From Parking Lot to Food Truck Herd
Once a month, the historic Old City in Knoxville, Tenn., sees an influx of food trucks, more than a dozen all heading for one location: the spacious parking lot of Blue Slip Winery and Bistro. Soon after, a flood of people follows, gathering to check out the food wagons and live music the business hosts on the third Thursday of each month. We spoke with Katie Galyon, winemaker for Blue Slip and event coordinator for the Food Truck Park & Market, about how the event got started and the benefits of bringing small businesses together.
Blue Slip Beginnings
Blue Slip Winery opened in 2009, making it Knoxville’s first winery. The business is located in the Southern Railway Station, an architecturally distinctive building with a rich history dating back to 1903. The property includes the large parking lot in which travelers using passenger rail services through the city in the early- to mid-1900s once left their vehicles. Blue Slip’s owners recognized the unique opportunity that vast field of asphalt presents and soon hatched a plan to put it to use.
“When we first brought the winery to the new location, we didn’t have the bistro,” explains Galyon. “We wanted to be able to provide food for our guests during events and, at the time, the food trucks were struggling with city ordinances. We had live music performances accompanied by a food truck. Once we realized there was such an interest in food trucks, we figured we might as well invite everyone since we have such a large parking lot.”
The citizens of Knoxville responded enthusiastically, with attendance climbing every week.
“We started out with about five food trucks and a couple hundred guests,” says Galyon. “We have now grown to 20 plus food trucks each month and 2,000 plus guests. The turnout continues to grow each month, as well as community involvement.”
Food Truck Following
As it turns out, inviting food trucks out to a monthly event isn’t quite as easy as it sounds.
“The biggest hurdle was the chicken and the egg,” explains Galyon. “The food trucks didn’t want to participate unless I could guarantee them a number, and the people didn’t want to come unless I could guarantee the food trucks.”
Once the food trucks agreed to come try the monthly food truck park, there were further complications – like the permitting process in Knoxville. While many of the food trucks that frequent the event are based in Knoxville, others work out of nearby counties, like Sweet Smuckers Donuts of Morristown, Tenn., a town about an hour from the depot. These food trucks have to get a permit from the city of Knoxville before they can sell within city limits.
“Each food truck must have the proper permitting through the city. The city and I work closely in getting these food vendors permitted to enable them to participate in the event,” says Galyon. “You’d be amazed at how many new food trucks are popping up in Knoxville each month!”
Blue Slip Benefits
Blue Slip has a bistro on-site, but Galyon claims that competition from the food trucks was never a concern. On the contrary, the benefits of the monthly event far outweigh the work that goes into it.
“The food trucks do not compete with our bistro, as their menus and concepts are entirely different,” says Galyon. “The biggest benefit that Blue Slip has seen is the number of people that get to experience this beautiful, historic building with us! It is quite a hidden treasure that a lot of people don’t know exists. Obviously, the wine sales do [get a] boost during the event, but being able to share this historic piece of property with the community and fellow small business owners is priceless.”
The food truck owners who bring their businesses to the event are also fans. Andrew Smucker, owner of Sweet Smuckers Donuts, says “If you’re a fan of food trucks or just looking for a unique eating experience, the food truck park has something for everyone. We’ve been a part of the each third Tuesday evening for over a year, and are still discovering new incredible food each month.”
Interested in visiting the Food Truck Park & Market to try some local food and live tunes? The event takes place on the third Thursday of each month at Blue Slip Winery. The Historic Southern Railway Station is located at 306 West Depot Avenue in Knoxville’s Old City.