Fort Mason Off the Grid food truck gathering fires up demand for street food

Music+plays+and+wafts+of+freshly+cooked+food+sets+the+scene+at+Off+the+Grid+Fort+Mason+Center+on+Friday%2C+March+29.

Olive Lopez

Music plays and wafts of freshly cooked food sets the scene at Off the Grid Fort Mason Center on Friday, March 29.

Tessa Petrich and Mara Pleasure, Staff Writers

Strings of lights illuminating the navy blue sky, the roaring sound of kids playing circus games, and people socializing and eating out of ecofriendly containers on white plastic chairs: On a recent March Friday night, it was all part of the scene at Off the Grid at Fort Mason Center, in San Francisco’s Marina District.

California’s largest weekday food market was recently revamped for 2014, adding games and string lights to many venues, more food truck variety, and expanding OTG locations across the Bay Area.

Food trucks became a popular trend in San Francisco and all over California beginning in 2010, when OTG first started. OTG represents food truck owners and vendors, sponsoring public events as well as help with publicity and advertising.

Marianne Despres, the owner of El Sur, an empanada truck, said that she appreciates OTG’s help with marketing, while Josh Yazzie, the manager of the Curry Up Now truck, said that the best thing about OTG is social. “(A)ll these trucks come together,” he said. “Not to compete but to compliment each other. We’re all friends.”

Along with delicious food, the camaraderie is evident in comments from customers and vendors.

Curtis Lam, 34, an owner of Chariman Bao, a food truck that serves original Asian street food such as steamed and baked buns likes how OTG offers an opportunity to “see all the people.”

Craig Blum, 50, the owner of Johnny Doughnuts, said OTG lets him “reach more people” and the “community is really cool.”

Blum has worked in the food business for 30 years, but for the last 10, he has dreamed of having his own food truck. When he was finally able to make that dream a reality, he did not do it lightly. It took “two years to develop recipes,” Blum said, but now his truck has found the perfect mission: To “bring respect back to the donut.”

OTG at the Fort Mason Center not only offers 32 different food vendors every Friday night, but also live music from 8 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

A visit to OTG found a wide range of delicious bites, from enter something here and Chicken Tikka Masala Burritos to Filipino-Mexican fusion Sisig Fries and Korean BBQ Beef KoJa sandwiches with garlic rice patty buns. Prices range anywhere from $3.75 to $14 and up, but generally a good meal can be had for $7.

To small business owners, it’s no news that the food business is competitive and difficult. In a Jan. 18, 2013 Huffington Post article, “Food Truck Failures Reveal Dark Side, But Hope Shines Through”, Matthew Geller, Chief Executive of the Southern California Mobile Food Vendors Association estimated that about 31 of the 100 trucks launched in 2012 failed.

Yet, according to food truck owners, OTG and other food truck events give owners and chefs more freedom than typical restaurants do, allowing them to move their trucks to meet the growing demand and crowds.

Opening a food truck meant “more flexibility” in her career, Despres said, adding, “I love cooking … I’ve been cooking my entire life.”

Go online at offthegridsf.com/markets to find the OTG venue closest to you for your fix of fusion foods, decadent desserts, and local community bonding.