Published April 18, 2021 at 4:57pm.
Story by Mary Martin and Roselle Tenorio. Photos by Jack Helms.
At the corner of MLK Boulevard and Holmes Street in the Forest District of South Dallas, brightly colored canopies blow in the breeze, signaling something new. Earlier this year, the empty block was easy to miss, but this month it is a beacon for community. A project driven by the team at Better Block, the MLK Food Park is an experiment that puts its stock squarely in the creativity of small business owners.
The pop-up style food park is lowering the barrier to entry for vendors, with no requirements for a full food truck or brick-and-mortar restaurant experience. The shipping container storefronts, fabric facades, food trailers, food trucks, and carts all make space for a rotating mix of food entrepreneurs, from local barbecue and baked goods to farming educators and fresh juice.
The Better Block team partnered with the City of Dallas Arts and Culture office, as well as The Real Estate Council (TREC) to bring the community’s vision of a food park to life. Linda McMahon, President and CEO at TREC, has been searching for creative solutions and investment opportunities through TREC’s Catalyst Project. “We have seen the devastation first hand of lack of access to healthy foods through the pandemic as well as the impact that small businesses have endured during the past year in our low income communities and communities of color,” says Linda. “We are hopeful that this demonstration project will show that small projects emphasizing small businesses can have a positive impact on a community and prove the concept that all neighborhoods can thrive if given access to the amenities that are commonplace elsewhere in Dallas.”
One of the vendors in the MLK Food Park rotation is Ernestina Flores. She goes by Ernie and is founder of Flores Bakehaus, a micro-bakery in Dallas Texas established in October of 2018. You can usually find Ernie at pop-ups like Peaberry Coffee or CocoAndré in her own Oak Cliff neighborhood. But at the MLK Food Park she serving up fan favorites like vegan pan de nopal (cactus bread) and chocolate mole cookies. Ernie is known for her love of community and ensuring everyone can enjoy delicious baked goods. She responded to Winter Storm Uri by teaming up for a donation drive of material goods at Peaberry Coffee. For the first Saturday of the MLK Food Park, she set up a pay it forward program to provide baked goods for anyone that needed a snack at the park.
While the MLK Food Park is temporary, it is designed to purposefully collect data and feedback for future projects. Community partners are listening to the food park visitors, collecting feedback about not only the food, but also the community garden, a play area for kids, and which locations should be next on the list.
The MLK Food Park is open on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays through May 2, so don’t miss out the next two weekends!