The Town Council, with Councilman Ted Driscoll absent, voted 4-0 on Wednesday, Aug. 28, to approve a staff recommendation that opens the door for market manager Maggie Foard to offer hot food, provided it is not from food trucks.
Of the four hot-food options not involving food trucks that San Mateo County allows at farmers' markets — hot dogs, sweet-and-salty popcorn, tamales and RoliRoti Gourmet Rotisserie chicken — Ms. Foard said she is most likely to offer tamales from a food cart and chicken. RoliRoti travels by truck, but sets up a counter outside the truck from which to serve its chickens.
Food trucks per se are not out of the picture. The council prohibits food trucks from farmers' markets in deference to concerns from in-town food vendors about the competition, but in deference to the growing popularity in the community for the diversity of choices that these trucks represent, the council gave staff the discretion to invite the trucks to town-sponsored special events.
Food trucks have been present at Portola Valley's three outdoor summer concerts this year and are expected at the Sept. 19 concert.
A staff report from Brandi de Garmeaux, who manages the town's sustainability initiatives, lists 39 special events over the next 12 months, including concerts, speaker presentations, model-airplane Flight Night, teen movies and even Sudden Oak Death workshops. Not all events will generate a critical mass of attendees that would justify food trucks, Ms. de Garmeaux said, adding: "We will be selective."
Staff also proposed a concept called Sharing Supper, a monthly event at Town Center for whoever wants to attend and pay for a catered meal. The council put that off on the grounds that staff has enough to do already in the area of community building initiatives.
Staff reports show the Portola Valley farmers' market to be quite popular, but is it popular enough? To maintain the market's momentum for both vendors and customers, one step Ms. Foard is exploring is not taking a winter break, which would implicitly ask customers to drive to an outdoor venue to shop for vegetables when it is cold and/or wet.
"Lots of people arrive expecting something to eat," Ms. Foard said. "The addition of ready-to-eat foods brings more people to the market. ... If the farmers' market is to survive the winter, there needs to be enough foot traffic."
Having hot prepared food on hand would be a potential big plus. "It's tempting if there is something to eat," Ms. Foard said. "It's tempting if this something is hot."
RoliRoti operates under the same county food-truck permit used by all food trucks, but there is a difference, said Dean Peterson, the director of the San Mateo County Environmental Health Department. The truck is "very special," he said. RoloRoti "spent years getting that (truck) permitted."
Asked to elaborate, Mr. Peterson replied in an email: "From what I remember, (there were food safety) issues that we and many other counties raised when (RoloRoti) first came onto the scene. It was with the involvement of the state that a compromise was reached that required food safety plans and processes in lieu of having a vehicle that strictly followed the code."
"Rotisystems," says the company's 2010 food safety handbook provided to the Almanac by Mr. Peterson, "believes that we have a commitment with the public to produce not only high quality chicken but also product that is safe and wholesome when it is finally eaten. For this reason, we have been working closely with the State of California and other food professionals to upgrade our operations to protect the pubic health."
With the council's latest decision, rotisserie chicken meals — meals that include roasted potatoes and roasted vegetables — are coming, starting with the Sept. 19 market, Ms. Foard said in an email.
As for the tamales, she said she has yet to line up a vendor for Portola Valley. If there is demand for hot dogs, she said she would look for artisan hot dogs made from grass-fed beef.
Ms. Foard also manages two weekly farmers' markets in Woodside: at Skylonda on Wednesday afternoons and in the parking lot of the Woodside Elementary School on Sundays.