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Food Trucks Take Over Brewerytown

Take the trolley to the Brewerytown Food Truck Roundup

At just seven months old, the Philadelphia Mobile Food Association (PMFA) is by all accounts a baby, but the soon-to-be-incorporated collective, made up of more than 50 entrepreneurial street-eats minds, has made some hot-‘n’-fresh headway in recent months. Following a small but successful June 2012 pop-up at the Lutheran Settlement House in Fishtown, the PMFA threw a fully realized food bash, the Brewerytown Food Truck Roundup, on Friday.
For many food-truck operators, hacking through Philly’s bureaucratic brush is as high on the to-do list as grilling and deep-frying. Right now, the PMFA board is drafting a document outlining its concerns -- Philly’s “prohibitive streets” list and stringent late-night vending parameters among them --  it plans on presenting to City Council. In the meantime, those building a living in this cash-driven sliver of the industry need to make money. This translates to event appearances and partnerships with forward-thinking private landholders, which is precisely how the Brewerytown event came about.
In 2008, Philly natives Jacob Roller and David Waxman founded MM Partners, a development firm based in and devoted exclusively to Brewerytown, the historic neighborhood bordered by Oxford and Girard avenues to the north and south and 26th Street and Fairmount Park to the east and west. After the housing market collapse, the partners, who long had an interest in the neighborhood, experienced a “gut check moment,” says Roller. “We saw an opportunity. Property values in Brewerytown took a big tumble.” MM began by purchasing eight properties on the 2900 block of Girard. Since that time, the firm has worked to boost the commercial profile of the area, bringing businesses like a bike shop, a garden store and a branch of Mugshots Coffee to the neighborhood, which also features draws like Marathon Farm and the landmark Connie Mack Stadium.
MM’s work on the ground has coincided with event outreach, including free local jazz concerts in a pocket park at 31st and Girard and wiffle ball tournaments at 27th and Master. The Roundup, which came to fruition after MM approached the PMFA, fits into this community-building mold. Waxman got the idea from food-truck events he attended during a trip to Miami. “When he came back, he said, ‘We have to do something like that here in Brewerytown,” says Roller. “No one’s doing anything like this.”
Capitalizing on a working relationship with the owner of a full-acre vacant lot at 27th and Girard (it was once home to a Pathmark), MM presented the plot to the Association, which jumped at the chance to park its members on it en masse. “I thought it would be a perfect site,” says Roller. “It’s a big, flat open piece of land. Since then, the [PMFA] took the ball and ran with it.” 
“It fits right into what we’re doing, trying to create these lots,” says PMFA co-founder and board member Andrew Gerson, who’s also brokered deals between Association members and performance spaces like the Mann. “We’d like to have trucks everywhere, but until we can make adjustments for street locations, we need to focus on lots, events and music venues.”
The Roundup brought together close to 20 PMFA members, including popular streetside stops like Spot Burger, Pitruco Pizza, Sweet Box, Little Baby's Ice Cream, Gigi and Big R's and Delicias. Live music, local beer and a dessert competition based around peaches from Biglerville, Pa.’s Beechwood Orchards added to the atmosphere. Though good eating was the most marketable goal, both MM and the vendors saw the event as an opportunity to draw eaters from outside Brewerytown into the area.  
“It’s quality food they can’t necessarily get in the neighborhood,” says PMFA member Dan Pennachietti, whose Lil’ Dan’s Gourmet participated. As a business bonus, “money’s actually pretty good at these events,” he says. “It’s not every day that you get people coming just to eat at 18 trucks parked next to each other.””
On top of pulling new people into the area, Roller sees the Roundup as a strong opportunity to combat the negative view some hold of Brewerytown. “There’s a disconnect that has no basis in reality,” he says. “It’s not as if half a block north of Girard Avenue you’re in danger of imminent death, and a half a block south it’s all peaches and rainbows. It’s simply not the case. Part of our job is to change this perception.”
The PMFA also grasps the power of perception, which is why it sent a crew to the site a week ahead of time to clean up and prepare the space for Friday. “That’s what we’re about,” says Pennachietti, who is confident the event will lead to future Roundups, both in Brewerytown and beyond. ”We’re not just coming in and parking. We want to make it beautiful. And we want the neighborhood to say, ‘Hey, there’s something we can do with this.’”

DREW LAZOR writes about food, drink, movies and music both locally and nationally. Send feedback here.
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