Founder Matt Cohen at an Off the Grid event. (Photo/Grace Sager)
Founder Matt Cohen at an Off the Grid event. (Photo/Grace Sager)

Off the Grid’s food truck Fridays are back on at Fort Mason

Food coverage is supported by a generous donation from Susan and Moses Libitzky.

After two years of pivoting in numerous ways, San Francisco’s largest and best-known food truck event, Off the Grid, is back on Friday nights at Fort Mason Center as of April 1.

Hundreds of food businesses are involved with Off the Grid, for good reason. The 50 weekly events around the Bay Area give food trucks steady markets and potential audiences for catering services.

Like restaurants, food trucks have experienced a dramatic drop in income during the pandemic.

“Historically, Fort Mason in particular has been an important financial component for a lot of people’s businesses, so to bring that back to help them is really meaningful for us,” said founder Matt Cohen.

An orientation was held recently for the truck owners (“creators,” in Off the Grid parlance) who will be returning to Fort Mason. “It felt like such positive energy. It was really exciting to feel like we’re turning a corner,” Cohen said.

Matt Cohen founded Off the Grid in 2010.
Matt Cohen founded Off the Grid in 2010.

Off the Grid outside the Oakland Museum returned in February, a popular event in Pleasant Hill will be returning April 6, and other smaller events have returned to Levi’s Plaza in S.F., Alameda and SFO.

Many community organizations, such as the JCCSF, have used Off the Grid events as gathering spots.

“So many groups have used our spaces in that way, just because it’s so easy for groups to casually get together,” Cohen said.

Cohen, who founded Off the Grid in 2010, grew up “very Reform” in both Denver and Encino (San Fernando Valley), where his mother ran a bakery called Miss Grace Lemon Cake Co. known for its bundt cakes. Cohen said his dad’s matzah brei was a household favorite, and to this day, whenever he’s sick, he craves matzah ball soup.


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He taught English in Japan for a few years after college and then worked in hospitality when he returned to the States. While “I was always passionate about food,” he said, “for me it was about the sense of creating places where it felt like a destination that people wanted to come to. That was the driver for me.”

Before Covid, Off the Grid had continued to grow and reach new markets. Cohen is now thinking about how food trucks are uniquely poised to be involved in disaster response work. They played a role in feeding first responders during the fires in Napa and Sonoma counties, and Cohen has been continuing to expand that network.

“Our goal last year was to have restaurants and food trucks and caterers on call and available to help in every county in the state, and I think we’re almost there,” he said. “We’re just a couple of counties short, and that will be the first time we’re active all over the state.”

Off the Grid’s emergency response work primed it to be a force for good during Covid. With the company handling logistics and coordinating public funding, food truck owners were able to deliver over a million meals to those in need.

Off the Grid, San Francisco's best-known food truck event, is back at Fort Mason Center on Friday nights. (Photo/Fort Mason Center)
Off the Grid, San Francisco’s best-known food truck event, is back at Fort Mason Center on Friday nights. (Photo/Fort Mason Center)

While it was nothing like the events the company was used to doing, “it was sustaining to our business, to our community of businesses, and we were supplying a vital lifeline for them,” Cohen said. “We felt we were contributing to the community in such an important way in helping people stay safe. It was meaningful for all of those involved.”

While in the past Off the Grid included food operations that served out of tents, with the return to Fort Mason the event will focus on food trucks, and Cohen plans to invite more to participate.

“We have relationships with trucks all over the state, so we’re excited over the course of the season to invite trucks from outside the Bay to visit,” he said.

The event will have a wine bar as well as a full bar, live music and work by local artists. It remains both kid and pet-friendly.

“We had invested a lot in making Off the Grid a great experience for our 2020 season,” Cohen said, “so we’re lucky we’re able to roll that experience forward.”

Off the Grid will be held at Fort Mason Fridays from 5 to 10 p.m. through November. For its other markets, visit offthegrid.com or follow it on Instagram.

Alix Wall
Alix Wall

Alix Wall is a contributing editor to J. She is also the founder of the Illuminoshi: The Not-So-Secret Society of Bay Area Jewish Food Professionals and is writer/producer of a documentary-in-progress called "The Lonely Child."