Food trucks struggling to find a spot to park downtown will soon find a permanent venue made just for them. Code-named Food Truck-O-Rama during construction, The Container Bar is set to open later this summer.
Brad Creger and partners Mike Veeck (co-owner of the RiverDogs) and Bill Murray (yes, that Bill Murray) five years ago opened Rutledge Cab Co. in an abandoned gas station on Rutledge Avenue. In the ensuing years, Creger says they have purchased most of the surrounding lots and are finally moving forward with another project. They first announced plans for Food Truck-O-Rama about three years ago, but Creger now says he has settled on The Container Bar as the spot's new name.
The space they are retooling is 2130 Mount Pleasant St., once a sad-looking office building. The interior has been completely gutted, and new shipping containers have been affixed to the front of the building, providing space for a massive indoor/outdoor bar. A private room overlooking a large poured concrete patio will have several palm trees and plenty of umbrellas to shade the seating area.
Even empty, it feels like a place where people will want to hang out. Creger has made sure there will be plenty of parking. The complex is located near the I-26 exit, right near the proposed Lowcountry Low Line, which will transform a former rail line into a linear park connecting the center of the peninsula from Marion Square up past Mount Pleasant Street.
"It'll have an inviting vibe," says Creger, who has been working with Dan Sweeney of Stumphouse to design the space.
To the left of the building, there will be parking spaces for food trucks. "We'll have electrical hookups so the trucks won't have to use their generators," says Creger, who tapped Cory Burke of Roti Rolls, one of Charleston's earliest and arguably most successful food truck owners, for his knowledge.
"Cory was really helpful in providing good insight into the world of food trucks," says Creger.
Burke says the city definitely needs a food truck venue. "I think it's going to kill it for sure. There's not an area right now at all for food trucks to thrive downtown."
The city does not allow food trucks to park on public streets. Instead, it has 17 public right-of-way spaces for food cart vendors that are up for bid once a year. Trucks are relegated to finding private parking lots, like the True Value on East Bay, which has limited walk-by traffic. It's hard for new trucks to set up there and build a business, says Burke, who found that the Farmers Market, catering and festival events were a better business model for Roti Rolls.
Burke moved to Atlanta two years ago and expanded his company to that city as well, but he hopes his Charleston truck will be a part of The Container Bar when it opens. "I've mentioned to Brad that it would be an honor to be a part of an opening dinner where maybe each truck could dish out a course for a family-style meal."
But before that happens, Creger has a building to finish. He expects it will take until August, and he's already reaching out to some of his favorite trucks like Dashi to get them excited about the new venue. He expects to book both established and new trucks as a way to help new businesses gain exposure.
He's also planning live music inside and out.
"Location, parking, a welcoming vibe and a wide variety of food choices," will be a big part of the attraction, says Creger, "but the overwhelming ingredient will be hospitality."
And judging by the enduring popularity of nearby Rutledge Cab Co., which sold 45,000 burgers in the past year, the technology entrepreneur who became an accidental restaurateur with a comedian and a baseball guy has a good chance of seeing his food truck venue succeed.