A local businessman and UTSA alumnus Jon Onstead has recently broken ground in the construction of The Block, a new mobile food court. The owner of The Block, Onstead, said that as a student he noticed a lack of interesting eating options near the UTSA main campus and now hopes his mobile food court will introduce some variety to the diets of UTSA students.
The Block, located on the corner of UTSA Blvd. and Roadrunner Way, is projected to open early in March of 2013. It will feature a bar and patio area, seven hubs for local food trucks and a permanent kitchen space which will house Chela’s Tacos, a popular San Antonio taco truck. Onstead plans to host a variety of events at his food court including movie screenings, eating competitions and live music.
“Once a week, we’ll do a movie night where students, or anyone who is interested, will be able to go to the website or Facebook page and vote on movies that they want to see,” says Onstead. “We want the student’s involvement, as far as telling us what they want to watch there, what they want to listen to music-wise and what they want to eat there.”
Regarding which food trucks will be featured at The Block, Onstead has spoken to some of the top food trucks in San Antonio and Austin. Although no food trucks have officially signed leases yet, Onstead is confident that when The Block opens in 2013, it will have a strong lineup of vendors.
“Some of the top food trucks in the state are going to be a part of it,” says Onstead. “We’re not just selecting from San Antonio, we’re selecting from food trucks out of Austin that want to branch off into the San Antonio market. We’re looking for quality and variety- we don’t want to have three Korean barbecue joints there. Because our concept has generated a lot of interest, we can be selective with the trucks we want to have there.”
Chela’s owner, Martin Davis, said that he intends to become a permanent resident at The Block.
“I’ve got a contract with the guy [Onstead] to build me a kitchen,” says Davis. “It’s gonna be a small kitchen, but big by my trailer’s standards, so we’re gonna be able to be open earlier for breakfast and stay open later.”
Moving from a food truck to a brick-and-mortar kitchen should give Davis’ already successful business an opportunity to flourish. When operating out of his truck, he is limited by a low storage capacity and an obligation to report to a commissary every day, where he dumps dirty water and grease and refills with fresh water.
At The Block, Davis will have plumbing and storage space so that he can continue service uninterrupted and even increase his menu.
“Because I’ll have more cooking facilities, we’ll be able to expand on the basic menu,” says Davis. “We do really good pozole and menudos. We’re probably going to do some different types of chili. We’re gonna be able to expand and do a little bit more of a full Mexican menu.”
According to Onstead, all food trucks that lease at The Block will have access to potable water and a place to dump sewage on-site, will be able to park their trucks on-site overnight and will have the option to rent additional storage space.
“Basically, it’s the closest thing to a brick-and-mortar for a food truck,” says Onstead.
When Onstead first had the idea for The Block, the city of San Antonio didn’t have the necessary laws in place to regulate mobile food courts. In order to bring his concept to fruition, Onstead had to push for changes in the city code, which would accommodate the establishment of mobile food courts.
“Basically, I discovered that there weren’t any laws for private property owners who wanted food trucks on their property,” says Onstead, “…We started writing letters to the city and to the health department saying, ‘this is what we’d like to do.'”
Approximately six months later, the City Council passed the necessary amendments to the City Code.
“I know what the student body wants,” says Onstead, “because that’s what I wanted. We want a cool place to hang out and either study or get entertained, and eat great food, and not just food from chains, but local food made with fresh ingredients. I know that when I was in school at UTSA I would have loved to have a place like this to go to.”
Some students, however, disagree with Onstead’s vision.
“I think they should use the lot for something a lot more useful than food trucks”, says senior information systems major and Outpost resident Taylor Konigsmark.
When asked what he would rather have next door to his apartments, Konigsmark replied, “a police station.”
According to Onstead, growing schools like UTSA need nearby places where students can have fun as a community. This is what he hopes The Block will be for UTSA.
“It’s creating a great environment for students to relax or chill in, to dine in or to be entertained,” says Onstead. “I’m trying to bring a little bit of that culture to UTSA.”