Off the Grid food truck company plans Menlo Park expansion

Jan. 9, 2014, 12:43 a.m.
SAM GIRVIN/The Stanford Daily

Off the Grid—a Bay Area food truck management company offering lunchtime food truck options here at Stanford—is seeking to expand into Menlo Park despite pushback from local business owners.

Off the Grid applied in October for a permit to set up a group of food trucks in the parking lot of the Menlo Park Caltrain station on Wednesday nights. The Menlo Park Planning Commission will review the application on Monday, Jan. 13.

Some Menlo Park merchants have expressed concern over various consequences of Off the Grid’s presence, from sanitation to parking fees.

Kurt Ugur, the manager of the Italian restaurant Trellis, said customers stay at home instead of coming to eat at his restaurant when streets are crowded with downtown fairs. He worries that Off the Grid will cause similar problems.

“Who’s going to provide parking for 200 or 300 people?” Ugur said. “They’re going to block our city streets, and I will not be able to get my customers.”

According to Off the Grid’s Director of Business Development Ben Hamlin, however, the company has conducted an extensive parking analysis and concluded that parking will not be a problem.

“One of the reasons why we have authorization through Caltrain to use the property is because we feel that there is enough parking that will accommodate our needs for the market,” Hamlin said.

Ugur said that he expects dozens of local business owners to show up to the Planning Commission meeting on Monday to speak their minds in opposition to Off the Grid. Hamlin points out, however, that Off the Grid can actually have a mutually beneficial relationship with those businesses.

“Ultimately what we hope to do is bring in a large amount of foot traffic that will have a positive impact on the surrounding businesses,” Hamlin said.

He added that ideally, people from outside the city who follow Off the Grid or a particular food truck under their management will be drawn to downtown Menlo Park. There, they will have the opportunity to discover new restaurants and other businesses to which they can return.

“We’re looking to create partnerships. We’re not looking to create competition or create bad feelings,” Hamlin said. “We’re trying to create something unique that can play a positive role in a really cool area.”

At Stanford, the company is still offering lunchtime food truck options on West Campus.

Last academic year, one food truck per day was stationed on Lomita Mall, but construction has moved the trucks to the intersection of Samuel Morris Way and Panama Mall this year. Two changing food trucks are stationed there for lunch daily.

Hamlin said this move has caused some minor challenges. Off the Grid tries to capitalize on the visibility of the trucks, which was reduced when the trucks were moved off Lomita Mall.

“Being in a location where we can capture the organic foot traffic that is happening is really important for the success of the vendors,” Hamlin said.

Despite the move, the trucks seem to be doing relatively well in the amount of meals they’re serving, Hamlin added.

Lunchtime Off the Grid trucks were well received by members of the Stanford community when they came to campus last year. However, many reacted negatively to the University’s mobile food vendor policy, which forced some trucks off campus when they were unable to register with Off the Grid.

Those trucks included Mia’s Catering and Net Appetit, which closed after the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) asked the truck’s owners not to return to the Stanford campus.

Contact Samantha Lynn at slynn2 ’at’ stanford. edu.

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