Food truck park concept intrigues association leader

Business partners prep for Plan B if city nixes 24-hour diner project

Nashville is a relative newcomer to the food truck craze.

As such, it is not surprising there is no private property in the city and on which operate multiple food trucks.

And that is why the proposal of local businessmen Steve Smith and Al Ross to have a permanent food truck park on a SoBro site they own — a lot that still might accommodate the business partners’ hope-for 24-hour diner depending on a looming Metro Board of Zoning Appeals hearing — has caught the attention of Nashville’s food truck community.

Dallas Shaw, president of the Nashville Food Truck Association, said Thursday following a press conference Smith and Ross held downtown (read more here) that he is “intrigued” by the thought of such a facility.

“Other major cities have [private] parks for food trucks,” said Shaw, who owns and operates food truck Hoss’ Loaded Burgers. “But Nashville is a little different than those cities. We don’t have as much foot traffic on a daily basis.”

Shaw also wonders whether the terms of the leases Smith and Ross want — 12-month leases and up to $6,000 per-month rent — will be palatable to local food truck owners.

“I don’t know many truck owners that will feel they can afford $6,000 a month,” Shaw said, adding that such a rent payment during the winter months, when business would slow, could be difficult.

“That’s a lot of food to sell,” he added.

Smith, who owns Lower Broadway fixture Tootsie's as well as co-owns nearby Rippy's and Honky Tonk Central,  said he could have heaters on the site, located at the southeast corner of the  Third Avenue South and Demonbreun Street intersection, to address cold-weather concerns. He said the 12-month leases (instead of, say, monthly or three-month leases) would be used to facilitate stability on the site. As to the $6,000-per-month rent per space (he envisions up to 12 truck spaces on the small site), he noted research he has undertaken yielded the dollar figure.

“We know that is what we can generate,” he said.

Smith (pictured) said Nashville Electric Service is requiring the team to install an electrical vault on the site for the partially constructed Avenue Diner building (for which construction may or may not resume depending on the BZA meeting in early September).

“So electricity will be included in the rent [of the space],” he said.

Shaw said the Nashville Food Truck Association board members have been in communication since the Post and the Nashville Business Journal reported the food truck park concept Wednesday. He said many local food truck operators would be “intrigued.”

For now, Smith and Ross await the BZA meeting. Earlier this week, the Metro Development and Housing Agency Design Review Committee unanimously voted to disapprove alteration to the code so as to allow a new design for the diner building. At the MDHA meeting, Smith and his team presented a design with the sidewalk at 12 feet, instead of the existing nine. The downtown code, according to MDHA, requires a sidewalk width range of 15 to 20 feet for new construction. To compensate for the lost square footage on the first floor due to a wider sidewalk, the team offered an image of the building with floors two through four cantilevered over the sidewalk.

If the BZA overrules the MDHA committee vote and Smith and Ross move forward, the business partners envision a diner similar to Junior’s in New York City. Ross said Avenue Diner will feature no live music.

Avenue Diner’s materializing would mean no food truck park at the southeast corner of Third and Demonbreun. However, Shaw said Smith and Ross have hit on a strong concept.

“Let’s find another corner and make it happen,” he said.

Smith said he and Ross like the concept of food trucks and how they can be appealing to both tourists and locals alike. 

“If the BZA allows us to move forward with the diner,” he says, “Al and I own other properties downtown and we would consider other sites [for a food truck park].”