GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The stage was under a tarp, weighed down by trash cans.
While organizer Ed Gaw and his crew should have been preparing for another Food Truck Friday, he knew the overcast and the ever-increasing wind didn’t look great, especially with more than 70 signs for event-goers and trash cans, along with clearing the road for the 13 food trucks.
To loosely paraphrase Mark Twain, the fears were exaggerated. Once the threatening weather cleared, Gaw was busy coordinating the food trucks as people trickled in, setting down coolers and unfolding lawn chairs. You also could spot every breed of dog.
Gaw has probably walked Walnut Street 100 times from the vendors on the south end to the entertainment at the north end, a band called Vox.
“The success of the event is the sum of its parts,” Gaw said.
Jocquelyn Neibauer went with Kimberly Underhill. Neibauer said she loved the community feel.
“I love it,” Neibauer said. “It’s really cool to see everyone come out in a small town like this.”
The two were about to figure out which food truck to visit. Underhill lived in Middleburg and was impressed by the turnout.
“This is really awesome,” Underhill said. “I’m upset Middleburg doesn’t do stuff like this.”
Rick and Sue Burkett have lived in Green Cove Springs for 30 years. They've been to multiple Food Truck Fridays. They both prefer the Cuban food truck.
“There’s a good variety of music. There’s something for everybody,” Rick Burkett said.
“The kids behave themselves,” Sue Burkett said. “The adults, too.”
The first Food Truck Friday was held last summer on two vacant lots owned by Gaw and Van Royal. About 400 people attended.
Recent Food Truck Fridays have attracted more than 3,000 people, Royal said.
“We said, ‘Let’s have fun with them and have a Food Truck Friday,’” Gaw said. “We had three food trucks. We had to pay each of them $500 just to show up.”
Gaw said he knew the event would soon be huge because the lots were barren, but people still came. The lots eventually were sold to the Clay Theatre for parking. Gaw and Royal looked to Spring Park for a venue. The city agreed, lending half of the park.
“[The city] said, ‘We’re going to be watching you.’ We were all right with that and the rest is history,” Gaw said. “We got so many people out, the city let use the rest of the park.”
Royal, who is also Green Cove’s Vice-Mayor, said the original idea with Food Truck Friday was to show people the park.
“[Gaw] said we’ve got a showpiece and let’s get them in here with food truck so they can see the park,” Royal said.
The monthly event has become so popular, Royal said bands are already contacting them to set entertainment dates for 2020.
Before the event moved to the park, Royal said he and Gaw wanted an easy-going family affair, rather than something rowdy. Neither knew how fast it would grow.
“It grew nicely, with support from the council,” Royal said. “Now it’s big to the point where we hope it doesn’t grow too much more.”
The clearest benefit of the event is attracting people to the city and the park like the Clay Theatre, and the annual events such as the Memorial Day RiverFest or the CalaVida Arts Festival.
“The main thing was getting people down here. We think we have the best park in Northeast Florida,” Royal said. “The byproduct of this has been we’ve got people coming back on Sundays and Saturdays and using the park. They had no idea we had a pool and they go, ‘This is so great.’”
This was Terri Davis’ first event and she said would be coming back after hearing about it from a friend.
“We’ll probably do this every month,” she said.
Looking for a food truck and spoiled for choice, Jason Ridener and Jenny Wagner also brought their families out for the first time.
“It’s bigger than I thought,” Wagner said. “I think it’s really nice.”
“I think it’s good for the community to get together like this, listen to music and have a good time,” Ridener said. “It’s very family friendly.”
The next Food Truck Friday is July 12.