Big Idea: Big-world eats in little Asheville

Bibimbap and kimchi is coming: El Kimchi, a Korean-Mexican amalgamation, will make its debut at the Coxe food-truck court this year. Photo by Bill Rhodes

Asheville is poised to get its first dedicated food-truck food court early this year, marking the first time that truck owners will be allowed to vend in the central business district (besides during festivals and special events). The Coxe Avenue parking lot, nearing completion at press time, will accommodate four food trucks at once, with a rotating selection of about 10 vendors.

Nate Kelly, who owns the Lowdown food truck (specializing in big sandwiches with bigger flavor), believes that the lot will be a draw to people who might not otherwise spend money in downtown, like office workers who tend to brown bag it. It also has the potential to draw tourists into lesser-visited parts of downtown, he says.

"I think it will be a destination, which is why we all wanted to be there together," Kelly says. "I felt like one rogue truck here, one rogue truck there wouldn't really pull people the way that a food court would. It's just going to add to the eclectic nature of downtown."

Kelly says the lot will offer ethnic foods hard to find elsewhere in Asheville. The core group of food trucks includes the Pink Taco Truck, owned by Marni Graves and the Lebanese street food of Gypsy Queen Cuisine, owned by Suzy Phillips.

Visiting trucks include one that offers vegetarian Venezuelan specialties, like veggie arepas, as well as fresh juice and soy smoothies. Phoyabelly will offer pho and other Vietnamese specialties. A grilled-cheese truck, a brick-oven pizza truck and an all-vegan, gluten-free food truck called Veggie Love are all expected to join the fleet at one time or another, Kelly reports.

El Kimchi, a Korean-Mexican amalgamation, will make its debut at the Coxe food court. While Korean and Mexican may seem like an unusual combination to some, the concept is prevalent in larger cities. In fact, some credit the rise in popularity of the gourmet food truck to the Korean-Mexican Kogi BBQ-To-Go, operated by Roy Choi in Los Angeles. Choi, sometimes referred to as the "godfather of street food," famously utilized Twitter to broadcast the whereabouts of his truck, prompting Newsweek to dub Kogi "America's first viral eatery." (Incredibly, the use of the word "viral" when referring to an eating establishment did nothing to diminish Kogi's popularity.)

"You go to bigger cities, there's at least one Korean barbecue truck there right now," says Jimmy Lee, who will help his parents (Don and Chung, both born in Korea) operate the truck with the assistance of his sister, Iris. Chung, the matriarch of the family, is a trained chef who owned two different restaurants in South Korea for more than 10 years. "My mom makes the best kimchi in the world," Lee says. "Some kimchis you buy at supermarkets are Americanized. We try to use local produce as much as we can. It's authentic kimchi that no one else in Asheville makes."

The already established food-truck family has been more than gracious, Lee says. "It's so great to see these people who hadn't met before these food trucks started, but now we're all together, working as one team," Lee says. "And kudos to them. We're hoping to do everything we can do to help them. It's going to help our business, and we think it's going to help Asheville."

And the food-truck vendors may have more in store than food, says Kelly.

"The further along we get, the bigger and better we can make the lot," Kelly says. "Maybe we can put a stage in there at one point." Doing so would enable Asheville to host outdoor nighttime events similar to Atlanta's Street Food Soiree or Austin's Foodspotting South-by-Southwest Street Food Fest.

"We're eventually wanting to do a street-food festival," says Kelly. "Maybe once, twice a year. That's definitely in the works. We're all very, very ambitious and have lots of crazy, big ideas. But right now, we're just taking it one step at a time."

The food-truck court will be located at 51 Coxe Ave.

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