This is the fourth of an eight-part “Best New Small Businesses” series highlighting Atlanta’s growing entrepreneurial scene. This series is sponsored by PNC Bank.
Just a few years ago, Howard Hsu’s barbecue truck, Sweet Auburn Barbecue, was one of the only food trucks in the city. Today it is joined by a park full of other “food on wheels” units, plus many more outside the premises.
As the city’s first permanent food truck site, the Atlanta Food Truck Park and Market attracts an average of 1,000 people daily; but last year the bustling space was nothing more than an abandoned lot.
It was last April that Hsu began looking for property where he could station Sweet Auburn Barbecue, because, while he enjoyed being able to roam the city and meet customers in different locations, he says he was tired of constantly moving.
“Having a mobile food truck was very rewarding and fun,” Hsu tells us. “However, it was stressful because you would go to certain events where there would be no business.”
While looking for a place that would provide his business more consistency, Hsu came across a vacant three-acre plot of land — a former hotel site — in an area west of Atlanta on Howell Mill Road.He quickly realised that the space was large enough to accommodate a number of trucks and decided that if he was having problems finding a parking spot for his mobile business, maybe other food truck owners were, too.
Although the park can only host 15 trucks at one time, food trucks from all over the city apply to the space. The city has also recently eased its once-stringent zoning restrictions, which prevented mobile trucks from operating in multiple locations. This has resulted in a significant growth in the number of operating food trucks and there are around 80 licensed trucks today compared to 20 at last year’s food park opening.
“[The park] has brought a lot of young entrepreneurs who are on the fence about starting their own business,” Hsu tells us. “They are more willing to pull the trigger when they see there is a location they can conduct business.”
Aside from creating a space accessibly to those craving street food, the Atlanta Food Truck Park and Market also contributes to jobs created in the area and has the potential to have a significant economic impact on the city’s long-term development.
The space currently hosts attractions, such as live music, car shows, and special themed events like SurfFest, a recent festival that featured local instrumental bands. On certain days, there are close to 5,000 people visiting the park.
Hsu tells us that he hopes to eventually turn some of the green space into a venue for concerts, movie screenings, and playgrounds. If all goes well, it could potentially become a tourist destination and citywide attraction for residents.
“There are [visitors] of all ages, ethnicities, and backgrounds. Depending on the time of day, you’ll see a different crowd of people.”
Despite the park’s first-year success, there are still challenges for food truck owners. While some of the city’s legal restrictions on food trucks were eased in late 2011, applying for a permit in Atlanta is still a rigorous process. Food trucks must have separate business and vendor’s permits, plus a health licence for each location they serve at.
Although the park’s site is
properly zoned, it was closed for several weeks last year because of permit issues for some of the individual trucks.Despite the challenges, Hsu says that it has been rewarding for him “to help young entrepreneurs start-up their businesses and create their livelihoods.”
“[The park] has created small business opportunities in Atlanta while transforming what was once a vacant space into a destination, attraction, and place for commerce.”
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