After eight years running Off The Grid, the central food truck hub and organizer in the Bay Area, Matt Cohen has a new idea that could conceivably disrupt his existing model of food truck markets. He calls it Cubert, and it’s an eight-by-eight foot metal cube, with sides that tent open to create more covered space. It doesn’t come on wheels, but it’s portable, picked up and put down by forklift and transported on a flatbed truck.
It’s possible you’ve seen one. Cubert debuted — albeit in its humblest form — at Off the Grid’s Fort Mason market in 2016, used simply as an information kiosk. A churro maker, Postrique, served baked goods from a prototype in October. But the next generation, called Cubert Cold Prep, will arrive in larger numbers at Fort Mason this March. The new model is a step closer to what Cohen really has in mind, providing a kitchen prep and storage space, similar to a food tent, but sturdier. And while Cubert is portable, it’s free from the problems endemic to food trucks that Cohen has observed over the years.
“Even the most modern, fancy food trucks are a relatively old technology,” Cohen says. “People get into the food truck business, but they also, in a sense, become mechanics, caring for their engines and generators.”
There are more barriers beyond upkeep. “The kitchens aren’t modular, it’s not the same equipment that chefs prefer to cook with in kitchens.” They’re also cramped. Compared to working inside a food truck, “the [Cubert] space feels much more open, and focused on the cooking and dining experience.”
Cohen plans to rent out the first Cubert Cold Prep units, which are being manufactured in California, to pop-up vendors at Off The Grid. Daily rates will be $500, with Off The Grid transporting, cleaning, maintaining the units. Applications for Off The Grid Fort Mason vendors went live today, and businesses interested in renting Cubert Cold Prep can contact them here.
Buying a Cubert, at least at the moment, is very expensive: $65,000. But once more are made, Cohen hopes the price to buy and rent will plummet. One early client is Portland-based coffee roaster and cafe Stumptown. They’re hooking up a Cubert with a La Marzocco espresso machine at Google’s campus in Mountain View.
The Cubert Cold Prep model is still just a stepping stone: The next generation of Cuberts after them, Cubert Hot Prep, will include “everything that’s contained within the kitchen of a food truck,” but without the truck. That will require developing more technology, like ventilation hoods.
Permits for those units could also prove much more complicated. For now, Cubert Cold Prep units are permitted by the state of California as modular buildings. “The health department piece is one where that’s part of the reason we’re starting with events,” Cohen explains. “We can do this through special event permitting, and in that way, educate the health department... on what these are and how they can play a role in development and encouraging entrepreneurship.”
Cohen aims to complement his existing roster of food trucks and vendors with Cubert. But could an army of Cuberts someday infringe on the food truck business itself? That might be putting the horse before the cart.
“There’s always a place for food trucks,” Cohen says. For businesses that need to move around as often as some local food trucks do, bouncing from the FiDi lunch rush to Off the Grid Fort Mason in the evenings, “Cubert might not be the right solution.”