DALLAS — A once-vacant lot in South Dallas has been transformed into a vibrant, temporary mobile food park.
The hope for the MLK Food Park is to help further the conversation around permitting more affordable, low barrier, rapidly deployable food vending options. The City of Dallas focuses the majority of its mobile vending policy on traditional food trucks, not alternatives like shipping containers and food trailers, which have a lower barrier of entry.
The pop-up park is the brainchild of the nonprofit The Better Block, as part of The Real Estate Council's Dallas Catalyst Project, and will provide much needed community space for the historic Forest District.
According to The Better Block, a mobile food park is an untested concept in Dallas, so MLK Food Park is a “testing ground” for culinary entrepreneurs to showcase their creations. There will be on-site surveys to gauge community feedback to help move the project toward potential permanency.
"We're going to gather feedback from folks and see what works and what doesn't work,” said The Better Block Executive Director, Krista Nightengale. "And then we can take all of these findings and give them to the city and give them to the property owners and give them to different folks in the area and talk about what this space could be more permanently.”
The vendors of the park will rotate daily, with dozens of South and southern Dallas food and merchandise vendors, local performers and programming partners sharing their talents over the four weekends. Each day will have new faces, flavors and sounds.
“We talked to the community and we heard that they wanted green space. They wanted creative seating, and they also wanted some sit down restaurants with healthy food options. So bringing all of those things into the space is kind of what we've been working on over the past year,” Nightengale said. “And then, when the food park isn't officially open anymore, it will still be open with the seating, we’ll have some card games and some different things like that out here, so that the community continue to use the space.”
The MLK Food Park is located at 1611 Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd and will be open April 9 – May 2, every Friday from 6-8pm, and Saturday and Sunday from 11am-2pm.
One of the food vendors getting the opportunity to showcase her culinary creation is Nikita Seal. She runs ZZ’s Ice Cream Puffs, a food trailer named after her 5-year-old twins, Ziah and Zion. An ice cream puff is a creation she thought of two years ago. It's Blue Bell ice cream nestled in the center of a warm donut and topped with any cereal of your choice.
"I love ice cream, specifically Blue Bell, I grew up on Blue Bell ice cream. ZZ's is inspired by a California treat. I'm always in Los Angeles, and I found a shop that does something similar and I said, ‘Hmmm, Dallas doesn't have anything like this.' So I promised myself, I said, if I ever figure out how to do this, I’m going to start a business like this,” Seal said.
ZZ’s been up and running since November 2020, a passion project for Seal after she realized the corporate world wasn’t her cup of tea. Before that, Seal spent a decade in the military and was able to go to school for business.
"The military is really structured, I'm not really a person who likes to fit in a box and be told what to do, clearly. I think I did about 10 years in the military, and after that, I went to corporate. Also boxed in, you know, that mundane day-to-day life, that is just not for me,” Seal said. "Once COVID happened and I was laid off, it just created so much freedom for me to do as I please. And what better way to be free than to have a restaurant on wheels? I really looked at COVID as an opportunity.”
Seal also has a mental health awareness podcast that she promotes called, Anxiety is a Mutha! Her “puffateers,” which is what her employees are called, all wear shirts promoting the brand.
"We have Anxiety is a Mutha!, so customers come, they connect with Anxiety is a Mutha! So this is really a one-stop shop for community, for laughs, for positive energy, good vibes, healing, health. Like there's just so much you get when you come to ZZ’s. And I'm hoping that we can add that to the community at the MLK Park,” Seal said.
Seal is excited for this new venture at the MLK Food Park and hopes it turns into a staple for the South Dallas community. She hopes her story will inspire others like her to “step out on faith” and challenge themselves with new opportunities.
"I believe that when you step out on faith, like, people are inspired by that. And I knew the inspiration behind me being a single mother of 5-year-old twins would be enough for another single mom to be like, ‘You know what, I'm going to come out and support that. Me being a young Black female, other young Black females are going to come out. Me being prior military like, you know, it's just that community, my life, the steps that I have taken. That's why I'm very intentional about the details of my life that I've shared because I know people resonate with those stories.”