Off The Grid, which is launching in north Berkeley, currently has six San Francisco locations, including Haight Ashbury. Photo: xxxxx
Off The Grid, which is launching in north Berkeley, currently has six San Francisco locations, including in the Haight (above). Photo: Off The Grid

Off The Grid is launching its first event outside San Francisco and, starting next month, a regular group of street food vendors will set up shop every Wednesday evening in Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.

The move signals a switch of direction for Berkeley which, until now, has not made it easy for mobile food trucks to operate in the city. It is also a coup for the North Shattuck Association which paved the way for successful negotiations and prevented the event from going to another East Bay location, such as Oakland, although other East Bay venues are likely in future.

After launching its inaugural event a year ago in Fort Mason, Off The Grid now brings street food vendors together daily in six locations across San Francisco. Organizer Matt Cohen said they had been searching for an East Bay location for some time.

“We looked at the core values of serving great street food and we’re so happy we’ve settled on Gourmet Ghetto,” he said. “We emphasize local, sustainable, organic food, so what better place to launch than in the heart of Berkeley’s food revolution?”

Starting on June 1, permitting issues allowing, eight to 10 mobile food trucks will start operating at the intersection of Shattuck and Rose, using the same footprint as Thursday’s Berkeley Farmers’ Market. They will be there, serving an array of bite-sized dishes, from 5-9pm. Those that are already confirmed include Cupkates, Liba Falafel, Hapa SF and The Taco Guys. The Crème Brulée Guy is also a likely presence. The line-up will alternative every few weeks with four to five new vendors coming in at regular intervals.

Several street food trucks came to last year’s Spice of Life festival in north Berkeley, including Chairman Bao, left, and Skylite. Photo: Nader Khouri

Heather Hensley, Executive Director of the North Shattuck Association which submitted a joint proposal with Off The Grid to the city, said the idea had been brewing for about a year — a few street food trucks attended last year’s Spice of Life event — but that, until now, the city had shied away from giving new permits for mobile trucks.

“Off The Grid is not giving food trucks free rein,” she said, explaining the change of heart. “It’s a controlled event on a particular day and time. It’s like a farmers’ market. A known quantity.” Hensley said councilmember Laurie Capitelli had been helpful in helping bring the event to Berkeley.

Any truck participating in Off The Grid Berkeley needs to be certified by the city’s health department, irrespective of whether they already have permits from other cities. Cohen says many of the mobile vendors who participate in Off The Grid now are from the East Bay. “It’s great that they will be able to have the opportunity to serve locally,” he said.

Gail Lillian, owner of Liba Falafel, which launched in 2009 and is based in Oakland, said she is thrilled to be able to serve customers close to home. “I am a big fan of the East Bay and I love to do business here.” Lillian added that she had not even tried to apply for a permit to operate in Berkeley before now because she had heard it was so difficult to secure one.

Hensley said she hoped the event would attract “a different crowd” and that it would help people rediscover the neighborhood. Whereas one might expect a younger demographic to be drawn to food trucks, because of the lower cost and that group’s social-media savvy — food trucks use Twitter and Facebook to communicate their whereabouts and menus to customers — Hensley says the crowds at Off The Grid are diverse. “They are young and old as well as families. Many of the people who go to Off The Grid in San Francisco come from the East Bay.”

The organizers are sensitive to how north Berkeley bricks-and-mortar food businesses might feel about the event. The event is deliberately scheduled on Wednesdays, a weekday night which tends to be slow for restaurants, and there are various tie-ins planned. One licensed truck will be reserved for local restaurant chefs to prepare their own street food, for instance, and participating trucks are being selected so that they are not “super competitive” with existing businesses.

Hensley is hopeful that the increased foot traffic will be good for all Gourmet Ghetto businesses. “There’s going to be energy and excitement and, if local businesses stay open later, they should benefit from new people coming to get a taste of north Berkeley,” she said.

