Just as the weather starts to warm up, and we break out our shorts and flip-flops, The Block — Petaluma gives us a perfect excuse to get out, grab an ever-changing selection of food truck delicacies, and enjoy a beer or two while visiting with friends in an inviting setting with an iconic view.
Food trucks have come a long way since the chuck wagons of the Old West and the big city lunch carts of the late 1800s. Even in the last 20 years, these gourmet meals on wheels put to shame the “roach coaches” which used to offer mere subsistence menus at construction sites and manufacturing facilities.
With cuisine as diverse as their names, trucks like “I Dream of Weenie,” “Grillenium Falcon,” “The Wurst Wagon,” “Grill Em All,” “Burger She Wrote,” “Eatsie Boys,” “The Blaxican” (Mexican Soul Food), and thousands more across the U.S. have been satisfying roving foodies with culinary delights that their hometowns may not offer as a regular restaurant option.
Food trucks offer such a diverse experience that most now rely on social media and smartphone aps in order to draw their fans to them at set locations and times. What has not changed over the years are concerns about traffic safety, food safety, and a lack of restroom facilities when food trucks set their parking brakes and start serving.
However, the Block has addressed these concerns by not only offering off-street parking and restroom facilities, but its static location makes it easy for the health department to track down these normally nomadic food trucks for their regular inspections, ensuring that diners receive the same quality of food handling that is required of normal restaurants.
Of course, no discussion of food trucks is complete without addressing the concern that they may have a negative effect on local restaurants’ bottom line. But, unlike other Sonoma County cities, where food trucks are regularly driven off by jealous restaurateurs, Petaluma stands by its reputation as a culinary destination, inviting the diverse dining options that food trucks add to our community.
There certainly may be outliers, but from day one, Petaluma’s restaurant owners have been excited about and supportive of the idea of the Block. This, in large part, is because restaurant owners tend to love food, and food trucks often offer cuisine that a town of Petaluma’s size may not be able to support in a brick and mortar location.
“Although this was the first time the city addressed a project like this, they were supportive since day one,” says the Block’s founder, Charles “Cody” Hildreth. “And the restaurant community as a whole has been supportive.” It also does not hurt that Cody is a life-long local, so he understands how to fit in to Petaluma, and that the Block is already employing 10 to 15 residents.
It is also interesting to note that industry experts have found that food trucks tend to attract a different clientele than restaurants, and in many cases lure patrons from their homes on nights that they may not have otherwise dined out.
There are three constants at the Block: The bar, Firetrail Pizza’s permanent kitchen and an ever present El Roy’s food truck. No matter what other food trucks are on scene, there is always a line at Petaluma’s iconic El Roy’s truck, and based on all the delicious tortas, sopes, gorditas, plantillos, tostadas, quesadillas, tacos, burritos and Mexi-Dogs we have devoured from their trucks over the years, there is no wondering why.