Park it and they will come. Howard Hsu, co-owner of Sweet Auburn BBQ, had a dream to create a space for food trucks to gather in Atlanta. A year ago, he and partners Brian Harvin and Anita Hsu brought the idea into reality with the opening of Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market on Howell Mill Road. After a bit of a rough start— the park had to close temporarily while trucks resolved permitting issues just a few weeks after opening— things started to move a little more smoothly. Here, Hsu talks about year one.
How was the first year?
It's definitely been a learning curve. But it has been very rewarding and fun and is actually coming together better than I thought it would.
In what ways has it exceeded your expectations?
I think that Atlanta has had a lot of ancient rules and regulations; the city didn't have an infrastructure or the legislation in place to support a food truck industry. When we started the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market last year we had 20 food trucks and there are now 60 to 80. [The park can hold up to 15 trucks at a time.]
How was the first day?
The very first day of the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market was amazing. 5,000 people showed up that night— It was over the top.
How long have you had a food truck?
I started Sweet Auburn BBQ out of a trailer as a hobby about a year and a half ago. It's grown into three trucks now. One we keep stationary at the Atlanta Food Truck Park. Others are for special events, catering, festivals, weddings.
Why establish the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market?
What I loved from the beginning with the food truck was the option to have different scenery, locations, landscapes. But that's also the problem: I couldn't consistently predict business— there are so many factors, like how many other food vendors will be at an event? Is the event properly promoted? Is it going to be a sunny day or a rainy day? All those unpredictable factors affect business. So I started looking for a location that I could affix the Sweet Auburn BBQ food truck to and grow the business at a fixed location. When I came across the three-acre property where the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market is located now, I pitched the idea and got others on board.
What's a typical day at this stage?
Well, it generally starts with making sure umbrellas are up and the 10 to 14 food trucks are properly set up and ready to do business so the people who come each day to have a great customer experience.
Any strange, weird, embarrassing or funny stories?
Lots of them, but we'd have to talk off the record.
Well, that's no fun.
What's the hardest thing you've encountered?
I think the whole business in itself presents some challenge every day. Permitting has been a challenge. The Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market itself is properly zoned but helping food truck owners navigate through their permitting process is a challenge—but it's also rewarding to help young entrepreneurs start-up their businesses and create their livelihoods. It touches my heart.
What would you do differently?
Nothing. It's come together nicely.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now our direction is trying to help Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market vendors grow their business. We're also working toward creating the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market as an event and concert venue. The goal is to become a citywide attraction for Atlanta and people who visit Atlanta.
Really? Even with huge potholes everywhere?
We're working on that. I didn't fully realize the severity of the asphalt when we first took possession of the property. With traffic, age, and weather it's aged very much. We're looking at having that taken care of in the next year or so.
Does it feel like it's been a year?
No, it doesn't. It's amazing how the year has gone by.
How far have you driven your food truck to serve somewhere?
Probably North Georgia, Rabun County. We've also gone to Athens. We haven't gone out of state yet, but we've been approached by different cities and locations.
Last May, the Atlanta Police Department closed down vendors at the food truck park. Have all the permitting issues been resolved?
Our permits for the Atlanta Food Truck Park & Market have never been an issue. To operate a food truck you need a Health Department permit, a business license and a vendor's permit issued by the Atlanta Police Department. Because the park was new and, quite frankly, our industry is new, there were some early issues but now it's a smooth process.
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