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Here Comes Food Truck Friday

Sonoma gets a taste of Napa's popular food truck series this Friday; Planning Commission revisits the mobile food unit permit next month

Sonoma foodies get a taste Friday of a trend that's been rocking the Bay Area: Food trucks are coming to Sonoma.

Or more specifically, they're coming to 's Friday night music event.

The winery has partnered with Andrew Siegal, owner of Dim Sum Charlie, a popular Napa-based mobile dim sum unit, and founder of Napa's "Food Truck Friday" event, which has received national press and local acclaim.

"[Sebastiani] wanted to have something fun, they’ve already been doing food, and a vision was born," said Siegal. "We liked each other's businesses."

According to Siegal, all of Napa's favorite acts will trek to Sonoma for the event — plus live music and firepits — including Ghetto Fork Catering, Mark's The Spot and Dim Sum Charlie.

But Christopher Johnson, Sebastiani tasting room manager and organizer of the Sonoma event, is quick to emphasize that even though Sonoma's "Food Truck Friday" will have similar management to the Napa's event, it will be completely different.

"For us it's just another food option for the patrons that come to our regular Friday night music events," says Johnson.

Johnson plans to keep the Sabastiani event small, hosting between five and eight vendors, a handful of whom will be local. The night will also host well-known San Francisco "guest" trucks, such as Sam's Chowdermobile and the Creme Brulee Cart, who'll mingle alongside the more familiar North Bay vendors.

It's important for Johnson that the event — an offshoot of Sebastiani's Friday night music series — remain family friendly.

Unlike Napa's food truck event, no outside alcohol will be permitted ("Obviously our wine will be available for purchase," says Johnson) and there will be rigorous carding to prevent minors from imbibing.

It makes sense that Johnson is cautious about the new undertaking — other regional food truck events have been shuttered due to noise and permitting complaints.  

Santa Rosa did away with "Munch Mondays" after the regular crowd became too large and rowdy and even Napa's event is on temporary hold until Siegal works out permitting and safety issues.

Food trucks aren't expressly banned in the Sonoma municipal code — in fact, according to Sonoma Planing Director David Goodison, they're not mentioned at all.

"There’s a section of the code which says that anything that isn’t identified as being allowed is prohibited," says Goodison, "so under that one section [mobile food units] would be prohibited."

Now, with the popularity of food trucks forcing the issue, mobile food may enter the city's discourse.

"It appears the majority of the planning commission would like to make some kind of change to the code so that there’s some allowance of them," said Goodison.

Not all city officials are pleased with the idea, as Joanne Sanders hinted when she announced at Monday's city council meeting: "I just want residents to be aware that [mobile food trucks] are not paying taxes to the city when they're doing this."

So far, Sebastiani has been granted a one-time use permit for this Friday's food truck event and the Sonoma Planning Commission will decide next month whether to grant a long-term permit to the event. 

Several factors will ease the process: the Sebastiani event will be held at the edge of their parking lot — containing plenty of parking for diners and won't tie up street parking. The food trucks will be placed to block noise from traveling outside the Sebastiani complex, and the music will take place indoors through a grandfathered-in permit that's allowed Sebastiani to host their music nights for three years.

Also, for Johnson, keeping everyone happy is first priority for what he sees as a community event.

"I think what they did in Napa has been great for Napa, but we're a winery that the neighborhood has grown up around. We have to be respectful of our neighbors," said Johnson.

Catch Food Truck Friday on the last Friday of every month at Sebastiani Winery, 389 4th Street East. Live music, dancing and of course, food trucks. The event launches this Friday at 6 p.m., lasts until just after 9:30. 

