Roosevelt Row food truck court leaves First Friday after dispute | Phoenix New Times

Food truck court leaves First Friday on Roosevelt Row

The organizer of the mobile eats meetup cries foul over its removal, but organizers say they aren't to blame.
First Friday patrons lined up to order from vendors at the International Food Truck Court. After losing two locations on Fourth Street, the organizer is seeking a new location.
First Friday patrons lined up to order from vendors at the International Food Truck Court. After losing two locations on Fourth Street, the organizer is seeking a new location. Jennifer Goldberg
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There was a noticeable absence at May’s First Friday festivities in downtown Phoenix. The International Food Truck Court and its 20-plus vendors were nowhere to be found.

The departure of the food court, which had set up on Fourth Street for the past two years, left vendors and the mobile eats meetup organizer Food Truck Next calling foul and asserting they were unfairly ousted.

“That has resulted in a $53,000 loss, collectively, between all the businesses that were supposed to be there,” says Food Truck Next owner Dalal Abdouni.

Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation, the group that manages First Fridays and vendors at the monthly event, disputes those claims of improper removal. Roosevelt Row CDC board chair Ruben Alonzo says the organization offered an alternative location for 10 of the food trucks, which Abdouni declined.

Abdouni hopes to reunite her international food court downtown — but independent of the arts walk. She is seeking a temporary downtown location to host the food truck collective through the summer and plans to secure a permanent location elsewhere in the city.

“We are working on a permanent space, so the goal is to most likely exit downtown Phoenix completely,” Abdouni says.
click to enlarge Kandi for sale on a sidewalk.
Local maker Raver Jeni Supplies sold kandi on the sidewalk during April's First Friday. The monthly event features about 300 vendors.
Jennifer Goldberg

Vendors aplenty at First Fridays

Originally founded and organized by the nonprofit arts organization Artlink in 1994, the First Friday Art Walk has grown from a series of gallery stops to a multi-block festival that showcases art, food vendors and live music.

Alonzo estimates that an average First Friday draws 15,000 to 20,000 people and features about 300 vendors, calling it “one of the premiere events in the Valley.”

“We want it to be a successful event for all involved — for members of our community to enjoy, for vendors, business and residents to be proud of,” he says. “That includes a balance of vendors of all kinds.”

Food Truck Next hosted its first food truck court on Fourth Street in March 2022. Abdouni curated about 10 food businesses, helmed largely by women and people of color, to showcase an array of international cuisine.

The initial kickoff caused some tension, a former Roosevelt Row CDC contractor says, because Abdouni went directly through the city to seek permits to close the section of Fourth Street just south of Roosevelt Street — a right turn lane that also features metered parking spots on one side. The issue, says former First Friday lead coordinator Joe Mehl, was that Abdouni received her own permit, and Roosevelt Row wanted to maintain a singular one for the entire event.

Abdouni says that an agreement was brokered with Roosevelt Row CDC to curate the food trucks on Fourth Street. After that, Mehl says tensions seemed to abate. As Mehl worked to activate areas east of Fourth Street, he says that the food truck court was an important connector.

“(Abdouni) became a bridge,” Mehl says.
click to enlarge People holding flags.
Food Truck Next's International Food Truck Court included a diverse rotation of 20 to 24 Valley vendors serving global cuisine.
Food Truck Next

International Food Court expands

In November, Abdouni expanded the food court. She secured a lease for a parking lot on Fourth Street near Roosevelt Street, which allowed the food court to grow to 20 to 24 vendors between the two spots. Both she and Roosevelt Row CDC agree this addition was outside of their handshake agreement for curating trucks in the smaller turn lane.

The expanded food truck court operated in its larger capacity until Food Truck Next was issued a warning in February by an officer with Phoenix’s Neighborhood Services Department.

A city of Phoenix spokesperson confirmed that the Neighborhood Services Department received a complaint that month. The lot, the spokesperson says, is not eligible for mobile vending.

Abdouni sought possible solutions through the city in March and early April and shuffled trucks to a nearby location for First Friday on April 5. That month, Abdouni received notice from the lot’s manager that they could no longer host because of the zoning issue.

