Zócalo Food Park bolsters MKE entrepreneurs

The+public+square+has+several+mobile+restaurants+offering+a+variety+of+food+options%2C+such+as+hamburgers%2C+Korean-style+bowls%2C+scratch+ice+cream+and+handcrafted+bagels.
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Zócalo Food Park bolsters MKE entrepreneurs

The public square has several mobile restaurants offering a variety of food options, such as hamburgers, Korean-style bowls, scratch ice cream and handcrafted bagels.

The public square has several mobile restaurants offering a variety of food options, such as hamburgers, Korean-style bowls, scratch ice cream and handcrafted bagels.

Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

The public square has several mobile restaurants offering a variety of food options, such as hamburgers, Korean-style bowls, scratch ice cream and handcrafted bagels.

Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

Photo by Katerina Pourliakas

The public square has several mobile restaurants offering a variety of food options, such as hamburgers, Korean-style bowls, scratch ice cream and handcrafted bagels.

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On the corner of 6th and Pierce Streets in Milwaukee neighborhood Walker’s Point is a fenced-in patio with picnic tables and string lights. The patio sits outside an orange, purple and yellow building, and behind that is a line of food trucks.

The building — a tavern — has wood furnishings and an artisanal atmosphere, as well as a bar and seating in the back and on the second floor. A garage-like door provides an additional entryway, natural light and air.

Zócalo Food Park opened July 12. Jesús González, co-owner of the park, said Zócalo is a Spanish word for a square or plaza. He said the aim of the park is to be a gathering space for Walker’s Point.

“There was never a center point where people come together and join in (the community), so we wanted to create the space called Zócalo,” González said.

Zócalo’s slogan is “You Belong.” The Zócalo community tries to embody that in everything it does, González said.

“It’s really about bringing everyone in regardless of their history or their past or their religious beliefs,” González said.

Mariyam Nayeri, the event curator for Zócalo, said it hosts weekly live music events and yoga on Tuesday nights, among other activities.

“We try to be intentional about including all different kinds of performers to join us, so that’s also reflecting the community and inviting other people to come in,” Nayeri said.

Zócalo hosts five permanent food trucks with different styles of food including burgers, ice cream and bagels.

The current lineup consists of burger truck Fontelle’s, Korean-style bowl truck Bowl Cut, Scratch Ice Cream, Mazorca Taco Truck and Ruby’s Bagels.

González said that while there are many food entrepreneurs in Milwaukee, they might not all be able to afford a food truck. This is why they created the incubator truck, which is designated for growing businesses to operate without the added expenses of their own food truck.

“We figure that we can provide that space for them and then coach them along the way,” González said.

The current incubator is Ruby’s Bagels. Owner Daniela Varela said she came up with the idea for Ruby’s Bagels three years ago after a road trip with her boyfriend to Ohio.

“We ended up in a bagel shop over there, and literally those were the best bagels I’ve ever had, and I looked at him and said, ‘We need something like this in Milwaukee that is not a chain and is locally owned,’” Varela said.

After her trip, she said she was determined to find a recipe. She spent a year developing a bagel recipe she is happy with.

Varela works at Ruby’s Bagels six days a week starting at 3 a.m., to open the truck at 7:30 a.m.

Ruby’s Bagels’ slogan is “Spoiled and Boiled,” which refers to the attention she gives to the bagels and intricate process of perfecting them.

“It’s our baby. We’re spoiling our bagels in that sense because any little thing that you do wrong … then all of your bagels are trash,” Varela said. “So, we really like to take care of our bagels … it’s key to have a crusty outside but a chewy and soft inside.”

Valera said she enjoys giving back to her community through Zócalo.

“They’ve made me feel like my product matters and that I could be part of the entrepreneurs and the small businesses, so I feel like they’ve been a huge part of my growth,” Varela said. “I feel like there’s a sense of belonging (at Zócalo), and I’m so close to the community where I pretty much grew up in.”

Faviola Perez Mercado, a sophomore in the College of Engineering, said she visits Zócalo on the weekends. She said the food park offers a variety of options that “you never get tired of.”

While Perez Mercado does not have a car, Milwaukee County Transit System bus route 23 is about a 20-minute ride to Zócalo, making it a perfect scenic spot to go with friends, she said.

She said she also enjoys the fulfilling feeling of helping small businesses.

The experience of going to a food truck rather than a restaurant is different but is more personal, González said.

“A lot of the owners might be inside the food truck, so it’s a completely different experience for the consumer,” González said.

Additionally, food truck owners have more flexibility to “play around” with their menus, he said.

“We really wanted to serve the best in Zócalo, so we like working with entrepreneurs who are really trying to help shape the landscape of food here,” González said. “A lot of the vendors that we have now are first-time food entrepreneurs starting off with a food truck.”

Nayeri said the experience at Zócalo provides something for everyone.

“It’s nice to be able to say come and meet me (at Zócalo), sit down and just enjoy the scene and maybe decide to have a cocktail and some dinner,” Gonzalez said. “You can have a burger, or you can have a taco, or you can have just ice cream, or you can bring your child if you even want, and everybody’s welcome,” González said.

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