North Hills and Braddock

On Braddock Ave in Braddock.
I run a food truck that spends a lot of time not traveling. We set up shop 4 or 5 days a week in the North Hills of Pittsburgh, although I live in the city. That's how fate works. I had the good fortune to meet and befriend Mike, the owner of Coffee Buddha, before I even had the inkling that I'd actually start a food truck. Mike spent an entire year without a day off to get his coffee shop into gear. Although he gets an occasional respite, he still spends the majority of his time making coffee, tea, espresso, and hand-crafted syrups. He also has one of the friendliest and most capable crews of baristas working with him. We have fit into the mix at the Coffee Buddha, and its customers and the community at large have welcomed us.

The truck in front of The Coffee Buddha.
We collaborated on this partnership of sorts, because Mobile Food Trucks aren't really welcomed in the City of Pittsburgh. You do see a horde of mostly dilapidated food trucks at CMU and Pitt, but they don't go anywhere. They are rusting to the ground, with broken windows and flat tires. The city permits these trucks as "stationary vendors." I did not want to be tied to such a location, so I am considered a "mobile vendor." While we wait for legislation to change in Pittsburgh, mobile food trucks are mostly relegated to private parking lots whose owners give us permission to bring food to the community. (I will eventually buy a permit which allows me to park for up to 30 minutes at a non-metered location 500 feet or more from a restaurant, but for now I think it's a waste of money.)

One of the of stationary food trucks at Pitt. Why does the city allow a vehicle in this condition to serve food?
Sometimes you feel fate knocking, or maybe you've got a hunch, or a thought that comes to mind and that you impulsively pursue. That happened last Tuesday when a guy at Ink Division (a screen printing company in Braddock, PA) sent me a tweet that said something like "Hey man, we like tacos. Come here sometime."

I said "Sure. How about tomorrow?"

Probably a little surprised that I immediately accepted their offer, it took only 2 minutes of tweets and texts to set this up. I call this the magic of twitter in Pittsburgh, as well as the magic of small businesses collaborating. No regional managers or corporate policy handbooks to consult. In the words of Nike: Just Do It. Figure out the details on the fly.
Ink Division, 218 Braddock Ave.
If you don't know anything about Braddock, perhaps you should. Braddock's one of the last and nearest bastions of Pittsburgh's steel heritage. Situated on the Monongahela River across from Kennywood, it's just outside the City of Pittsburgh limits. During the heyday of the Steel Industry, Braddock was more densely populated than Brooklyn, NY. US Steel's Braddock Works still operates 24/7 as evidenced by the sight of smokestack flames, the hint of sulphur and quite loud clangs resonating from the railyard there. Just a stone's throw from the Waterfront in Homestead , Braddock hides out of sight of most Pittsburghers, and if you're new to town, you may not even be aware of its existence.

To say that Braddock has struggled since the decline of the Steel Industry is an understatement. In 2008, the average home value was under $7,000. Nearly 90% of the steel industry jobs are gone. It's a tough place.

But it's also home to a number of non-profits, startups and small businesses who've found value in an almost "wild-west" frontier environment. John Fetterman, a young Harvard graduate from York, PA moved there to work for Americorps in 2001, was elected mayor in 2005 and was re-elected in 2009. I have yet to meet him, but have followed his progress via news articles and YouTube clips of his appearances at TEDx and on national tv programs. I'm no expert, but I am growing fond of what is happening in Braddock.

Matt, Asa and taco fan Paula!
So on a rainy Tuesday afternoon, we wheeled up to 218 Braddock Avenue, just a few blocks from the bridge that lowers you into town. Some buckets were left out to reserve us a space in front of a "van that never moves." We were greeted by an instant line including Matt and Asa of The Brew Gentlemen, a startup beer company headquartered in Braddock. We spent three hours continuously serving tacos to happy faces from all over the area. The guys from Fossil Free Fuel across the street came over. A dude named "Fat Back" introduced himself, got a taco and welcomed us to Braddock. The cold rain turned to hail! A young woman named Ash stood under our window with her son while the hail pinged off the truck. They were excited to try our tacos. How'd you hear about us, we'd ask. "The internet," everyone responded. 

Part of the Ink Division Crew
Less than a week went by, and we came back to the same spot. We saw the same faces, and more. "We want you to come back, we love tacos--we love food trucks" was the refrain. It was sunnier, warmer, and people lingered to tell their stories of Braddock.

We will be returning every Monday we can.
Thank you Braddock.

1 comment:

Pandoras Box said...

Your writing is *almost* as good as your tacos! ;D I learned a lot about Braddock! Keep up the good work!