As Tacoma continues to expand and lives up more and more to its City of Destiny moniker, two local women saw the need for something that will undoubtably make Tacoma even cooler: a semi-permanent collection of food carts, like the pods that have so infamously become synonymous with Portland.
“I always thought it was sad that we don’t have something like this yet,” said Devon Long, co-founder of Chowtown, which celebrated its opening weekend on Friday, Aug. 2, at its location near Tacoma Community College. “We’re a grown-up city. We can have this. We can be cool.”
“If no one else is going to do it, we’re going to do it,” added co-founder Kirsty Kalkhoven.
The two women, who met five years ago on a fundraising committee for their children’s preschool and who had no experience in the food truck realm, decided last year that they would pursue their idea to bring a Portland-like pod to Tacoma and joined Spaceworks’ 12-week Business Planning Cohort to make it happen.
“If you’re going to start a business (in Tacoma) and you don’t know what you’re doing and you need that helping hand, (Spaceworks) is the place to go,” Long said. “That was key for us.”
The program connected Chowtown with the Tacoma Housing Authority (THA), which was seeking someone to make use of vacant land at 1602 S. Mildred St. in the couple of years before THA begins building there. Chowtown agreed to be in the space until construction begins.
Chowtown had a three-day soft opening in early August — during which food trucks, live music, outdoor games, and more was available to visitors — that comes on the heels of another soft opening day in mid-July. Long and Kalkhoven plan to have the pod open Thursday through Sunday come September, at which time TCC students will be back in class and food trucks will be finishing up their booked summer season.
“We’ve been lucky that we’ve had the cooperation of the Tacoma Housing Authority, (as well as) the backing and support of Spaceworks to help us get this up and running,” Long said. “There’s been so much enthusiasm from the community, and it’s really exciting to have that.”
That enthusiasm from Tacomans is part of the reason why Long and Kalkhoven are confident that their vision of Chowtown will be a successful one.
“There’s a lot of people who are trying to build really strong community in Tacoma and support small business owners and new ideas. We’re all working together,” Kalkhoven said. “There’s just a really great energy in Tacoma right now.”
The pod features a variety of vendors, including Boss Mama’s Kitchen, Rain or Shine on Fire, and Thirst Responders, and occasional live music or movie screenings.
Learn more about Chowtown at chowtowntacoma.com.