Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Greensboro Food Trucks

So the theme of this semester has been food trucks for me. Weird- I know right? It started off with a class project me and another student began with a group of students at the university in Louvain La Neuve and in which we've designed a business plan to bring Belgian fries to Greensboro. It's been an interesting and fun time, but it's made me look at the whole food truck business very closely.

Not to bore you with numbers, but by 2017 the Food Truck Industry is supposed to reach 2.7 Billion dollars and represent 3-4% of nationwide restaurant sales. That may not seem a lot, but considering the industry was practically non-existent in 2008 that's quite dramatic.

Today cities like Fort Worth have their own Food Park, which would be a perfect opportunity for Greensboro in such locations as the old Wilson Steel Mill. Of course the industry faced a lot of push-back from competing restaurant owners when it began a few years ago who viciously attacked the trucks with everything from health-concerns to parking problems, but today food trucks are an accepted part of everyday life.

UNCG is currently hosting a Food Truck Rodeo every Tuesday behind the Elliot University Center which allows students and local residents to experience various different vendors and their food creations. Some are very unique and bring diversity to the food landscape like Parlez Vous Crepes, a crepe (pancake like food) vendor, or Bandito Burrito with their chorizo (Mexican sausage) and pimento cheese tacos (these things are like crack).

I love the idea of food trucks because they're compact, efficient, and create huge profits. One food-truck owner we interviewed stated that he has never done more business than the day he was on campus. According to the National Restaurant Association, individuals tend to spend more at food trucks than typical restaurants too. 92% of customers spend more than $8, with dinner sales reaching $15 per person.

The bottom line is this is an industry ripe to create new businesses. Owners actually care about their customers, and their food, and it's a highly beneficial business for the community. It's something I hope to see a lot more of in the future here in Greensboro as the city removes legal hurdles to foster entrepreneurship.

List of Food Trucks in or around Greensboro (incomplete)

1. Parlez Vous Crepes

2. Bandito Burrito

3. King Creole

4. The Great Escape

5. Taqueria Al Azteca

6. Baguetteaboutit

7. The Ice Queen

8. Hickory Tree BBQ

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nussbaum Center's Heart of Steel

I've got to experience and be a part of many things at UNCG over the years of my education, but one I thought that was really relevant to this blog (and sort of neat) was my recent visit to the Nussbaum Center for Entrepreneurship in Greensboro. I was one of about forty students from both the U.S. and Belgium who were given a tour of their 2.2 million dollar, 9 acre steel mill sitting in their backyard. This tax-write-off of massive proportion is just ripe for urban exploration, except I got to do it legally!

Apparently there has been an offer to demolish the building for Nussbaum at no cost. I suspect the heavy duty structure made of hardened steel would more than pay for costs. However it's quite sad to think the structure cannot be reused, that there isn't some sort of moral imperative to save it. That's why we were invited in (or how they humored us), to think-tank some ideas. Of course, there's supposed to be a public forum on the matter and as always money talks and old-steel plants walk. However there is a political statement here: Greensboro is synonymous with sprawl, we pave over culture and history here for the next best thing at the cheapest price... yet here, stands the perfect opportunity for owning the past in the present. It's a chance for something unique rather than something manufactured: a real chance to save some history.

There are some challenges we're told: one being the industrial nature of the building which makes it practically indivisible by walls or partitions (it's just too tall). Another problem is the electrical grid within the building which is designed to operate large D.C. motors and move steel. The cost to power the building is no less than $1500 a month. However I think both these issues are easily solved. First, I don't think it needs to be subdivided, I think the structure is a remarkable facility that could house many kiosks, stalls, or vendors with their own manufactured borders. There's lots of natural light available and leaving the original power grid disconnected while simply "overlaying" a newer, less complicated 110 volt lighting system would be a low-cost, energy efficient alternative.

What I'd love to see there is a clone of the Borough Market in London. The structure even resembles the Market in London, and would require minimal changes to house hundreds of vendors. Why this would work? For one, it would provide entrepreneurs direct access to retail space, in addition I believe Greensboro needs a "town square", a "Grand Place", or a "Forum"... the center of community. Our current (large) farmer's market is way to far away for many individuals to get to, lacks the appeal of an all encompassing marketplace, and is problematic for those who require public transportation to get to it. In addition this facility on Elm Eugene Street is large enough to support both traditional table vendors, full-time stalls, or (wait for it) food trucks. Would that be cool or what? Drop by on lunch for some deep-fried tacos from a food truck then pick up a baguette and wine from one of the adjacent vendors for dinner. This could become not just the heart of the Nussbaum Center, but the Heart of Greensboro. That's kinda of cool...

The other option is just to re-enact the scene from Footloose over and over again.