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Zócalo Food Truck Park, Milwaukee’s first permanent multi food truck park, continues to grow

Zócalo Food Truck Park became the first permanent multi-food truck park in Milwaukee in 2019. (Photo supplied.)

Zócalo Food Truck Park provides a public gathering place for both food entrepreneurs and Milwaukee residents. 

When Mazorca Tacos owner Jesus Gonzalez and Phelan Development president Sean Phelan opened Zócalo Food Truck Park, their objective was to create a space for local food entrepreneurs to thrive while bringing a slice of American food truck culture to the city. In 2019, Zócalo became the first permanent multi-food truck park in the city. 

“The model of a food truck park was probably more prevalent in places down South,” Phelan said.

He referenced local food truck scenes in Austin, TX, Portland, OR, Florida and open-air food markets in Puerto Rico. Now, there’s one in the historic Walker’s Point neighborhood.

“Walker’s Point is such a unique neighborhood. There’s just so much history there. It’s almost like a little Ellis Island, every immigrant group that came to Milwaukee would establish some sort of roots within that neighborhood,” Gonzalez told Madison365.

Located on South 6th Street, Gonzalez, a first-generation Mexican-American, attended Nativity Jesuit Middle School just two miles away before graduating from Marquette University High School, receiving a culinary arts and business degree from the Culinary Institute of America in New York and returning to Milwaukee to start his own food truck business in 2017. 

“I started selling on right on First and Pittsburgh which is right on the border of Third Ward and Walker’s Point. And through that process of being out there on the street, I started to meet other food entrepreneurs from the city. We started having these conversations, sharing our experiences of the challenges and our aspirations,” Gonzalez said.

Then, the two longtime friends, Gonzalez and Phelan found an opportunity to highlight Milwaukee’s rich community of food entrepreneurs. Phelan, a real estate developer and investor, said that starting a food truck is often more accessible for food entrepreneurs to break into the restaurant industry due to fewer barriers and costs but there are still unique challenges for business owners.

Zócalo Food Truck Park

“The impetus of Zócalo was the conversations that Jesus and I had with regards to, ‘Okay, what are the things that would be valuable? What would make a food truck more efficient or a food entrepreneur more efficient?” Phelan said.

He also highlighted Zócalo programming and winter activations as strategies to keep customers coming throughout all of the seasons. For example, OnMilwaukee will be hosting watch parties here at Zócalo every Wednesday evening in honor of this season of Top Chef Season 21 which is filmed in Wisconsin.

Recently, Zócalo Tavern just underwent a renovation of its interior space, as well. The outdoor park features vendors like Anytime Arepa, Ruby’s Bagels, Las Virellas, Modern Maki, Hot Box Pizza MKE and Scratch Ice Cream

“We really strive for making sure that we have diversity in the different food offerings so that there isn’t any major overlap,” Phelan said.

Last month, Zócalo announced a new partnership with Sandu, a food trailer by s’BLENDID Boba Tea. Sandu menu will include a Korean Fried chicken sandwich and a Japanese Chicken Katsu Sando (sandwich).

Sandu along with others are participants of Zócalo’s food incubator program. The program provides entrepreneurs with resources such as giving them access to a food truck, helping business owners go through the licensing process and assistance with a business plan.

“We started when we first opened up back in 2019 and we have really good examples of  entrepreneurs that have kind of gone through the process, graduated and moved on to buying their own food truck or a brick-and-mortar,” Gonzalez said.