Despite the occasional spring shower, a group of friends were enjoying an evening of warm conversation, cold beer and boiled crawfish at an outdoor food truck garden in Victoria.
“This is the only place in town where you can go with five or six options,” said Victoria resident Armando Leos, 37.
On a rainy Thursday evening in May, Leos and his wife brought their in-laws from Baytown to Curbside Cuisines, a dining space at 4208 N. Navarro St. that features half a dozen food trucks. Attracted by a variety of menus that included traditional Tex-Mex, barbecue, homemade ice cream, gourmet hot dogs, gyros, street tacos, snow cones and other tasty diversions, the friends planned to stay until closing time.
That opportunity marked an exciting change for Baytown resident Cheyenne Phinney, who was visiting Leos’ family to attend the annual Memorial Day concert.
“When we used to come, it was like all we can get is McDonald’s,” said Phinney, a self-described foodie. “We don’t want to eat fast food on vacation.”
But Curbside Cuisines offers more than just food. With picnic tables, live music, games like cornhole and checkers, a dog-friendly atmosphere and a BYOB policy, it’s not uncommon for diners to linger.
“We’re just here hanging out,” Leos said. “I got a couple more friends on the way. Everyone just comes and eats.”
Stephanie Beltran, 29, who owns El Huarache Loco with her family, agreed the garden is good for business.
The truck’s name, which translates to “crazy sandal,” also doubles as a moniker for their menu’s signature item – a long homemade tortilla with grilled meat and veggies made from her mother’s recipes.
Without a license to sell alcohol, the garden’s BYOB policy is a blessing. Alcohol and the garden’s live music, she said, are a combination that encourages eating.
“I like it here,” she said.
Victoria entrepreneur Joshua Council, who owns Curbside Cuisine and the food truck Fabulous Dinners To Go, said the food truck garden is the only place of its kind in Victoria.
While food trucks can sometimes be found parked at certain strip mall parking lots and other corners, Curbside Cuisine is unique in the amenities it offers.
Those amenities should only expand, said Council, adding he has plans for an enclosed dog run.
Council said diners are welcome to hang out at the lot for hours.
“Instead of pulling up and pulling away, we are establishing a family atmosphere,” he said.
Diners are also welcome to choose from a variety of options that are curated by Council, who rents the space to food trucks.
With a waiting list several trucks long, Council said he is able to offer menus that complement one another rather than having “15 barbecue trucks.”
That arrangement is also beneficial for the food truck owners, who can cross- promote with coupons and recommendations rather than compete.
In fact, despite a total of 42 permitted trucks in Victoria, Council said he still saw the opportunity for more trucks to make a profit.
For about $10,000, an aspiring food truck owner should be able to buy, stock and operate such a business.
The only obstacle for his and other food truck gardens, he said, is the limitations of municipal permitting, which is designed for individual trucks rather than gardens of them.
“It’s been a mess. It’s been a constant battle,” he said.
Although those permit limitations could restrict the garden’s trash cans, picnic tables and other amenities, he said city officials have so far offered him exceptions, which he hoped would continue and be expanded.
“I need to sit down with the city and establish some guidelines,” he said.