by Tom Sims
Tom Sims has been covering the Tower District and Downtown Fresno for KRL for the past couple of years so we have decided to turn this into a monthly column which will go up every second weekend of the month. We are also adding to the mix articles on Old Town Clovis. We feel these are three areas in this Valley that are filled with history, culture and interesting stories. So join us each month as Tom goes Strolling Through Town!
CArtHop calls itself, “Real Food, Real Good.”
That, it is, but it is more.
It is community. It is people. It is something healthy, natural, delicious, and people-building at its core. The organizers describe themselves this way:
“CArtHop is a series of weekly events that highlight local eats, local music, and local art. We’ll have some of the best food trucks in the Valley out at locations all around Fresno, all serving food made with local ingredients.”
Kristin and Dustin Stewart met in Long Beach, were engaged in Ohio, married in San Francisco, and then transported to Fresno on what they call a “culinary adventure!” While looking for restaurant space, the culinary couple found a classic 1975 taco truck. They transformed it into the Dusty Buns Bistro and hit the road.
The only problem is that they were not welcome to park anywhere for long.
After navigating the local ordinances, they caught a vision for something that could encourage other rolling gourmet wagons and they approached Creative Fresno. One group could sponsor a weekly event where several such trucks could park together for a great festival/feast. So CArtHop was born out of Dustin’s generosity.
Last Friday afternoon, at Eaton Park in downtown Fresno, the trucks were parked in the shadow of the historic old Water Tower. There I met H Steele, Program Coordinator of CArtHop, a program of Creative Fresno. The “carts” were there and so were the people, gathered under canopies, out in the open, on park benches, and throughout the park, eating, reveling in the flavors, laughing, and conversing.
The idea that originated with Dustin Stewart is being developed by H Steele. Creative Fresno has a sustainable business plan that insures that everyone wins, even the “brick and mortar” restaurants that the CArtHop people want to succeed.
And the spelling is correct–it is about Carts, but it is also Art and it is a Hop.
With three locations, the downtown event targets the people who live and work there. There is always entertainment.
D.J. mrleonard loves playing the tunes and being part of the community. He provides, “Music for those who listen.” His enthusiastic smile and hearty handshake are a bonus!
There are five to six vendors, volunteers, and food! For volunteers, CArtHop has collaborated with Hands On Central California. In fact, they have collaborated with as many entities as possible including the City of Fresno, the Lowell Neighborhood Association, and local businesses.
H Steele has a passion for filling underutilized space. He also has a sense of community, and a taste for local, wholesome food. To be a CArtHop vendor, a business must use at least 50% locally grown food from the Central Valley and offer 75% scratch made dishes.
The atmosphere in the park is festive. That is true almost every week downtown.
“Fresno is positioned to pride itself in what we do best,” stated Steele. He is very supportive of the downtown dream.
Did he mean food and friendliness?
There was a long line at Dusty Buns Bistro where Kevin recommended the very popular burger. “It’s been crazy today,” he observed. The burgers had been flying out the window.
The line at Summertime Pies was all smiles and laughs. John and Sherry Liles have been at it for a year. John retired a little over a year ago. Then it was time to go back to work offering sweet and savory fried and baked pies.
“We meet a lot of good people out here,” John remarked.
An enthusiastic young lady named Upendo was standing a few feet away and said, “I give it a ten!” She works at the state building and was feasting on strawberry shortcake.
I had the cream cheese strawberry pie.
Mattie’s Mobil Wood Fired Pizza and Catering was irresistible. Matthew Wolcott has experimented with pistachio pizza, peanut butter, and other exotic ingredients. He has the whole family involved. Dad, Mike, is very proud of his son and works with him, having retired recently from the sugar beet business. Matt’s oven was imported from Italy. The food is Neapolitan.
“It is good dough, but it is not all about the dough,” says Matt, who will roll his oven and tent to your event. “We are working on getting a full trailer.” That will be great, but the lack thereof does not affect the food quality. I had the blue cheese and caramelized onion pizza. It was hard to fight back the tears of sheer delight and pleasure.
Across the lawn was TakoBbq. It is a Korean/Mexican fusion experience being discussed on Facebook at length. I had a kimchi quesadilla. In the words of Eun Joo Mullings, who runs the business with her husband, Tony, “It’s gooey and crunchy.
They started developing the concept a year ago.
All the prices are reasonable, most in the $5-$7 range for plenty of food.
Each of the vendors has high marks for CArtHop and how it helps their business and the community, and is just plain fun.
Benaddiction’s delightful young attendant Nathalie amplified that sentiment remarking that everyone comes to the gathering happy and remains happy. “That’s how it should be.”
Benaddiction calls itself “Breakfast that rocks,” but it touts a full menu. Nathalie sold me on the Watermelon Strawberry Fresca. It is simple: watermelon and strawberry purees with water and served with a smile. Delicious!
One of the surprising things about the weekly gala is how everyone is willing to talk–just like community.
Tammy and Ryan looked happy as they started out of the park area. They often eat at Benaddiction on weekends when it is parked near their house. They have noticed how downtown is really cleaning up. They were happy.
Annalise and Vivian were also happy and were ready to talk. They had been sampling for a while. For them, the day was a social event as well as a feast. Vivian has been an advocate for community, healthy food, sustainability (and good books ) for years. Annalise is right behind her, studying English at a local college, she exuded enthusiasm for what was happening around us.
We also did some valuable networking around several important causes.
It was pretty difficult to pull myself away from them and everyone else. CArtHop is more than a place to eat; it is a place to meet and meeting is what community is all about.
Visit CArtHop on these days at these locations:
• Riverpark Tuesdays: 10am-2pm, 265 East River Park Circle
• Downtown Thursdays: 10am-2pm, 1243 Fulton Mall
• Eaton Mall Downtown (by the Water Tower); Fridays: 10am-2pm
You can find more of Tom’s Tower District and Downtown Fresno articles here.