The H&8th Night Market in Midtown closes out a season that's produced record crowds for the street party that runs the last Friday of each month from in March to October at Hudson Avenue and NW 8.
No more than 700 people attended the event, which began in August of 2011, before this year. The smallest crowd it has produced in 2013 was 2,500 in March, topping out at an estimated 8,500 last month.
“I did not think it was going to get this big this fast,” said organizer and Elemental Coffee co-owner Laura Massenat.
“I didn't think it was going to have such an impact. I didn't think of myself as a food truck advocate, I just wanted to have a great party.”
Mission accomplished. Folks of all ages gather, some bring lawn chairs and/or blankets, between NW 6 and NW 8 along Hudson Avenue to socialize, shop, drink locally brewed beer and locally roasted coffee and choose from about two dozen food trucks for a snack, dessert or full-on gourmet meal. Even dogs are welcome as long as they're on a leash.
And Friday, to get a jump on the Halloween celebration, H&8th will start an hour earlier at 6 p.m. to offer “truck-or-treating” for the kids and “Kindie” rock.
During an open house for Elemental Coffee, 815 N Hudson Ave., in early 2011, COOP Ale Works partner J.D. Merryweather wondered aloud why Midtown couldn't be home to a food truck-centric street party like those in Portland, Ore., or Austin, Texas.
Standing within earshot was Massenat, whose answer to the rhetorical question was a resounding, “Yeah, why not?”
The idea, as it turned out, fit right in with the goals of Better Block OKC, which got involved in May of 2012 to help streamline.
“Better Block elevated it and gave people a vision of what it could become, that it was more than just food trucks, that it could be about people and social interaction. LIVE on the Plaza exploded simultaneously with H&8th. Having another similar event seemed to enlighten people that they could support all the events: Paseo, Plaza, H&8th and now Premiere on Film Row,” said Kristen Vails, executive director of the Plaza District Association.
Part of the quantum leap in attendance has been the addition of live music made possible by sponsorship from Jonathan Fowler, who is vice president of operations for Fowler Holding Co., co-founder of the Norman Music Festival and a world-class audiophile.
“It was a natural extension of the local music movement that's been going on for years in the greater metro and state,” Fowler said. “We had an opportunity to help expose food lovers to that aspect of our city's culture, and it has worked really well. Food trucks and music go together like peanut butter and jelly.”
Spaghetti Eddie starts the music at 7 tonight with a family-friendly set, followed by local “Kindie” (Kid-friendly indie) rock duo Sugar Free Allstars at 8 p.m. Dr. Pants takes the stage at 9 p.m., followed by Born in November at 10.
Ryan Drake, co-host of “No Fun Intended” on The Spy FM and KOSU radio, will DJ in front of Elemental Coffee from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Ludivine co-owners Jonathon Stranger and Russ Johnson were at the forefront of getting the trucks to gather in front of their restaurant at 805 N Hudson Ave.
“When we opened (Ludivine) three years ago and people asked where we were, nobody had a clue where 7th and Hudson was,” Stranger said.
“This event has dramatically increased public awareness of the area. It's also changing the food conversation and creating a food culture where people are stepping more outside their comfort zone and trying new things, new experiences and sampling what our city really has to offer.”
Initially, the event might've appeared to hurt the farm-to-fork concept with all the competing food vendors, but that would've been shortsighted.
“It's (H&8th) been great for us,” Johnson said. “It's brought people to the restaurant who wouldn't typically come in, we've adjusted what we do and it's turned into something really cool that has actually helped our business.”
Long after the trucks have packed up at 11 p.m., Ludivine will host an after-hours party until 2 a.m.
The restaurant ditches normal service during H&8th to offer open seating, a special menu of gourmet street food developed specifically for the event and regular full-bar service.
But the trucks are what draw folks from all over, and this month H&8th continues a recent trend of drawing vendors from outside Oklahoma City.
Andolini's Pizzeria, of Tulsa, enters the lineup, marking the first time a Tulsa vendor has opted into the event.
Other confirmed trucks include: Big Truck Tacos, Cafe Bella on Wheels, Cupcake Queen, El Reno Onion Burger, Frank's Wurst, Hall's Pizza Kitchen, Heo's Kitchen, Jerky.com, Kaiteki Ramen, La Gumbo Ya Ya, The Loaded Bowl, Lalo's I Love My Taco Chop & Grill, Off The Hook Seafood & More, Pizza 23, Roxy's Ice Cream Social, Smokin' Okies, Tacos El Patron and Taste of Soul Eggroll. Group Fly will join the lineup as the event's first nonfood truck food vendor.
Elemental Coffee will serve more coffee and tea than usual this month with cooler temperatures arriving, and COOP Ale Works will offer craft beer.
Festivities begin at 6 p.m. when families can pick up their free “Happy Halloween from H&8th Night Market” truck-or-treat bags in front of Elemental Coffee, 815 N. Hudson Ave., and visit participating trucks and neighborhood businesses to fill up on treats.
For more information, go online to h8thokc.com or call 633-1703.
The event will return in March.