Kelsey Renfro, who lives in the West End of Hartford, joined other members of that community on Friday afternoon to check out the newest eating place: WestSide Square, a food truck park on Farmington Avenue.
“This is awesome. We are super excited. It’s nice to see a local business here rather than a McDonald’s,” Renfro said.
Emily McKenna, also an area resident, agreed. She enjoyed ham and cheese croquettes bought from one of the trucks.
“I can’t wait to see when the sun goes down and all these lights come on,” she said. “It will be such a visual lift for the community.”
WestSide Square was able to have its grand opening Friday after a long delay due to zoning, permitting and construction glitches.
Co-developers Quan and Rebeca Quach finally got the permits on Thursday. They quickly called some food-truck friends and a band to introduce their vision to the community. Throughout the opening day, the Quaches accepted handshakes, congratulations and thank yous from West End neighbors.
The park, at 510 Farmington Ave. on the corner of Farmington and Girard Avenues, will be open from 4 to 9 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday.
The trucks on opening day were The Rolling Roti, which specializes in Guyanese food such as goat curry and wraps with chana and pumpkin; and Brazilian Gula, well known in the area for their stall in Parkville Market food hall, which sells dishes like churrasquinho, feijoada, coxinhas and Brazilian Guarana Antarctica soda.
Curbside Vibes, which sells wings, rice bowls, burgers and wraps, also was scheduled but had mechanical issues with its truck.
Quan Quach said he has about 16 to 17 trucks interested in participating in the rotation. The truck and entertainment lineup will be listed on WestSide Square’s Facebook and Instagram pages every morning.
The park has a central pergola, a stage and seating on huge wooden wire spools. A wall of various sizes of windows separates the park from the street. Quan Quach used repurposed materials.
Local resident Robert Page said he especially appreciates this aspect of the park.
“Seeing all this scrap put together piece by piece by piece and be transformed into something like this just inspires me and makes me proud,” Page said. “I’ve been watching this empty lot for years. To see this happen gives me hope, to see people with vision build this.”
Early in the afternoon, parents sat at the tables while children played under the shaded pergola. They ate and enjoyed giant games of Jenga, Connect 4 and ping-pong. They gathered around the tall coolers full of ice water, a welcome relief from the 90-plus degree heat.
Later in the evening, Kenyon, a band made up of Joseph Linhart, Aaron Patterson, Peter Kennedy and David Reynolds, took the stage and performed.
The opening of the park in that location was not without its drama. The lot was the focus of a nine-year lawsuit against the city that began when the lot’s owners were blocked from building a McDonald’s with a drive-through. The suit was settled last year in the owners’ favor, long after McDonald’s lost interest in the site.
A few weeks ago, the city of Hartford announced it would buy the lot, to the surprise of the Quaches. At the time of that announcement, city officials said they were looking for a developer who would build a mixed-use retail and apartment building there.
The Quaches have a month-to-month lease. Quan Quach said he is not worried.
“I have faith in the neighborhood people and the city to love us and want us to stick around,” he said.
That strip has a Burger King, a KFC and a Subway restaurant. “Absolutely everybody in the neighborhood is glad it’s not a McDonald’s,” McKenna said.
Quan Quach said he has a liquor license and in a few weeks he will open a small bar on the site. After a few more months, he will bring in a decommissioned Philadelphia tourist bus to be home to the permanent, larger bar.
The food truck operators are excited to have a new place to sell their food.
“I think it’s dope. The whole design aesthetic, the wood and stuff, has an old-school kind of feel,” said Drew Baharally, co-owner of Rolling Roti.
Adeilton deCarvalho, owner of Brazilian Gula, hopes the park helps to revitalize the city.
“This will bring back life to the neighborhood,” he said. “This will excite people and give them a positive attitude. We need things like this to bring people from all towns into Hartford.”
It brought in Daniel Hernandez from Springfield.
“It showed up somewhere online and I thought it sounded cool,” he said, as he munched on chicken tenders. “They have a nice set up here. It’s a good place to bring kids.”
Other than the trucks, no motorized vehicles are allowed on the property. Visitors can arrive by foot or by bicycle.
Susan Dunne can be reached at email@example.com