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The Lot stalls in the cold

December 17, 2018

The Lot in downtown Roseburg just approved a spot for its fourth food truck. Willie Pete’s Chili and Eats was scheduled to open on Monday, but had not arrived at The Lot as of Saturday.

The Lot opened at 444 SE Oak Ave., in March after the Umpqua Economic Development Partnership approached the Umpqua Indian Development Corporation with the success of the Fourth of July food truck competition as evidence of interest from the community.

Originally, it was expected to accommodate around 12 food trucks, according to Travis Hill, vice president of economic development for the Cow Creek Band of Umpqua Tribe of Indians, but no other trucks currently plan on using the area.

Hill said he sees the lot as full with only six to eight trucks.

“I know there was talk with the partnership. They were hoping to have 12 to 16 [food trucks],” he said. “I think that’s just too many, and I don’t think there’s a good demand for that specifically. I think a couple more food trucks — as long as they are diverse — would be good.”

The gravel lot often appears vacant some days, with the electrical boxes visible at unused stations, but the vendors and the tribe believe in The Lot’s success.

The Bun Stuffer was among the first to claim a spot on the gravel when it moved in at the end of the summer. Emily Hepworth was working that truck on Tuesday, but it’s been rolling around to different locations for more than three years.

“During the summer it was really good, but as soon as it started getting cold, it slowed down a bit,” Hepworth said. “We’re hoping that they can add some things to this and start making it a place they can do events and just have it way different.”

She wants to see trees, more seating and a nicer look. She remembered from meetings with the tribe that they said it would be a slow progression until it became something big.

“You wish it would be more, but this town is kind of like that,” Hepworth said. “Maybe not enough people know about it.”

Lunch regulars such as Elexis Sanchez already believe it’s a valuable asset. She comes by two to three times per week for what is her “favorite lunch now.”

“It’s all right here,” Sanchez said. “It’s nice that you can come here and there’s different places. I like the selection.”

Wayne Ellsworth also comes by a few times per week, specifically for the Bun Stuffer, which he said he used to track down for lunch before the truck regularly parked at the lot.

“I come over [to The Lot] because it’s fast, it’s convenient and it’s cheaper than all the other restaurants in town. And the vibe is a lot more fun,” Ellsworth said. “I think they have good business wherever they go, but I know to have the visibility, I believe more of these food trucks should take advantage of a place like this. Then it would generate more business here for sure.”

He said the lunch rush seemed slow, and he didn’t know what the barrier was for people coming to The Lot for lunch.

Hepworth said the Bun Stuffer serves seven to 15 people per day at The Lot, but she thinks that will change with the season. In the meantime, she relies on the steady, if small, flow.

Caleb Gwaltney owns Smokey G’s Barbecue with his wife, but they haven’t considered moving their truck to The Lot, because they both still work full-time outside of the truck.

“I like being able to move around, but I feel like The Lot is a decent spot if you got all the trucks there,” Gwaltney said. “It would be a draw, I feel, for people to all go get lunch, because they can all get what they want. But not having all the trucks there, I don’t feel like it’s that big of a draw.”

Hill said the tribe wants to keep “that old-school, mobile-type, food truck concept,” and they are taking the whole thing slowly. He said the biggest draw for future trucks is a consistent location.

“We’re happy to see we have enough response for four trucks to have interest in our location,” Hill said. “We’re going to give it a full year to evaluate it and take it from there. It’s meeting our expectations, but we didn’t have a lot of expectations going into it. Actually, our expectations were really low.”

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