City trucking affordable food options into Aspen

City of Aspen contracts with two food truck vendors who will set up shop on Rio Grande Place this summer

To fill the void of an empty restaurant that used to offer affordable options on Rio Grande Place, the city has found two food truck vendors who will set up shop across from Rio Grande Park this summer.

The city last month asked for bids from vendors and it received four, but only two met the criteria the municipal government was asking for, said C.J. Oliver, the city’s director of environmental health and sustainability.

Oliver was charged with finding food truck vendors after Aspen City Council directed staff last month to circumvent the land use code that prohibits vending in a public right-of-way.

The city was able to do that by allowing City Manager Sara Ott to execute a specific vending agreement with would-be operators.

Contracts that mimic leases for outdoor space on the mall were signed by Carlos Hernandez and Megan Thomas, who will operate food trucks with Mexican fare and ice cream, respectively.

They will each pay $1,000 to the city to occupy one parking space along Rio Grande Place, in front of the now defunct Taster’s Pizza, which closed in 2019 to make way for the renovation of city offices.

Oliver said he thought taking on the prospect of finding vendors was going to be complicated and difficult, since the city doesn’t allow food trucks in the public right-of-way unless it’s in specific zones.

“I was worried we weren’t going to get any applicants … we met last Friday and we had two applications that checked the boxes and had everything we wanted,” he said. “I’m really excited and the operators are really excited about this.”

One of the parameters Ott directed Oliver to consider was finding a vendor who would provide affordable fare, like offerings of less than $25 for food and drink.

“I think we are way under that price point,” Oliver said.

Hernandez, owner and operator of Chamos food truck, will offer street tacos, quesadillas, tortas and other Mexican food for between $3 and $20.

He said 100% of the sauces are gluten free and 95% of his ingredients are organic, and he plans to have vegan offerings.

“The city wanted something quick and affordable,” Hernandez said. “We are so grateful we were selected.”

Thomas, who will serve scoop ice cream and ice cream sandwiches out of her renovated vintage horse trailer, said her price point is around $6.

She said she plans to be open by June 30 and will operate at least five days a week, depending on demand.

Hernandez said he plans to open between June 28 and July 1.

Thomas, an Aspen resident who lives near Rio Grande Park, said she hopes the area becomes a community gathering place.

“I’m really about the engagement of the community,” she said. “It’s really a positive thing for the community and I appreciate what the city is doing.”

The contracts specify that the vendors operate from July 1 through September, Oliver said.

“Then we’ll reassess and see if we want to do it in the future,” he said, adding that if it’s deemed successful other locations may be considered. “I think this will be a nice addition.”

Thomas said she thinks so, too.

“I’m really honored to be at the Rio Grande,” she said. “I am hoping for a successful, fun summer.”