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Arts District Lunch Is Great, But We Need Food Trucks Before Curtain Time

Dallas' busy downtown arts district already caters to the refined tastes of performing arts lovers. But shouldn't it be easier to find food and drink, maybe a stinkin' cup of coffee at street level before shows at the Meyerson, Winspear and Wyly theaters?

The Green House, Jack's Chowhound and Rock and Roll Taco trucks, plus a dozen others, have been drawing hungry crowds during lunch hours on the south side of Flora Street, across from the Meyerson Symphony Center and the Winspear Opera House. This week they had to move back to their original spot closer to the Nasher Sculpture Center at 2121 Flora. ("A bit of a haul," say the Green House guys.)

The City of Dallas is also making the food truckers buy $150 "concessionaire licenses" to park around the Arts District, the only place in town that extra bit of paperwork is required.

That's frustrating to Dallas Arts District Executive Director Veletta Forsythe Lill, who says the city doesn't need to throw any new roadblocks into the public enjoyment of the area, which includes the sprawling AT&T Performing Arts Center, nearby Dallas Museum of Art and other attractions.

"I will work through the system and figure out what laws I need to change and we will do that," says Lill. "If the city really wants to be known for fun, which I have seen referenced, they really need to find a way to make it easier to create fun."

Lill says the presence of the trucks at events like the Patio Sessions outdoor concerts in Sammons Park has spurred business in nearby sit-down restaurants. The 12 trucks at ATTPAC's Spring Break Block Party had steady customers, but that same night the indoor Nasher Cafe also had its highest grossing sales, Lill reports.

The biggest complaints about the Arts District and its outdoor shows have been about restrictions on brought-in food and drink. So starting with the May 2 Gipsy Kings concert at Strauss Square, patrons can haul in their own beverages (including alcohol) and food in soft-sided coolers. Snacks and alcohol are also available at the cafes and concession bars in the Winspear.

"When people can sit outside and enjoy the event and bring their own picnic, they feel more of a sense of ownership in the events and the district," says Lill. "What we're trying to do here is create walkability and event buzz and all of these little changes that we have been doing create that."

Coming in 2013 will be a new coffee shop connected to the external box office between the Meyerson and the Winspear. Right now, coffee is scarce once the workday spots like the Starbucks in Chase Tower and the Pearl Cup in St. Paul Place close around 5 p.m. A non-compete agreement enforced by the 7-Eleven at One Arts Plaza, which also closes early, prevents another coffee purveyor from occupying the east end of the downtown Arts District.

"The three things we've needed here are food, alcohol and coffee, not necessarily in that order. All of these small changes make for big opportunities," says Veletta Lill. And that includes the opportunity to meet the stars of the shows streetside -- though right now only on matinee days. Says Lill, "You could have seen the cast of [Broadway musical] In the Heights eating at the food trucks when they were here."

Looks like it may take more time and paperwork to move the food trucks into the center of things in prime time, but when they get there, it will be good news for theater patrons and music lovers who come to the Arts District hungry for more than an evening of high art.

· All Food Trucks Coverage on Eater Dallas [EDFW]

Winspear Opera House [Photo: ATTPAC]