Food trailers venture into Southwest Austin

'Trailer parks' may bring more mobile eateries south of Ben White Blvd.

Gourmet food trailers are plentiful downtown and south of Lady Bird Lake but become scarce south of Hwy. 290 and Hwy. 71.

Local food trailer operators said a lack of foot traffic and food courts may contribute to the limited options.

That may change after two new food courts open in Southwest Austin.

Oak Hill Food Trailer Haven is scheduled to open in late July near the Y at Oak Hill. Its first two trailers will be a fried seafood eatery and an ice cream vendor.

Farther south, the owners of the under-construction Moontower Saloon want to have three trailers on their Manchaca Road property when the bar opens later this year, co-owner Josh Bumb said.

"There is nothing [unique] around here in the way of lunch options," Bumb said of Slaughter Lane, adding that the closest options were near MoPac or I-35. "Otherwise, it's [fast-food restaurants]."

Oak Hill

Oak Hill Food Trailer Haven is the brainchild of David Burkham, a broker associate with Market Maker Realty and Investments.

He started working with food trailers during last October's Gypsy Picnic, a mobile food vendor showcase at Auditorium Shores. Burkham said the vendors offered such a variety of foods that diners could never become bored.

"I love Austin and I love food, so I knew I would like to do whatever I could to partake and enhance the culture and business of Austin food trailers," he said.

Around the beginning of May, Market Maker authorized Burkham to develop a food court.

"When we looked for a location, Oak Hill stood out as by far the best choice," he said, adding that 53,000 vehicles pass through the Y each day.

He set up shop on Oak Meadow Drive next to Donn's Texas BBQ. He said he hopes to have four trailers on-site in July and four more in August.

Burkham leased his first space to Fishey Bizness Seafood Co. owner Dennis White.

White's family has been in the Texas seafood business for decades. After retiring from AT&T, he decided his next step was to serve up fresh, never-frozen Gulf of Mexico seafood to hungry diners. He serves fried fish and shrimp, as well as fish tacos.

He chose to open a food trailer because it was less expensive than opening a restaurant.

"My goal is just to have a lot of happy customers who return and like the product," he said. "I live here [in Oak Hill], I'm people-oriented, and I have a lot of friends in South Austin."

Moontower Saloon

Bumb said food trailers have not caught up to Southwest Austin's growth and that there was a void to be filled.

Moontower Saloon could be described as similar to bars Weirdos and C-Hunt's Ice House, he said.

He said it will be decorated in a "retro-chic urban industrial meets backyard garden" style and have picnic tables and Adirondack chairs from which to enjoy 3 acres of old-growth oak trees. A volleyball court is also in the works.

"When you're out here on the property, the feel of it is so nice," he said. "It's densely shaded."

Moontower's owners are working through the city's permitting process and hope to open the bar later this year.

"The idea is to have a trifold flier in the bar. One side will be our menu and the other side will be the menus of the three separate trailers. You could order [trailer food] from your server, and we'll bring it to you."

Location, location, location?

Aside from the obvious—good food and service—there is no recipe to create a successful food trailer, said Antonio Yamanaka, founder of Austin Food Trailer Alliance, a mobile food vendor industry group.

"You play to your strengths. You have to have an aspect of brand equity. You need strong recognition in your brand," he said.

Yamanaka said some trailers can be off in a parking lot somewhere and thrive. Others are completely mobile and rely on websites and social media to connect with customers.

Spartan Pizza started out on South Congress Avenue near Slaughter Lane in October 2009 and moved to East Sixth Street a year-and-a-half later, General Manager Matt Portwood said.

Portwood said business was fine down south, and the trailer benefited from its association with Red Shed Tavern.

Since amicably parting ways with the tavern and moving northeast, Spartan has increased its hours and days of operation, and added the ability for customers to pay with credit cards, he said.

"We have the lunch rush, the dinner rush, and then all of the tourists and the bar crowd," he said. "We're on East Sixth, so people walk over from the bar."

Portwood said that Spartan would go back to Southwest Austin if it opened a second trailer.

"That's not lip service. We still have people visit from down there and say, 'You used to be right down the street," he said.

Jarod Neece, co-founder of local taco review blog Taco Journalism, said some trailer owners believe in strength in numbers and try to pair up with complementary cuisine.

"Mellizoz [formerly Izzoz] Tacos paired with [donut trailer] Gourdough's [on South First Street], so you can have a taco and then dessert," he said.

Yamanaka said eating at food trailers is a communal activity, and it helps to have choices so each member of a group might find something he or she wants to eat.

The South Lamar Trailer Bazaar is just north of Hwy. 290 and within walking distance from iconic venue The Broken Spoke. Honky Tonk Hot Dogs trailer owner Scott Angle names his hot dogs after local country western musicians and posts announcements when they play the Spoke. Angle also offers live music and plans to set up a small dance floor in front of his trailer.

Angle's neighbor at the Trailer Bazaar is gourmet burger trailer Collie's. Trailer owner Rob Collie said trailers downtown get more foot traffic from bar-goers, but have much higher monthly rents.

"If my costs were double what they are, I wouldn't be in business," he said.

He said he liked the challenge of building a business from scratch.

"I'm confident about my location. I have a decent product. It was slow going at first, but each week is better than before."



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