Closing time for the South Congress food trailers


Guillermo Hernandez

James Anthony “Tony” Johnson converses with Felipe Abovazi and Debbie Rice at the South Congress food trailer park. Johnson has been playing next to the “Hey Cupcake!” trailer for over six years but will be forced to move along with the trailer after South By Southwest.

Hannah Smothers

— A column by Hannah Smothers — 

Despite the technically temporary nature of the food trailers that reside on the lot between Milton and Monroe Streets on South Congress Avenue, the mobile eateries have become somewhat of an Austin landmark. 

Visiting tourists from across the country come to sample the smorgasbord of multi-cultural selections the trailers have to offer. Locals peruse the scattered selection to search for something new or to satisfy a cupcake craving. But the iconic lot’s days are numbered.

Shortly after South by Southwest is over, the trailers will be forced to vacate the premises to make way for yet another hotel. 

The whole thing reeks of irony. SOCO ATX Development is literally removing a tourist destination to make room for more tourists. It makes no sense, and to be honest, it hurts my feelings.

What about people like me, Austin? We live here, you know. We pay your increasing property taxes, we drink your water, we dine at your locally owned restaurants and we proudly wear our shirts with “Keep Austin Weird” scrawled across the back whenever we travel to some other inferior city. We do all this for you because we love you, and then you go and break our hearts.

The food trailer park on South Congress is more than a tourist destination to us. It’s a conglomeration of everything good and weird about this city. Where else are trailer parks encouraged? Where else can I buy a sandwich that was made inside of a bus? 

Austin told us to keep this city weird, and we’re trying. But it is getting difficult lately.

Sure, the trailers will relocate, but will it ever be the same? I love having The Mighty Cone around the corner from me, but there was something romantic about driving through the traffic to South Congress in search of a tortilla filled with coleslaw and deep fried avocado. 

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, either. There’s a petition circulating around that begs SOCO ATX Development to “preserve Austin’s iconic food trailer space.” 

By Sunday night, 691 supporters had electronically signed the petition.

Removing the trailers is one thing, but the lot is also home to a variety of artists who set up tents on weekends and First Thursdays. 

Janet Sarver and her daughter Linda Patil have been selling homemade jewelry and knick-knacks together for years and have been setting up a tent on the South Congress lot since 2011. Patil said they have tried other lots along the street, but the lot between Milton and Monroe has always been the most profitable. 

The upcoming First Thursday in March could be their last on the lot and in Austin altogether. The two are looking to relocate their tent to Gruene Market Days, although they said they greatly prefer the South Congress scene.

You see what you’re doing, Austin? People are being forced to flee to Gruene. Honestly, this is just cruel.

The Mighty Cone jumped ship early by relocating the iconic cone-topped trailer to the new West Campus trailer lot, but many of the trailers still don’t know where they’re going to relocate.

This isn’t the first time SOCO ATX Development has told the food trailers to move along. A 2009 attempt to close the lot failed, and we’ll just have to hope that this one does too. Until I see a hole in the ground, I’ll keep hoping the trailers are staying.

But for now, it looks as though it’s closing time for the trailer lot on South Congress, and to borrow a line from Semisonic, the trailers don’t have to go home, but they certainly can’t stay here.

Look for an in-depth reporting supplement to this story in next week's paper.

Published on February 25, 2013 as "Iconic trailers asked to leave SoCo home".