Sunny Days Ahead For This City's Food Trucks According to Steph Smith, her gig Sunny Days is 'a socially responsible, environmentally friendly, community supporting, pandemic-proof independent restaurant incubator'
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While the end of the pandemic is seemingly within reach, the future of indoor dining is uncertain. More than 110,000 restaurants have already closed and a staggering 37 per cent don't think they can remain open another six months without government intervention, according to a recent report released by The National Restaurant Association.
Despite the uncertainty, Steph Smith, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer, is doubling down with a multi-million dollar investment in a specific segment of the restaurant industry: food trucks and food truck facilities. Food truck hits have been the singular bright spot for the Covid-decimated restaurant industry. Uniquely set-up to survive global events that limit or outright ban indoor dining, food trucks have lower overhead than traditional restaurants and offer convenience and safety for customers who want to pick up hot food. Setting up a food truck has various advantages including a room for experimenting and a better outreach.
"I saw early-on that the pandemic was an extinction event for traditional restaurants," says Smith, an industrial real estate developer from Pacific Palisades, California who spent nearly 20 years working in the restaurant industry, "But food trucks had an innate immunity to the economic effects of lockdown." According to Smith's research, the thing the post-pandemic food truck boom desperately needed was precisely her wheelhouse: industrial real estate.
While Food Trucks are mobile, they are not free range. In order to operate legally, food trucks need to belong to a designated, licensed facility to clean, re-stock, and get health inspections. These mobile food facilities, called commissaries, are hard to come by because they are highly regulated, expensive, and can only be built in industrial zoned areas. In a city like Los Angeles where space is at a premium, finding several acres of industrial land for a food truck facility can be nearly impossible. But Smith had a three-acre
lot in her real estate portfolio and the neighboring parcel was for sale. Smith quickly purchased the adjoining property and broke ground in February 2020 on what she calls her "revolutionary, non-pollutionary" commissary, aptly named Sunny Days.
Located in central Los Angeles with easy freeway access, Sunny Days Commissary is a four-acre food truck facility entirely powered by LA's sunshine. Smith, a committed environmentalist and economic advocate, envisioned more than just a food truck facility.
As her vision for Sunny Days evolved, so did the list of must-haves. Early in the pandemic, while the rest of the world was busy experimenting with
sourdough starters and banana bread recipes, Smith was busy drafting a long list of features she wanted in the commissary. Although she knows it's a mouthful, Smith says Sunny Days is "a socially responsible, environmentally friendly, community supporting, pandemic-proof independent restaurant incubator."
Aside from acres of roof mounted solar fields, Smith designed a community space for meetings and events, composting systems for unused food materials, owl boxes for natural pest control, commitment to hiring more than 50 per cent of workers with prior convictions, and has filed for official B-Corp status.
The offices and bathrooms were built from recycled shipping containers. No detail was too small Smith to consider. Even the ergonomics of the ice machines were considered to accommodate humans of all abilities.
For Smith, Sunny Days is more than a place to park and conduct food truck inspections. She sees the commissary as the seeding ground for the next generation of independent restaurants, a place to build back the collective food culture LA lost during the pandemic.
Smith's Sunny Days Commissary in Los Angeles supports over 200 food trucks and a second location in Grand Terrace, California, is already under construction.