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CartHop: Fresno's Moveable Feast

Ezra Romero
Valley Public Radio

The food truck, once known for dreaded boring prepackaged sandwiches or carne asada tacos, has taken a turn for the better. The trucks have gone gourmet.

They no longer do boring. In fact, many food trucks across the nation have created infusions of local produce with a unique and somewhat international flare.

The evolution of the roach coach hit Fresno in 2012 in the form of what locals call CartHop. The traveling band of six local gourmet food vendors meet in three locations for lunch across Fresno and plan to open the door even wider to foodies in 2013.

“There’s a need in the Valley for the food truck movement to catch up with the rest of the state and these things happen all over Sacramento, San Francisco and L.A.  Fresno is the state center and Fresno is in the center of the Valley so naturally this is the next place for the food truck movement to move towards and we’re just trying to facilitate that.”

That was H. Steele the CartHop project coordinator for Creative Fresno, a local non-profit with an aim to foster creative thinking by supporting the arts and embracing innovation in order to transform Fresno into a great place to live, work and play.

CartHop began in August of 2012 when local favorite Dusty Bun’s owners Dustin and Kristen Stewart came up with the idea.

“It was actually to bring kind of an awareness of farm to fork to Fresno. We were up in San Francisco working in a few different restaurants that were really proud of doing local and organic and we thought it was kind of funny that when we’d look at the boxes all the boxes were coming from Fresno and the surrounding areas.  I grew up here and never really saw a restaurant doing anything that really celebrated the produce of the Valley.”

Through Creative Fresno vendors began to meet at a single location on the Fulton Mall in Downtown Fresno, and over the course of several months the weekly event transpired into a second spot in North Fresno with eats ranging from the Dusty Bun, tamales, Vietnamese burritos and personal caramel apple pies.

CartHop puts a strong emphasis on all things local.

“Local eats, local art, local music. So we like to tie those three things to bring about a pride to the Fresno and the Valley that’s not currently here, but we’re working towards that direction.”

Steele say’s that between key intersections and local fare the multi-day weekly event is becoming tremendously popular. In late January, the regional endeavor added another stop in downtown, this time by the water tower at Eaton Plaza.

David Peters, a Fresno City College student and a CartHop first timer says he thinks the idea behind food trucks will bring about necessary conversation for revitalizing the region.

“It fosters a sense of community and hopefully if people keep on showing up that real community will happen and I think one of the best places to really get to know people is over food.”

Steele says the vision behind CartHop is part foodie with an aim for the betterment of downtown.

“At one point downtown was the city center and was vibrant and booming and this is just one of the many efforts in trying to get back to that place once again.”

The group also hopes to awaken a greater food culture in the region.

“If you can’t do food here in the Valley here with all the food we have then I don’t know where you can do it so hopefully we get people starting to think about where their food comes from.”

That was Andy Hansen-Smith the board chair for Creative Fresno.

Steve Skibbie, a local photographer who has been to almost every CartHop event says he believes CartHop is changing the way the community views food.

“I think there is a change in how people are accessing their food or what they’re  expecting. I think people are coming to these things, these are gourmet trucks, these aren’t just standard food trucks and so the food is locally grown and locally prepared. So it’s not fast food even though it’s coming out of a truck and I think it changes people’s perception of food.”

Sarah Pomare, the city of Fresno’s grant writer, stopped by the CartHop at Eaton plaza for lunch. She ordered a short-rib burrito.

“I think it’s a great idea. It’s a great way to get people that work downtown to come out and explore something different.”

In the coming weeks CartHop will feature a weekly local ingredient that each vendor will make use of in their fare. Think seasonal, and with spring around the corner expect leafy greens and maybe an early batch of strawberries.

The group hopes that within a year a fourth and possible fifth stop could be added to the weekly foodie routine and that in ten years food trucks will be part of the everyday hustle of a booming downtown.

But for now CartHop will gather from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Tuesday in north Fresno at Riverpark Village Courtyard East, Thursday’s on the Fulton Mall and Friday’s at Eaton Plaza. 

Ezra David Romero is an award-winning radio reporter and producer. His stories have run on Morning Edition, Morning Edition Saturday, Morning Edition Sunday, All Things Considered, Here & Now, The Salt, Latino USA, KQED, KALW, Harvest Public Radio, etc.
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