We followed Salem’s food truck pod for sometime now and love the accomplishments they have achieved. When many thought they would fail, they grew bigger and continue to do so. They have not let obstacles determine success. Visit the Salem food truck pod and enjoy the new upgrades. Oh yeah the super yummy food!
In three years, Salem has gone from chasing food trucks out of downtown to opening its third food pod. A fourth is on the way.
As pods in Portland shuttered throughout the summer, from Tidbit in Southeast to The Cubby Holeon Alberta Street, Salem’s food truck pod scene flourished. Beehive Station, South Salem’s first food truck pod, became the hot spot for folks throughout town, who visited for ceviche, live music and ice cream tacos.
Our scene is doing so well, Portland trucks have started to move here.
Even as we enter the normally slow season for trucks, pods continue to open with operators planning more expansions this spring.
North Block Food Pod opened north of downtown this winter with heated indoor seating; a cart pod near Lancaster will open with slots for 16 vendors. The Lancaster site will be Salem’s most lavish, with a full bar, indoor seating, live music and an outdoor fire pit.
And it’s not just the pods that are growing.
According to Aaron Panko at the City of Salem, the number of mobile food unit licenses has more than doubled in 2017, jumping from around a dozen in 2016 to 30 active licenses within 2017-2018. The Oregon Food Truck Association, which helps operate 29 trucks in and around Salem, has seen a rise in membership requests, as well.
As the pods continue to open and grow, so will the trucks, which means more places to try. Here’s what you need to know about our current food pod boom before the next one opens.
Kelly Morales, the owner of Beehive Station, walks around her food truck pod at 11 in the morning. It’s a little less buzzy than it was in the beginning – the lunch rush is slow, though Dalia’s Taqueria still has a line. A new heated tent sits on the Western side of the lot, and a fire pit surrounded by purple plastic Adirondack chairs crackles.
But during a normally slow season for street food, Beehive Station keeps growing: The pod has eight trucks, with two moving in within the month. La Botana, which opened this year, has since opened two new stands: Super Teriyaki, a bowl stand, and Baketater, gourmet stuffed baked potatoes. Lottie’s Pad Thai, one of the incoming trucks, is Portland-based, as is the Beehive’s current truck Gyrolicious.
“They say their worst day here is better than a day in Portland,” Morales says of Gyrolicious.
As more trucks open, they’re searching for locations.
Three Beehive Station trucks left to start their own pod north of downtown, and another pod is set to open near Lancaster later this year.
Pod owners and truck hosts like Morales said the popularity of pods has much to do with the variety and the ease of access to local business owners. Bryan Norris, the owner of popular food truck hangout b2 Taphouse, has loved watching the food truck movement grow.
Norris, who lives in South Salem with his three kids, said he visited Beehive Station three times a week in the summer. Supporting small family businesses, as a family business owner himself, was important to him.
“It’s nice to know that the cook’s the dad, the kids are taking orders at the front,” Norris said. “It’s just fun. You’re with your family, and I want Thai tonight and my wife wants a gyro. We know where to go.”
New freedom, new boom
Perhaps Salem’s late-but-lasting boom is the binge after a long fast: Between 1994 and 2014, Salem’s food truck regulations were strict, and there were rumbles of animosity surrounding the development of food truck pods. Downtown business owners allegedly felt challenged by the competition and neighborhood associations worried that crime and vagrancy would follow a street food cluster.
“When we started our food truck eight years ago, there was no one to ask for help,” said Shawn Daley of Chez Alishon, board member for the Oregon Food Truck Association. “There’s a fine balance for the city — there are businesses trying to make a living and they see the food trucks as a threat.”
Shannon Klopfenstein, co-owner of Barrel & Keg and founder of Salem’s first food pod, was, in many ways, the pioneer of the food pod movement in Salem, and she clearly remembers the trial-and-error phenomenon of getting started.
“A lot of my success had to do with good timing,” Klopfenstein said.
In 2013, city councilor Diana Dickey introduced the idea of easing restrictions on food trucks in Salem. As the Statesman Journal reported in 2014, City of Salem regulations banned clusters of food trucks on private property and forced food trucks to move every two hours.
