There is nothing better than good food, good music and good company. The semi-annual Black Food Truck Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, is fast approaching and offers all three. Since its inception in the fall of 2021, the festival has continued to grow and expand its economic impact while uplifting the community. The festival's founder, Marcus Hammond, has created a space for people to come together to celebrate the city’s rich culture and support its local Black-owned businesses.
Born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Hammond first came to South Carolina by way of basketball, being recruited to play for the College of Charleston in 2004. During his time in school, he fell in love with the city’s culture and decided to stay after graduating with a degree in business administration. Charleston is renowned for its deep history and vibrant food scene, both of which captivated the Memphis native.
“Most Black people in America can trace their lineage to Charleston,” he states about the city’s powerful history. He describes the food scene as diverse, drawing significant influence from African American cuisines. “There are a lot of dishes deeply rooted in Gullah Geechee cuisine and Southern cuisine,” he explains.
Charleston is in the coastal region of South Carolina known as the Lowcountry, where fresh seafood, fish and rice are the main staples of the region’s cuisines. Popular dishes like Charleston red rice and Lowcountry shrimp and grits reflect the mark made by African Americans on the city’s foodways. The contribution of Black culture and food, coupled with the need for community engagement, sparked the idea for a food truck festival that emphasizes both.
See a Need, Fill a Need
Before pioneering the festival, Hammond was responsible for creating and organizing multiple community-focused events and programs in the city. “I have done at least one event in Charleston for the last 12 years,” says the founder. He was also able to attend a lot of larger festivals in the area that would inspire him to create his own.
He recalls going to other festivals and noticing the lack of Black representation. “Although they were welcoming, the infrastructure wasn’t welcoming for us. It wasn’t the kind of music that we listen to, the food trucks out there… there weren’t many Black-owned.”
This inspired him to create an event that caters to and supports the Black community, and the idea of the Black Food Truck Festival was born. “There was a demand for people wanting to come to a festival put on by us, for us,” he states. With the successful debut of the first festival last year, it was clear that a need in the community had been filled. “You pair good food with good music and that’s where the vibes come in,” says the former athlete.
The event has live music all day showcasing local artists, and this year they have also added a concert on the second night of the festival. There will be a lounge and bar for the adults, as well as a video game truck, soccer truck and face painting for the kids.
In addition, there is a lineup of over 40 food trucks and vendors offering a variety of different cuisines. This includes soul food, barbeque, Caribbean, seafood and dessert. There’s even an area called the “vegan village” with a vendor selling vegan cheesecake that’s to die for. Hammond and his hardworking team have ensured that there is something for everyone to enjoy.
Impacting the Community
Hammond emphasizes the importance of supporting local businesses in your area. “If we don’t support them and continue to show love and highlight when we have great experiences at these local businesses, then they’ll never have a chance to thrive.” The festival does an amazing job of uplifting these businesses and making them accessible to others.
“Black businesses make up about 85-90% of everything moving around,” Hammond says about the festival. Although the event mainly showcases food trucks, many other Black-owned businesses are being touched. “The bands are their own business, the sound is his own business, the videography, photography, bartenders, marketing, graphic design,” he lists. “There are so many different subsets of minority-owned business that we are able to touch, so not only are we creating an economic impact in the community, we are also bringing the community together.”
The event has proven to be a big hit in Charleston and Hammond hints at what the future could hold for the Black Food Truck Festival. His long-term goal is to expand to other cities with prominent Black food scenes, like Atlanta, Washington, DC, and his hometown of Memphis. He hopes to use the event to showcase the unique culture of each city and make a difference in other communities. “That’s the number one goal to have an impact, an economic impact, on everything that we touch.”
The Black Food Truck Festival is this weekend, November 19-20, which is also the event’s first anniversary. This will be the biggest one yet and will be held at the Exchange Park Fairgrounds. To purchase tickets, visit www.blackfoodtruckfestival.com and follow along on Instagram for festival highlights.
You can also listen to Hammond talk about the festival in a podcast episode of Diaspora Food Stories.