Food truck operators hope for big business at Seaside Park in Bridgeport

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BRIDGEPORT — After being laid off during the coronavirus pandemic from his job at a local print shop, Lloyd Hopeton Reid decided to take more seriously using his culinary skills to earn a living.

“I’ve been cooking since I was little,” said Reid, born and raised in Jamaica, whose family moved to Bridgeport in the 1980s and who, as an adult, catering in his spare time. “I said, ‘That’s the only thing I could do.'”

So he invested in a food truck, nicknamed “Father Murray’s Kitchen”, his nickname playing cricket.

Reid’s Jamaican fare will be available this weekend to Seaside Park visitors as part of the pilot effort just launched by the city to open the attraction to food trucks.

As reported late last month, permits for a dozen parking spaces – 10 in the west beach overflow parking area and two in the picnic section of the grove at the other end of the 2.5 mile long seaside – have been booked. On Friday three openings remained.

All nine authorized vendors — Lloyd’s Truck plus The Colombian Hot Dog, Z Licious Caribbean Kitchen, Heart of the City, The Cinnabomb Mini Donut Factory, Isabela Cafe, El Encanto Del Mar, Betzy’s Latin Flavors and SweetNess Bites — have season passes and can open at Seaside any day of the week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., until October 15.

Locally, New Haven’s Long Wharf, between the harbor and Interstate 95, has become a well-known destination for food trucks and their fans.

Vanessa Santiago, of New Haven, helped found SweetNess Bites, a supplier of ice cream-covered mini pancakes and other toppings and waffle sticks, which earlier this year also opened a storefront at Orange. She said her ‘dream’ was to set up her truck at Long Wharf, but there is no space available anytime soon.

Then she learned of Bridgeport’s efforts at Seaside. Santiago, who worked in the dental field, knows the city well, having lived there for a few years and graduated from the Bullard-Havens technical school.

“I said, ‘It’s something similar, like what they have (in New Haven).’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is so awesome, let me see how it goes,'” Santiago recalled. “I’m excited to bring something that I built from scratch. “

Ana Vargas learned about the new Seaside food truck permits from her granddaughter. She served Puerto Rican and American fare part-time from her Isabela Cafe truck, named for the municipality in Peurto Rica where she once lived, for a few years while also working in home care.

She was drawn to Seaside because another area of ​​town where she parked became too competitive.

“I love it,” Vargas said of the kitchen. “I would like to have money to have a small restaurant.”

Juan Forero, a high school teacher at Fairchild Wheeler Magnetic School, has operated the Colombian Hot Dog truck for six years. He already does good business behind the Roosevelt School on Saturdays and aims to spend Thursdays at Seaside.

“I think it’s a great opportunity,” Forero said. “The city is learning to deal with that, we’re learning to deal with it so that we don’t overwhelm ourselves and pick the best times to sell.”

Born and raised in Colombia, Forero said many of his customers are fellow countrymen looking for a little taste of home – hot dogs with toppings like coleslaw, pineapple sauce and the “pink sauce”.

“(It) takes people back to what they ate when they were in Colombia,” he said, adding that he plans to return later this month to take part in a special festival, serving its specialty hot dogs as well as American-style dogs.

Foodies who frequent Long Wharf and are curious about Seaside’s trucks will run into accessibility issues, however, at least during peak season – Memorial Day through Labor Day – when day or seasonal passes are required to enter. the park.

“The pilot program was intended to provide a wider range of food options for visitors and residents heading to Seaside Park for the day or for an afternoon,” said Steve Hladun, the special projects coordinator overseeing the effort. , in an emailed statement. “The comparison to Long Wharf is that the food truck parking area is located along I-95 and a public road in New Haven Harbor and not inside the boundaries of a park like Seaside . It’s a completely different setup.

Hladun said, “As we gather more truck and community feedback as the pilot program ends in the fall, the city can look for ways to improve and grow the program to support the community as well as the local food truck vendors. .”

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