For over a decade, Civic Center Eats has marked the beginning of summer in downtown Denver, with food trucks lining up in Civic Center Park to serve midday meals to people working downtown. But in 2020, the downtown lunch crowd all but disappeared while the pandemic kept most offices closed. Civic Center Eats made a delayed debut in August with new, COVID-era social distancing guidelines and a big change: dinner hours. It was an experimental move then, but it's sticking with those expanded hours for the 2021 season, which kicked off June 1.
"Coming out of the pandemic, we believe now is the time to see how Civic Center Eats is going to evolve to better serve the community," explains Eric Lazzari, executive director of the Civic Center Conservatory, which puts on the event. (Note: Westword is a sponsor.)
From now through the end of September, Civic Center Eats will take place every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Securing vendors for the 2021 series has been a challenge, Lazzari admits, but he says he expects "slow growth as food trucks become available and have a chance to clear their schedules." Mobile food vendors have been hustling since the pandemic hit, partnering with bars and breweries throughout the shutdowns and filling their schedules with outdoor markets and other pop-up opportunities.
Committing to an eight-hour shift three days a week is a big ask for trucks, especially since their operators are facing the same hiring shortages as restaurants. But as the downtown lunch and dinner crowds return, Lazzari expects Civic Center Eats to grow as well. "It's about finding that right balance of giving the variety that customers want and making sure it's successful for the food trucks as well," he says.
Original by Greeks co-owner Vaja Telo is back for her fourth season of Civic Center Eats. "This is the reason many of us could become successful and expand," she notes, "so we are happy to return."
The lineup will change daily depending on food truck availability; the current lineup includes Original by Greeks, Cirque Kitchen, Peaceful Creations, X'tabai Yucateco Mayan Street Food, Gyros King and Cheese Love Grill. Many of the trucks offer an order-ahead option via the Civic Center Eats website as well as QR codes on site, but you can also order from the trucks in person.
The Civic Center Conservatory is planning additional programming this summer, including the return of weeknight outdoor fitness classes the second week of June.
"Downtown is ready," Lazzari says, and the return of Civic Center Eats is "a strong signal to the community that we're back and operating."
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