Food truck park concepts have thrived for decades in cities like Portland, Seattle, and Austin but have yet to garner favor in Colorado. But that could be changing. In February, Wheat Ridge welcomed MoonRise Garden Bar & Food Trucks. The project is the vision of Blaine Baggao—owner of Adobo, a food truck serving Filipino and New Mexican fusion cuisine with a brick-and-mortar location on North Federal Boulevard—in collaboration with landlord David S. Heller and contractor James Anders of Sustainabuilt.

Together, the three transformed a former gas station lot off West 38th Avenue into a food truck park. There, guests can enjoy bites from Adobo’s food truck and up to three other rotating restaurants on wheels while they lounge fireside in one of the 10 pergolas (which can be reserved online) surrounded by greenery installed as part of the community revitalization initiative Renewal Wheat Ridge. There is also a designated play area for kids and the picnic tables have carabiner anchors for dog leashes, making the space pet-friendly.

The walk-up bar features dual sliding windows, one for cocktails and another for beer. The former serves draft brews from local businesses like New Terrain and Station 26, while the latter slings drinks curated by Dylan Zarett, one of Baggao’s longtime collaborators who won Bartender of the Year at Colorado Restaurant Association’s 2023 Industry Spotlight Awards.

Blaine Baggao and Dylan Zarett. Photo courtesy of Blaine Baggao

Baggao says more food truck park concepts like MoonRise haven’t taken off in Colorado because the unpredictable weather can make the business model challenging, and risk-averse landlords and investors don’t bet on local culinary entrepreneurs who pursue unconventional concepts or service formats. Unlike food halls, traditional food truck parks rely on strong relationships between park owners and vendors to keep the experience fresh. That’s why Heller enlisted Baggao, an industry veteran whose resumé includes running the culinary program for events at University of Colorado Boulder’s Folsom Field and launching a food truck event production company called Happy Belly Productions with the help of girlfriend Akasha Arnold and friends Amanda Stoecker and Max Rozier.

Other food truck parks on the Front Range that have shuttered or evolved include Run Westy Run Beer Garden in Westminster, which operated for a few months in 2022 but hasn’t announced a return. Meanwhile, La Plaza Marketplace in Aurora has a few food trucks parked on-site but no longer allows them to gather at a large scale in its parking lot. Instead, the marketplace, which officially opened this spring, has several vendors serving inside.

But there are a couple successful models. Hank Grant and Justin Riley own Rayback Collective in Boulder and Improper City in the RiNo neighborhood, both multi-purpose venues that double as community gathering places. The indoor and outdoor properties—where a rotating roster of food trucks park on-site— encourage patrons to linger to enjoy features such as a daytime coffee bar, a communal workspace, and events like live music, trivia, and stand-up comedy.

The Rayback Collective. Photo by Haley Gray

Despite the eight or so years of success thus far at Rayback Collective and its owners’ gratitude for Boulder city representatives who took a chance on the project, Grant says that the permitting process was “awful.” It wasn’t anyone’s fault. “We just didn’t fit any of [the city’s] boxes,” he says.

In pursuit of a full tavern liquor license, approval for live music, and food truck accessibility, Rayback faced unique zoning complications because of its location near a restaurant, a residential area, and directly off a bike path. “We had to work through the whole city process of petitioning to the mayor and the city council to get a variance and basically have a new law written for us to say in our specific zoning code we can operate and do these sorts of things,” Grant says.

In RiNo, Improper City confronted similar red tape to convert a public alleyway into private space for patrons to cross from the building into the venue’s outdoor space. “Cities naturally want these types of innovative concepts, but the code is not written to adopt something innovative or creative,” Grant says. “If you don’t get champions within the city or within the business community that are willing to take a chance on you, then I think it becomes a very difficult and uphill battle.”

Until recently, Danny Newman, owner of My Brother’s Bar, was stuck in limbo with his new project, Full Tank Food Park, on West Colfax. A collaboration with business partner Lily Walters and Sam Salomon and Jason Haygarth of Moonflower Coffee, Full Tank debuted in November 2023 as a lounge, bar, and food truck park. But just one month into operations, it temporarily closed due to zoning permit issues with the city of Denver.

The Moonflower lounge at Full Tank. Photo by Ethan Pan

In early May, though, Full Tank announced that internal plans to renovate the coffee lounge and bar have been greenlit, so the establishment will close for construction and reopen the coffee shop in fall/winter 2024. Newman says he will apply for the proper external truck permits once the reopening is complete. “We’ve been working closely with the folks at the [city of Denver] to stage what we need to do to really make this a success, long-term,” he says. “And they’re super cool, super open to it. I think they see the opportunity.”

Baggao sympathizes with all those struggling with permits, saying despite his pleasant experience, his past business with Denver city officials moved significantly slower than his current dealings in Wheat Ridge, mostly due to Denver’s comparatively larger business population. At one point, Baggao recalls, the applications went up to state-level officials and stayed in limbo for weeks. At other points, he had to juggle 10 email chains, multiple city hall visits, and daily check-ins with city representatives to obtain his approvals—all the while operating his existing businesses. “It’s like going to the gym after going to the gym after going to the gym, then trying to get your personal record after your third visit,” he laughs.

Adobo at MoonRise. Photo courtesy of Blaine Baggao

Despite the challenges, Baggao believes that the parks are a way to uplift the food truck community here in Colorado through gentler financial metrics. After years of working festivals, farmers’ markets, and community events, he believes that some venues are predatory in setting rental rates and keeping a percentage of vendors’ sales.

While certain venues require food truck owners to pay up to 20 percent of their daily sales to operate on-site, MoonRise generally asks for around 10 percent. In return, MoonRise provides schedule coordination and promotion, not to mention the park itself, whose renovation cost around $250,000. “If I could do it for free, I would,” Baggao says. “We’re opening doors for the food truck community, which is what I’m most proud of.”

In addition to parking his own Adobo truck at MoonRise, Baggao recruits from a network of more than 50 other local vendors who will be announced weekly. “I don’t need to just fill the calendar. We’ll never just do that,” he says “I’m going to be telling stories about some of the coolest entrepreneurs that you have ever met. I know their families, I know how hard they work, and I know how hard it is to do it.”

MoonRise Garden Bar & Food Trucks is located at 6875 W. 38th Ave, Wheat Ridge; for the latest updates, follow the business on Instagram and Facebook.

Chris Marhevka
Chris Marhevka
Chris Marhevka is a freelance writer and a graduate of Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. Follow him at @chrismarhevka on Instagram.