Growing Pains Continue As Food Trucks Fight For Street Space

 

During a recent networking party, I was surprised to hear a Portland chef grumbling about the burgeoning Portland street food scene. As I told him about DB, and an upcoming feature on a handful of food truck owners, he unmistakeably rolled his eyes.

“Ugh,” he grumbled only a few minutes into our first meeting, “those food trucks.”

According to the SF Weekly’s SFoodie blog, he’s not alone in his opinion, either. Truck owners and restaurateurs seem to be clashing around the country, arguing over everything from health regulations to stealing business. In response to local business owners and community members frustrated over a lack of regulation for food trucks, the Emeryville, California city council announced plans last month to assemble a ‘task force’ that would determine rules and regulations for the mobile food scene, including geographic limitation and permit fees.

Of course, there have been outcries of both support and disappointment at proposed regulation in the San Francisco suburb, with party lines showing the growing divide between mobile vendors and brick-and-mortar restaurateurs. Much like my disgruntled party-mate, one Emeryville cafe owner, George Masarweh, believes that the lack of truck regulation, from location to competitive menu items, has hurt his restaurant business, estimating a 20% loss in business over the last year due to the local street food scene.

“We can compete [with the owner of Emeryville food truck, Jon’s Street Eats] on food,” Masarweh says, “but not when people can get it cheaper at the carts. We have to pay for service, for so many things this guy doesn’t have to pay for.”

With the official task force named in late September, it should be interesting to see how food truck regulations evolve in Emeryville – and other cities – as the mobile food scene continues to grow.

As I noted a few weeks ago, a number of cities seem to be struggling with the expansion of food trucks as well.

Last week, a temporary suspension of the Santa Monica’s 30-minute parking limit was issued by a city attorney citing the need for more research time in a related food truck court case. As reported the Santa Monica Mirror, the case, brought on by the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors Association, was filed in August when the organization moved to fight a parking citation issued to one of their members over the parking limit. Much like the Emeryville situation, it seems like lawmakers and community members have been unable to keep up with the instantaneous growth.

“It’s important that we let the City know, the business community is feeling overwhelmed and over burdened by the phenomena,” [Bayside CEO Katheen Rawson] said.

Intrigued by this interesting division between community members and food truck owners, I had a chance to chat with Gregg Abbott of Portland’s Whiffies, Josh Henderson of Seattle’s Skillet Street Food, and Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder’s Streat Chefs recently about the business of mobile food. Stay tuned to Daily Blender this month to hear their thoughts on community support, chef backlash, and where they’re taking their trucks next.

~Jennifer Heigl

5 Comments

  • Maria says:

    Instead of trying to kill the carts, what are restaurateurs doing to improve their own operations?

  • Brandon says:

    The term “food truck” refers to a mobile restaurants that move to sites around towns that are filled with potential customers. In Portland, most of our small food vendors are “food carts.” These may not be permanent restaurants, but they do not prey on areas during times of the day when they have peak business because they stay at one site. This is an important distinction you failed to address.

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  • GoodStuffNW says:

    Great topic, and you’ve raised interesting questions that I’m looking forward to seeing addressed in the future. From my (admittedly casual) conversations with food cart owners, Portland seems to be pretty on top of regulations regarding sanitation, equipment, siting, etc. And I know lots of chefs who love the carts as much as the rest of us, and even adapt some of the more popular items for their own menus.

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