Written and Photographed by Barbara King
By sheer grit and determination, Jacksonville native Emily Griffin has built a flourishing dream literally out of ashes.
Charcoal Alley, in downtown Jacksonville, East Texas’s first mobile food truck park takes center stage where Griffin’s original photography studio once stood and is proudly becoming the area’s premier destination to eat, mingle, and relax.
Griffin recalls the day she got the call in April 2013, “that my studio was up in flames and there was nothing we could do to restore it,” she recalls. “I was determined to make something positive out of it – to take the rubble and recreate it into a space that is welcoming and fun.”
The Saturday afternoon that I visited, the Alley was packed with folks eating, meeting, and relaxing. There are 18-foot umbrellas for shade and inclement weather, and plenty of comfortable wrought iron tables and picnic benches to spread out all your delicacies.
The food trucks line the outside perimeter, with chalk board menus heralding a wide variety of tasty treats. This day’s food truck lineup includes Cheyenne’s Lunch Box, Rock “N” C, Sports Grill, The Mocha Moose, and Culinary Improv. The trucks come from places like Henderson, Tyler, Palestine, and Fort Worth to feed the flocks of people coming to see what it’s all about.
The Jacksonville Fire Station is directly across the street, and the firemen take the opportunity to visit the Alley a few times a week. Ryan Chaffin, a 12-year veteran of the Department said, “We love the variety of foods and freshness and the convenience of the location.” Chaffin and his fellow firemen chose a cheeseburger with fries, but say they have tried everything from sandwiches to crawfish from the food trucks.
I found the atmosphere at the park to be funky and laid-back. The clientele is a mix of everything from families with babies and strollers, leather-clad bikers, and dogs galore. “It is definitely a family-friendly space,” said Griffin. “We pride ourselves on keeping the area clean, including two large bathrooms, and an outside sink to clean your hands after your crawfish experience.”
The umbrellas are much needed during the day, but at night, the LED lights under them turn the space into a magical venue for live music and much more food. “We have had Jacksonville’s local restaurant Sadler’s do a full bar, and we plan on much more live music events coming up,” Griffin added.
It’s pretty much a non-stop crowd for early morning coffee and cinnamon rolls until the food is gone, which “could last anywhere from breakfast til after 7 at night,” explained Griffin. The trucks rotate, and offerings can be anything from catfish to turkey sandwiches with tomato and feta salad.
This Saturday, folks are lining up for sandwiches from Cheyenne’s Lunch Box, including her famous chicken salad, pimento cheese, ham and cheese, and green herb turkey. Salads included a spectacular tomato and feta or cornbread, and a sampler of three heaping portions of salad and seasoned crackers. Owner Cheyenne Lindsey, said “We’ve only been doing the mobile food truck for a little bit, but we sell out of food almost every day. People are loving the Food Truck park experience.”
Next to the Lunch Box sits the Mocha Moose, a crowd favorite, featuring hot and cold drinks and New Orleans famous shaved ice. Smoothies, frozen mochas, frozen caramel, and lots of coffee choices, as well as waffle cones, and brownie sundaes are always on the menu.
Across the way on this Saturday sits the Culinary Improv which boasts reubens, grilled cheese, black bean and Angus burgers (the Fireman’s favorite), and pulled pork sandwiches.
Crawfish are definitely in season right now, and folks were piling up on crawfish, potatoes, and corn from the Rock “N” C Sports Grill. This food truck also serves catfish, brisket sandwiches, loaded potatoes, and crawfish etouffee.
James Worley, from Jacksonville, enjoying a huge mound of crawfish said, “This Food Truck park is a great new idea for Jacksonville, and we like to come and show our support for the community. The food selection is great and there’s always something new.”
Other food trucks participate and the line-up changes. They all have funky, fun names like “Cajun Café,” “GooRoos Pizza,” and “Ye Old Saucy Dog,” and so it’s a good idea to check www.facebook.com/charcoalalleyfoodtrucks to see which trucks are in the Alley and what’s available menu-wise. Special events and happenings, such as movie nights, chalk drawing contests, and more, are listed there too.
Emily Griffin is gratified that the community is embracing her dream that came from the ashes. “I am so thrilled that we have rebuilt this one of a kind experience in downtown Jacksonville, my hometown,” she said.
Come hungry and plan to stay for awhile at Charcoal Alley, located at 217 South Main Street in downtown Jacksonville. Charcoal Alley can be reached at (903)721-2766.
Cash and debit cards are accepted at the food trucks on-site.