second. I love pigs in all their cuteness, I do. But I have absolutely no problem meeting my meal in this case.
In summation, pigs are magical creatures and should be appreciated in both life and death
.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Pizzeria Calabria: Now Open



Prior to the influx of young, hip residents, or the trendy Yoga studio with its strip mall facade, in 2001Caffé Calabria replaced an indoor swap-meet giving dilapidated North Park a beacon of hope that more good things were to come. Some consider the introduction of craft beer North Park and 30th Street’s game changing, defining beverage, but it was coffee that came first. Not to forget Claire De Lune’s debut in ’97, Caffe Calabria opened 4 years later and today both remain places where people congregate, caffeinate and give birth to ideas.

Caffé Calabria’s evolution is undoubtedly fueled by its coffee. What began as Grossmont Hospital’s coffee cart is now a full-fledged roasting operation, among so many other things, like espresso bar, soccer bar, paradise for electronic commuters (ah-hem), and now, Neapolitan-style pizzeria. It’s hard to imagine an uncluttered business with that much going on, but owner Arne Holt’s attention to detail, stringent planning, and overall vision to provide North Park a true taste of Italy’s multi-faceted caffes has made his so special to so many.
  


Holt hired a serious pizzaiolo to man his wood burning oven that’s only the second of its kind built in the US. On the nite of my visit, at the two-and-a-half-hour mark, Anthony Rubino (above) singlehandedly cranked out over 200 pizzas, each as beautiful as the last. Rubino added a couple personal touches to Calabria’s pizza offerings, including his namesake pie with proscuitto, carmelized onions, gorgonzola, provolone, grana parmesan, thyme and ribbons of creme fraiche ($13) . I opted for the base-line Margherita D.O.C., simple with San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala and basil.
Servers ask if you’d prefer your pie cut, or whole as the Italians do. Since the idea of eating a whole pizza by myself with a fork and knife sounded brilliant, I went for it, and encourage you to do the same; there’s something delightfully rebellious about cutting into a pizza’s left, right, and center, abandoning the customary “slices” we’re used to. The dough was chewy and crisp in parts with bits of char and held up well under its toppings. Buffalo mozzarella has a depth of creaminess that sets it apart from cows milk (fior di latte also on the menu), and its aftertaste is similar to whipping cream or butter. In other words, not bad at all.
For the grand opening of Calabria’s regular pizza hours last week, there was live opera, and I’m hoping this becomes at least an occasional thing. The ambiance was so rich with the sights, smells and sounds of Italy that it was totally necessary to wash it all down with 3 glasses of wine, of which there’s a wide selection of Italian imports.


Guests can enjoy food, wine, and yes– coffee– in several seating areas, including high tables at the front of the caffe, bench seating down its center, raised wooden booths towards the back, or at the wine bar (pictured above). Servers deliver menu recommendations gracefully, so take advantage if you aren’t versed in Italian wines or cuisine.
Caffe Calabria's pizzaiolo, half-Italian half-Puerto Rican Anthony Rubino serving my pie.


 “I’m sure there’s a machine out there that does it, but the dough I make by hand tastes better. It just does,” Rubino assured me. My dining neighbors offered me a bite of the house made fennel sausage with sage that tops the Salsiccia pizza and it’s off the charts porky and herbaceous at once. At Calabria, everything is either made in-house, imported from the Home Land, or sourced locally and organically when possible.
The Proscuitto e Burrata from the antipasti/insalte menu section.  


Bresaola (thinly sliced dry aged beef served with grana parmesan and organic arrugala) and Oven Roses (wood burning oven baked pastries filled with roasted vegetables, goat cheese and parsley) are other standout starters. For dessert, don’t miss the Coppa Caffé (vanilla ice cream, coffee-infused chocolate sauce and chocolate-covered coffee beans that should replace Tic Tac as the nation’s breath freshening choice). Download the full menu here.
  1. Now if only they supported Juventus…
  2. Awesome!