Ron March 23, 2011 at 12:57 AM
STOP !!!!! What the heck are you guys thinking. Every Restaurant in Sonoma is having a tough time right now and you want to bring in the Fancy version of the Taco Truck. NOT IN SONOMA PROPER. They will wind up all over the Plaza and you will see all the Restaurants Close. People have no idea what it takes to run a Restaurant. The cost and the little profit. They only think it's fun and cute with the trucks. Mark my words, if the Planning commission allows this nonsense, it will kill the Charm of our quaint Restaurants and back fire. NO ON THE TACO TRUCKS AND THEIR FANCY COUSINS.
Suzanne Barbara March 23, 2011 at 01:52 AM
It's a difficult question. Sometimes competition is good for business. If it gets people in the habit of going out on Fridays, then it might be good for local restaurants.
Dorothy March 23, 2011 at 02:30 AM
One possible solution would be to invite some Sonoma Restaurants to participate in "food truck" Friday, though perhaps without trucks, but by bringing some of their tastiest food. I have seen it done at "street fairs" in other cities.
Elora March 23, 2011 at 01:07 PM
It sounds like fun for one Friday. But if they do a repeat, I hope that Sonoma businesses will be included on the list.
Unfiltered Steve Simoneau March 23, 2011 at 08:31 PM
Hey Ron, if the public isn't patronizing a restaurant it's probably because the food and/or service sucks. Don't blame fellow food service businesses for restaurant failure. If a restaurant wants to flourish then it needs to step up its game. In-structure or food truck, my money goes where the food is good and I receive professional service.
Ron March 24, 2011 at 05:37 AM
Kru, I have No Horse in this Race. Please don't shot the messenger. I agree with you, and your point is made. BUT We are not talking about Good service and Bad Food. were talking about the survival of YOUR favorite Restaurant....if we allow every guy with a Food Truck, onto the Plaza or surrounding area it will hurt the Restaurants. People must understand what it takes to maintain a Restaurant. High Rent, Percent of Gross Sales to the Landlord. Triple net. Taxes, Permits, City, County and State. Health Department. Workman's Comp On and On and On. Now take the Food Truck. They park where they want, and become Squatters. And pay a fraction the cost and enjoy the Prime locations. I for one must cast my vote to the Restaurants...Whether we think they are good or bad. But this is what makes this country great. a healthy debate. : )
brian brazoot March 24, 2011 at 04:39 PM
Alexis: Santa Rosa's Munch Mondays were NOT eliminated because "the crowd became too large and rowdy." Where did THAT come from? A few of the adjacent restaurants went completely ballistic and forced the closure. However, it's worth noting that the younger, local crowd who grazed the truck scene on Mondays weren't otherwise heading to a sit-down dining experience. It's apples and oranges. Hey, that's an idea for a truck! Apples & Oranges.
Alexis Fitts March 24, 2011 at 05:33 PM
Brian, You're right, I did read reporting that Santa Rosa restaurants led the charge against Much Mondays. But, my understanding is that the city ultimately shut the event down because they had no idea the event would attract 100+ diners, and the space wasn't set up to accommodate that number. Obviously a secondary affect of having a large lunch crowd is that fewer people go to nearby sit-down restaurants.
Becky March 24, 2011 at 06:35 PM
per EaterSF today, Napa's 'Food Truck Fridays' are shut down http://sf.eater.com/archives/2011/03/24/dim_sum_charlies_dim_sum.php
Alexis Fitts March 24, 2011 at 08:32 PM
Yup. Check out the full story on Napa Patch, who I believe broke the news. http://napa.patch.com/articles/food-truck-fridays-halted-in-napa
Louisa Hufstader March 25, 2011 at 03:52 AM
Yes we did, Alexis, thank you much and have a super time at Sebastiani. Can't wait to hear all about it.
James Marshall Berry March 25, 2011 at 05:43 PM
And on another front.. in San Jose.. http://www.mobilefoodnews.com/2011/03/food-truck-festival-coming-to-san-jose/?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter
Sonoma supporter March 26, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I have to agree with Kru. What Sebastiani is doing is for 4 to 5 hours one Friday a month. Sebastiani has been offering food on Friday nights for over 2 years without any issues. They are not asking to do anything they haven't already been doing. Sebastiani has also reached out to the local restaurants in the past and has had those who've accepted over to sell food to it's patrons. They also do this without asking for any of the restaurants profits. The other important fact Ron may not be aware of is that every Sebastiani tasting room employee is asked numerous times a day from our out of town visitors for restaurant suggestions. THEY ALL recommend our downtown restaurants by name and even giving directions to see that business stays in town. To my knowledge no restaurants have reached out to them to build a stronger relationship or thanked them for their unselfish support of our local eateries. I would also venture to say that Sebastiani is one of the highest tax paying business in our city. Ron you don't have to worry about the city being taken over by food trucks I believe there is a law against them being able to park on city property in general which is why you see them in Boyes and Hwy 12. On the hand whats the difference in the city allowing food vendors in the center of the city through out the summer during farmers market which is 4 times a month throughout the season.
Becky March 28, 2011 at 03:27 AM
Thank you Brian...... for this comment..... I was going to write the same. Where they came up with the rowdy comment, certainly from out of left field. I went to the Munch Monday's and it was great - the food was good and easy to get in and out. Santa Rosa is so following behind in the new trends. I heard Healdsburg is trying to form something on Friday as well.

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