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It Takes a Village

St. Augustine gets a food truck park

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Brendan and Kelly Schneck hatched the plot in Hawaii. The couple had met while attending Flagler College and moved to the Central Pacific after graduation. They spent those first few professional years working for a wilderness therapy program for at-risk youth.

“So much self-care starts with the food you put in your body,” said Kelly, as she showed Folio Weekly around their just-opened St. Augustine food truck park, The Village Garden. “That’s when we got the idea for Big Island Bowls. Now we’re known as the healthy food truck.”

They returned to Kelly’s native Northeast Florida five years ago, and Big Island Bowls was born. First it was a local food truck, then it became a Gainesville restaurant. Most recently, the business that Brendan and Kelly built became the anchor of The Village Garden.

The Garden, which opened Dec. 15, features four permanent food trucks and a coffee window, as well as space for two rotating food trucks. A central court provides seating in the form of roughly a dozen bistro-style tables and chairs. The open-air space will eventually host live music and other events.

Joining Big Island Bowls on the half-acre plot is another Schneck truck, New York Beach Bagel (Brendan celebrates his NY roots by importing fresh bagels from the Empire State), and a hand-picked selection of friends: Pele’s Wood Fire, Funkadelic and The Loving Cup.

“We were already super-familiar with all of them,” Brendan explained. “We wanted to bring in the best food trucks we could. Everyone who's here is super-talented and excellent at their crafts. And it’s not stuff you can get everywhere. I mean, there are something like 328 food trucks registered in Jacksonville alone. We've been in this long enough that we know which truck owners we wanted to work with.”

The Schnecks originally had their eye on St. Augustine Beach real estate, but that city’s council rebuffed their overtures. The current site is a compromise, situated over the Bridge of Lions and beyond the St. Augustine Lighthouse, but just shy of the Beach border. The St. Johns County land was previously blighted by the derelict hulk of Big Joe’s Restaurant. The Village Garden team had to rezone and redevelop the property. The entire process took some two years from start to finish, but Kelly reckons it's well worth it.

“We saw a need for this,” she said. “It’s hard being a food truck owner. There’s literally nowhere you're legally allowed to set up and conduct business.”

And, although the concept of a permanent locale seems to defeat the purpose of wheels, the Schnecks’ fellow food-truckers are enjoying their slice of terra firma.

“You’ve got pros and cons with food trucks,” says Matt Tierney, owner of Pele’s Wood Fire. On one hand, you’re mobile so you can go where the action is. “But that leads to immense wear and tear. [The food truck park] is a beautiful thing, because you have the resources here. That lets you focus on capturing an audience.”

The Village Garden’s resident barista Matt Lennon knows all about the trials and tribulations of life on the road. The owner of The Loving Cup, which occupies the Garden’s sole ‘storefront’ (a 70-square-foot coffee kiosk), is happy to be sedentary.

“I've had two coffee trucks,” Lennon confided. “Sold my first; second bit the dust in Michigan. Highways up there aren't friendly! I had outfitted an Airstream just in time to hit a huge pothole ... We got all twisted up. It was a mess, so I just let it go.”

Like his Village Garden partners, however, Lennon’s ramblin’ and rovin’ days aren’t entirely finished. He intends to continue working music festivals around the country. (“That’s my bread-and-butter,” he said.) The Schnecks are also ready to venture out when opportunities present themselves. They have a second Big Island Bowls food truck dedicated to catering and events.

Tierney finds Brendan and Kelly’s concept as rejuvenating for visitors as it is for vendors.

“Their vision with this fixed location is a fresh idea,” he said. “It offers a variety of food at a set location. You’ve got your variety plus your staples. People like that kind of consistency.”

The Schnecks are also betting the location and atmosphere will appeal to locals and tourists alike.

“It's being able to enjoy a fresh, local meal outdoors in a community space,” Kelly said. “It's really cool how many people are biking and skateboarding here, bringing their families and pets, showing up in their swimsuits. Everyone appreciates the beachy outdoor vibe: family, friends and a bunch of great food.”

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