Friday Night Munchies is Santa Ana’s community-grown food market

Charlie Gonzalez’s goal is to sell his birria at a brick-and-mortar store. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

Friday Night Munchies is Santa Ana’s community-grown food market

It’s 7 p.m. on a Friday and the sound of sizzling Filipino eggrolls, asada on the grill and cheese bubbling on tortillas fills a vacant lot on Bristol Street across from the Digital Media Center. 

As churros crackle in a pool of cooking oil and attendees chatter in line before buying their dinner, the sound is stifled by an exchange of laughter among the neighboring booths and trucks of about 60 vendors. At this weekly pop-up food fest, there is no competition. 

The market started with 3-5 vendors but now have about 60. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

Somewhere amid the tents exerting sweet and savory smells at Friday Night Munchies, a man so dedicated to his business that his logo is tattooed on his head grills chicken, sausage, beef and pork in his smoker. 

“Everybody here embraces you and gives you the same opportunities, it’s all love,” said Derrick Bobbitt, head of operations at The Situation Catering, a soul food vendor. 

Derrick Bobbitt, founder of The Situation Catering is nicknamed “Beanz the Butcher.” Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

Friday Night Munchies is not just a local night market but an incubator for food vendors to integrate into a supportive vending community—a rarity in the cutthroat food industry.

Customers visit from LA, San Diego and San Bernadino County to try the food at Friday Night Munchies. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

What started as one person wanting to make a change for the safety of vendors, became an outlet for customers to experience a selection of food from the grills, smokers and fryers of food sellers. 

The night market was founded in 2019 by Daniel Figueroa and co-organizer Ciara Martinez. Figueroa started as a food vendor on Main and Central Street selling concha ice cream sandwiches, which is still up and running.

Friday Night Munchies aims to start a vending community that offers an unthreatening space to sell food. Crimes against street vendors have been an ongoing issue but experienced a rise in 2021-2023 with an average of 208 attacks per year in LA County according to the Crosstown Newsletter. 

The founder of Friday Night Munchies, Daniel Figueroa started off as a vendor himself selling concha ice cream sandwiches. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

“Many of our vendors have stories where they have been jumped for their money and gotten their food run over,” said Martinez.

Main and Central Street was home to Friday Night Munchies and housed 3-5 vendors until it was shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Angel Garcia munches on loaded fries as he waits for his family to meet him with different foods. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

In summer 2021, the market reopened and has continued to fill the streets of Bristol and Edinger with mouthwatering smells and “mmms” as customers take their first bites of smash burgers, loaded potatoes, and crepes dressed with whipped cream, Nutella and berries. 

With the help of consistent posting on social media and customers word of mouth, foodies and Instagram influencers started recognizing the market and participated in collaboration videos. 

Chelsea Caldera enjoys a sweet treat on Friday night. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

The Instagram account currently sits at 25K followers.  

Through the success of social media, the night market has piqued the interest of not only Santa Ana residents but also food market enthusiasts in different counties. 

The @fridaynightmunchies account sits at 25K followers. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

The concept of night markets originated in Asia and has expanded through the Chinese diaspora. California has emphasized the success of night markets like the popular 626 Night Market and Foodieland. These food fests are much different from Friday Night Munchies because they are run by promoters and have become commercialized. 

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“Compared to Foodieland, the prices are a lot better,” said Jesus Hernandez, a San Diego resident. “I am more about supporting small and culturally oriented businesses, plus this market feels more homey.” 

Customers no longer have to break their banks for parking, entrance fees and overpriced food to venture out and find cuisines such as Filipino food, birria and soul food. 

Boys night is spent at Friday Night Munchies. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

In early October of 2023, Franz Giron started her food vending with Lutong Pinoy OC where she cooks and sells traditional Filipino dishes.

“A lot of people in OC like Filipino food but don’t know where to find it,” said Giron. “As a cook, I take pride in what I do and want to share my culture, the way that you taste it and the way they cook it in the Philippines.” 

Bringing a taste of the Philippines into OC first started as a suggestion from a friend. The vision came to life through the exposure that Friday Night Munchies provided. 

“This is the first and only market I am a vendor at. My husband and I try to keep it in Santa Ana and we want to make it exclusive to do our vending here,” said Giron. “70% of our customers are regulars and have met us here and end up coming back.”

Founder of Lutong Pinoy OC, Franz Giron (left) first started as a merchandise vendor selling bath bombs and soaps. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

Charlie Gonzalez, owner of Charlie’s Birria is another success story through his specialties starting from birria grilled cheese, egg rolls and traditional tacos. The dishes have tempted those beyond the streets of Santa Ana on a Friday night cheat day. 

Franz Giron, founder of Lutong Pinoy OC is “hooked” on Charlie’s birria. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

Though the weekly food fest was an incubator and is the only home for Giron’s business, other vendors also distribute their dishes through other food markets. For these vendors, the experience at Friday Night Munchies is incomparable.

“Friday Night Munchies is my home,” said Gonzalez, owner of Charlie’s Birria.

“Friday Night Munchies is my home,” said Gonzalez, owner of Charlie’s Birria. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

With the wide variety of Mexican food available in Santa Ana, the market has also brought an array of flavors to the city.

A fan favorite at the market is plates piled with large scoops of potato salad, mac and cheese and a heaping amount of various barbequed meats at The Situation Catering.

“Friday Night Munchies is my best vending night,” said Derrick Bobbitt.

The weekly food fest manages to attract first-timers and turn them into Friday night regulars.

“This event shows true community, it’s a gathering of all cultures,” said Juan Montez, a Santa Ana resident. 

The Abundice family goes back for a second crepe after trying the first. Photo by Ryla Manalang / el Don

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