Grand Haven creates waterfront gathering spot with food trucks

Food has long been a way to bring people together. It’s proven the right ingredient for a new gathering spot in Grand Haven.

The city has turned a grassy patch by the waterfront into the Chinook Pier Food Truck Park

This summer, you’ll find food trucks Lake Effect Kitchen, Whipped a Brunch Truck, Pita on the Pier and Crepes by the Lakes. The fifth vendor at the park is Surf Shop.

The space, at 301 N. Harbor Drive, used to be home to a shopping center until the building was demolished in 2020 due to mold issues.

Lake Effect Kitchen turned a former city trolley into a food kitchen. (City of Grand Haven)

Grand Haven Main Street wanted to make the waterfront land a destination again.

“We're just excited to have the opportunity to invest a little bit of money into that vibrancy and create that space,” says Grand Haven Main Street Executive Director Jeremy Swiftney. 

The pier is near the city’s farmers market and close to more than 80 parking spaces.

Pita on the Pier is one of the food trucks at Grand Haven's first food truck park. (City of Grand Haven)

The city’s plans to add more picnic tables and trash receptacles as part of the effort to create a gathering place.

“We've already got all the cornhole and ping pong games from last year that they had out there,” Swiftney says.  “It was just a piece of grass, and it was an underutilized area.” 

The park officially launched with a ribbon-cutting ceremony on June 29. 

Reversed stance on food trucks

Traditionally, the Grand Haven Downtown Development Authority hasn’t supported food trucks because they were seen as competition for the downtown’s brick-and-mortar businesses. But now, it sees the new park as another way to draw people downtown. 

Surf Shop is one of the vendors at Grand Haven's first food truck park. (City of Grand Haven)

“A lot of our restaurants understand the customers are different, and the person who wants a sit-down meal isn't going to go to the food truck,” Swiftney says.

The Surf Shop and Lake Effect Kitchen are extensions of brick-and-mortar downtown businesses. Their food trucks are converted from the city's former transit trolleys.

Swiftney says the trucks may not be there all the time because of previous commitments, but the goal is to have a presence for most of the summer.

“At the end of the day, we just want a majority of them. The Surf Shop will probably be there most days,” he says. 

“It's very busy on Wednesdays and Saturdays in the area. But the rest of the week it really isn't utilized, and there's parking there. So we were trying to push some people into parking there and enjoying the area, and seeing what we could be looking at for development in the future.” 

Restoring energy to the area

It’s unclear what the long-term future holds for the space, but for now the food trucks are adding activity to the area. 

“We wanted to add some vibrancy to a space that used to be a place of business,”  Swiftney says. “Let's try to bring it back to that a little bit and see if this works. If it doesn't work, obviously the city will probably say, try something else."

“But the hope is that it creates another area for people to go and hang out. You've got all the ships and boats coming in from the fishing excursions. They're probably going to be hungry at lunchtime, and this is a great opportunity for them to grab lunch and go out on their afternoon trip. Or as people come in from the morning, they can grab their lunch and go, or hang out for a little bit longer while the fish get cleaned up.”

Grand Haven has turned a grassy patch along its waterfront into the city's food truck. (City of Grand Haven)

The DDA sees the park as placemaking. It’s a way to create another gathering spot where people can come together and hang out with friends or family and have a good time.

Swiftney believes the extra traffic will benefit downtown businesses.

“Everybody's welcome and encouraged to stop and hang out for a little bit,” Swiftney says. “The longer you hang out, the more you notice – ‘Oh, I didn't notice this was in the shop window,’ The whole goal is while you're hanging out, you might see what everybody's got to offer and come back later if you want to shop.”