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City leaders and event organizers eye potential future in community

By Keith Spencer

SALEM – Food trucks are the quintessential innovators and small businesses. They are quick to bring about flavors you’ve never considered from twists on classics to fusion creations. This unique blend of cuisine will be available for the first time to residents at The Salem Food Truck Festival on October 1 and 2.

Twenty-five food trucks, DJ’s and family fun is planned for both days as the community launches into their popular Halloween season. The lineup includes a range of cuisine from grilled cheese to whoopie pies to a variety of ethnic availabilities.

Previous experiences show that Salem is always looking for new and exciting programs, especially with Mayor Kim Driscoll at the helm. Over the last several years, constituents have requested different street food options to be available at Haunted Happenings, going beyond the usual carnival fare.

“The opportunity to showcase some really innovative chefs and cuisines through a diversity of food trucks seemed like a great approach,” Mayor Driscoll said during a recent interview.

“A Food Truck Festival has a lot of moving pieces and complicated logistics. We wanted a partner that knew how to do this kind of event and how to do it well.“

New England Open Markets has been selected as they had the experience and track record needed to be able to host an event of this size. Chris Masci has been running the company for the last 13 years, hosting highly successful arts and crafts festivals as well as food truck meetups that began in the South End. They have hosted a craft and art market called the Salem Open Market the last several years, but have believed the community is the perfect place for these and other events.

"The City of Salem awarded another bid last year for us to operate another three years of the market, and we love doing it.” Masci said. “The energy in Salem during the month of October just can’t beat and we really enjoy working so closely with the fantastic local businesses and artisans that call Salem home all year”

After the city recently eased regulations making the appearance of food trucks easier, Masci and the Mayor hoped to bring a movement that has been growing in popularity since 2010. This first festival will allow both residents and visitors to experience something previously unavailable in the community while also allowing organizers to gauge the popularity and desire for potential future events.

“I think that Salem is a great city to host food trucks because of the high density of our downtown and the extra tourist traffic we bring in,” City Councilor Josh Turiel said. “When all the restaurants have lines much of the day that means there are people being underserved.“

"It’s quick, it’s attainable, it’s unique and the food is excellent,” Masci explained about the popularity of the food truck craze. “It really has opened people’s eyes to the fact that they can get really delicious and quality food out of a truck and experience cuisine they wouldn’t typically find in the restaurants that they frequent.”

A lot more is happening this weekend as well including the zombie walk, zombie kickball, and other special programming at the House of the Seven Gables, the Peabody Essex Museum, the Witch House, and many other historic and cultural sites to kick off Haunted Happenings.

“ The food truck concept lends itself well… because we are a walkable community known for our diverse dining options.”  – Kim Driscoll

Visitors should also take the time to dine at the brick and mortar restaurants on this or future visits as Salem has become THE dining destination north of Boston with an array of restaurateurs and other food and beverage innovators. With over 30 restaurants within walking distance of the Salem Common, this weekend will be a food lover’s nirvana.

Local media partner Creative Salem has also been pushing to see food trucks on the insanely busy Salem “festival circuit” and views them as not a competition but a great compliment. “Creative Salem supports all the local arts and cultural festivals and even with the offer extended to local businesses to participate the logistics are very challenging to take an entire operation on the road leaving festival attendees with a real lack of quick serve options.” says Chief Creative Officer John Andrews. “This food truck festival falls on a traditionally slower October weekend and the thousands of people that come to attend will shop and dine and drink downtown as well" 

“We value all that our local small businesses and their employees bring to our community and work hard to support their endeavors,” Driscoll added. “The addition of this festival will round out the activation of the entire month of Haunted Happenings programming and bring much-needed foot traffic to the downtown at the beginning of the month which will benefit the surrounding businesses immensely” 

"It’s quick, it’s attainable, it’s unique and the food is excellent”  – Chris Masci

When asked about the future of food trucks in Salem, Driscoll reiterated the city’s commitment to elevating the game and providing opportunities for restaurant and business growth. Food Trucks attract more people to Salem who the Mayor hopes will return for future visits, supporting local business and restaurants while also trying out new opportunities. 

“I can see us expanding food trucks in a fashion similar to this festival as a special event, whether it is at the Common, at Winter Island, in the Point, near Salem State University, or any other number of places around the City,” the Mayor said.

Councilor Turiel agreed.

“I’ve been fighting for two years to create a regulatory path to encourage that development,” Turiel explained. “If located right, trucks help liven up the streetscape and can really do a lot to activate a neighborhood.”

“Festivals are fun, but we need to make food trucks a more regular part of Salem life.”

Participating Food Trucks include Roxy’s Grilled CheeseBon Me Food TruckThe Whoo(pie) WagonBon Me FoodsPomaire Boston Chilean Food TruckTenoch MexicanThe Roving LunchboxThe Dining CarChikChak Food TruckAurora’s Gypsy CafeFrozen HoagiesSheherazad TruckNorth East of the BorderMo’Rockin FusionTrolley dogs, The Chuck Wagon, Taco PartyVulgar Display of PoutineMorning Salute , Sach Ko Truck, Japalicious, The Cookie Monstah, and Friskie Fries.

Organizers are reminding visitors and residents that the festival is expected to draw a large crowd, and they are encouraging patrons to visit on both days of the weekend with more than 20,000 fans providing an RSVP on Facebook. The event is rain or shine.

When?  October 1 & 2, 2016 from 11AM to 6PM on both days

Where? Salem Common, Salem MA

Cost? Free admission to event with purchases made individually at trucks

For more information, visit New England Open Markets website or RSVP to the event on Facebook.

Photo Highlights from New England Open Markets Off the Wall Graffiti Block Party – FULL SET HERE