Mid-month, Abdouni was then notified by Roosevelt Row CDC’s board that they would not ask the city to close the turn lane on Fourth Street as part of their event plan.

“For them to give us two weeks, which absolutely is not enough notice for anything, to not be there, that was detrimental to so many of the businesses because we were relying on that income,” Abdouni says.

Alison Sipes, events manager for Roosevelt Row CDC, says she witnessed overcrowding and pedestrians spilling onto the street during the April event, which gave her pause. She adds she also was concerned there was not enough room in the area for a fire lane, something required by the city.

“It truly was not safe. I saw it with my own eyes, I spoke with public safety about it,” Sipes says.

Abdouni says those concerns were not raised to her by the CDC or the city until she was notified of the location shuffle by the Roosevelt Row CDC board.

Although the food court operated in the same location for more than two years, there is no guarantee that vendors will receive the same location placement each month, according to Sipes and Alonzo. Sipes, who joined the CDC in March, says she is concentrating all of the event’s food trucks in sections of Second and Sixth streets.

“The strategy is to keep all the food trucks together because they take up more space,” she says.

Alonzo says the CDC offered 10 spots to Food Truck Next on Second Street in order to accommodate the spaces lost over the decision not to close Fourth Street.

“We had no part in whatever agreement existed with that lot. That wasn’t through us,” Alonzo says.
Abdouni ultimately declined the offer from the CDC, concerned that it's not a permanent solution that supports the entire food truck court and disagreeing with the location placement.

"Historically, moving people to Second Street is an exit strategy," Abdouni says.

In the meantime, in efforts to offset some of the May First Friday losses, Abdouni invited trucks that did not participate in the May event to Goodyear’s Food Truck Friday, another food truck roundup she hosts.
click to enlarge
Food Truck Next hosts events showcasing mobile food vendors across the Valley, including Goodyear's Food Truck Friday.
Food Truck Next

New market coming to Fourth Street

After a month of Fourth Street sitting vacant due to the food court's absence, Sipes says it exposed the need to have something happening on that corner to entice people to continue walking eastward.

The CDC contacted Local First Arizona, and Sipes says they plan to collaborate to activate the corner with “lower intensity” artisan and packaged food vendors.

“It’s not a food truck court,” Sipes says. “It’s more of crafts, goods, things like that.”

The timing of losing access to both spots, plus the new market coming to the space, raised suspicions for Abdouni.

“I felt like this is really, really targeted,” she says.

Abdouni and Food Truck Next, via social media, have accused Local First founder Kimber Lanning of having a “long-standing grudge” against the food trucks that culminated in their ouster.

Local First’s headquarters abut both areas where the food court was operating. Lanning concedes she had initial issues with the process for closing the street in that area, and that there have been problems with trash that led her to enlist additional power-washing around the building.

But Lanning says accusations that she is behind the food court’s removal are “simply not true” and points to Local First’s history of incubating small businesses, including those focused on food.

“I would let our record stand for itself,” she says.

Roosevelt Row CDC likewise denies there were any efforts to remove the food trucks from the event.

“There’s no exclusion here,” Sipes says.

She adds that a handful Food Truck Next vendors including Naughty Vegan and Spicy Sassy Dulces have reached out and opted to participate in the upcoming First Friday, going through the CDC's first come, first served vendor signup.
Abdouni says her experience over the past few months has made her feel unwelcome.

“We pay our taxes to the city, we pay to be there, we’re not random people showing up on the streets. We’re legitimate businesses,” she says. “We respect the rules, we respect the policy, we respect the city we’re at.”

But, she’s not giving up and is working on a temporary downtown pop-up. Abdouni is still confirming details but is seeking a permit to operate on Moreland Street.

After the summer, she hopes to secure a lease on a new Phoenix location that will allow the gathering to continue with a sense of security, “somewhere that we’re able to stay there,” she says.

Mehl says it’s a loss for First Friday.

“(Abdouni) really helped bring traffic down there. She really helped make it fun,” he says.
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