At that time, relationships between food truck communities and local businesses were tense. Fusion food truck was forced to vacate their downtown location after only a few weeks after the landlord asked her to leave. Sheri Wahrgren, downtown revitalization manager, told the Statesman Journal that business owners had complained about the presence of food trucks in downtown. Still, none of the business owners we contacted said they had complained.
The city council successfully eased those restrictions in July of 2014.
When Klopfenstein first approached the City of Salem in December of 2014, she said, folks really didn’t know what to tell her – the actual steps to open a food truck pod were still being worked out.
Klopfenstein opened the truck in March of 2015, and the business quickly became popular. Guests would order from the food trucks and pair their street food with the store’s beer and wine.
Now, the food pod is tiny, with one or two trucks, maybe three in the summers. In contrast, Beehive Station usually has between 8 and15, and the new State Street site will have as many as 16.
Teresa Standish is thin, with a blonde pixie cut and hands that make her latte look too large. She’s currently a health coach, but soon, she’ll also run what will be Salem’s largest food pod, set to open in the spring.
Her family, including husband Gary Standish, is currently building the food pod near Lancaster on State Street, modeled after the Happy Valley food truck pod: It’ll be a behemoth, with room for 16 standing carts (they plan to open with 10-12), a full bar, indoor seating, an outdoor firepit and a large awning to keep customers dry while they wait for food.
The family’s love of food carts inspired the decision to open the pod. Standish’s daughter, Shannon Standish-Williams, first sent her parents to the Lot in Bend, and the two quickly fell in love. They popped up to Portland’s Cartopia and other pods, but when they first visited the Happy Valley food truck pod, they knew they had a model.
“Gone are the days of the super-formal dining where you can’t bring your kids,” Standish said. “Salem especially is more casual.”
Standish is modeling much of the outdoor space off her outdoor kitchen and entertaining space at the family’s country home. There will be a fire pit, clusters of seating, and 100 parking spaces, as well as spots for live music.
“There are people who’ve been waiting for something like this,” Standish said. “We’ve been trying to reach out to the Salem community first.”
In many ways, Standish’s pod incorporates all the best bites of Salem’s current pods: The beer and wine of Barrel & Keg, the indoor seating of North Block Food Pod, the outdoor entertainment of Beehive Station.
She’s still looking to fill all those vendor spots, but based on the level of interest, folks like Daley suspect she won’t have much trouble; the Oregon Food Truck Association has received several calls in the last six months from truck owners, hoping to get started. In fact, he’s headed to help another truck prepare for a pre-opening health inspection this week.
“The food truck craze, nationally, really helped us here,” Daley said. “When we started, the food trucks were what you might find at a carnival, you know, the fried stuff… (Now,) the quality of food is so good, so much better. These new trucks are leaving us in the dust.”
Salem has three current food truck pods, with one on the way. Occasionally, more than one truck will park in a parking lot, but none have identified themselves as standing pods.
Beehive Station, located in South Salem on Commercial, is a larger lot, with several trucks, tented seating and a fire pit. Notable trucks include Dalia’s Taqueria, Cindy Lou’s Barbecue and Bobalicious.
North Block Food Pod, Salem’s newest pod, features four standing Salem vendors: Kyes Cuisines, Little Food Gypsy, Sample This BBQ and Chavelo’s Ceviche. All but Sample This came from Beehive Station. North Block’s biggest draw is its indoor, heated seating, which softened the blow of its winter opening.
Barrel & Keg was Salem’s first food pod, though it’s closer to a micro-pod: Usually no more than three trucks will sit in the back. The major benefit of Barrel & Keg is its indoor seating, as well as its beer and wine: Guests can sit with their sangiovese or stout at the bar, and trucks will deliver food to you. This model has become popular at several taphouses and breweries, including Salem Ale Works, Vagabond Brewing and b2 Taphouse.
The yet-to-be-named State Street pod near Lancaster, set to open in the spring, is modeled after the Happy Valley Station food truck pod: a bar with tables sits inside a building with a large awning on all sides, so guests can wait in line out of the rain and eat in a warm space. The State Street pod will have room for more than 16 vendors, live music, a firepit and more. Pretty luxurious for street food.