Why does the street food scene bypass Berkeley? [10.18.10]
Those craving Cupkates, take note [11.19.09]

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

Join the Conversation


  1. It would be nice to have food choices that aren’t all deep fried as was the case this evening. However, I enjoyed mingling with some old and new faces. It was a better than good turn out and as a local resident it was nice to see the diversity that was present. 

  2. “5. Why do this in rich North Berkeley? Clearly, just another example of the fat cats in the city council keeping their boots on the throat of neighborhoods in the west and the south. But I’m telling you now: this will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.”
      Suffer, you low-life mothers!  Besides, the more educated and well traveled always lead the way………….well sometimes 🙂

  3. I keep on wanting to use in posts … it’s a perfect response to so many situations.

  4. Bummer this is going to be at the same time as the Albany Farmer’s Market.

  5. I love your comment “It lacks a petting zoo” 

    It has the potential to become as important a commentary in life as the number 42.


  6. The plan is for the first Off The Grid Berkeley to take place on June 1, as the story mentions. If all the permits are not in place by then, it may move to the next Wednesday — June 8. 

  7. Looks like a great occasion for Berkeleyside to have it’s first “tweet-up and feed-up”  Perhaps a #BerkeleyOTG (Berkeley Off The Grid) hashtag (oooh, hash) would work.


  8.  What’s wrong?  Taco’s of the mean streets of Oakland don’t float your boat?  😉

  9. My excitement is tempered by reading that the world ends in a few days, so many people won’t get to experience the market.  Then again, I’ll be here, so perhaps the food vendors will be too. 

  10. Oh – I love the farm to table implication.  Pet the animal and then prepare it. 

  11. Yes!!  Hopefully the experience with the food carts will be a good one.  The north berkeley food scene has become staid and monotonous and maybe now it will become more vibrant.

  12. I tried to respond to you in the same vein, but I just can’t reach your level of expertise, DH.

  13. Something something animals something something livestock something something HEALTH CODE VIOLATIONS. Am I right?


  14. The increased competition to local food merchants one night a week will surely disrupt the finely honed system of collusive market segmentation which has enabled north Berkeley to reach a state of indisputable perfection and harmonious commercial nirvana. I mean, look, I’ve lived in Berkeley for four, maybe five hundred years, and I can honestly look back across that vast expanse of time and say that the way things are now is pretty much the way things have always been: GREAT. Why rock the boat? New ideas and new tastes can only make things worse, because you know who favors competitive markets and consumer choice? Republicans! I think I threw up a little in my mouth just typing that.

    I am also very concerned that the Peace and Justice committee has been too busy with Bradley Manning to properly review the expedited permitting process taking place here.

    1. Have they consulted the correct sections from the Talmud? This is very important. We definitely want to base our decisions in Talmudic scholarship!
    2. What are the implications of so many potential yarn-bombing targets? What will happen when the yarn gets old, especially once it goes mobile? People all across the bay, not just in Berkeley, might see (or touch!) grungy yarn! Think of the children!
    3. How tall can the taco trucks be? If they are too tall, they will block the sunlight and plants will be unable to grow!
    4. Will any of the trucks serve ice cream, or have awnings which might clash with the CVS color scheme?
    5. Why do this in rich North Berkeley? Clearly, just another example of the fat cats in the city council keeping their boots on the throat of neighborhoods in the west and the south. But I’m telling you now: this will not stand, ya know, this aggression will not stand, man.

  15. Wait, is this Berkeleyside’s comment section? Where are the naysayers, the complainers, the “it won’t work-ers”!!!

    I think this is great!

  16. Looking for a new way to say Hurray! Awesome! Yay! and Yessss!…but haven’t come up with one!

  17.  YAAAY!  I’m there!  Thanks, North Shattuck Association.  Thanks, Berkeleyside, for letting us know.

  18. Yay! It’s about time. Now don’t have to travel to the city for fun, delicious, affordable food. Go Taco Guys!!! We luv you.

  19. Sounds fun and declicious.  Would love to see something similar for vintage, handmade and collectible goods.