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Are food trucks controversial in your city/town? [moved from General Topics]

I posted this on the Greater Boston board: "Yesterday's Channel 5 news had a piece in which Dave Andelman complained, purportedly on behalf of Boston's brick-and-mortar restaurants, about food trucks hurting their business. He wants an ordinance to prevent trucks parking within 500 ft of restaurants. The truckies say this would drive them out of business because in Boston, no place with decent foot traffic is further than 500 ft from establishments that sell food. They also note that their business is curtailed by weather so they are not constant competition for the stationary food sellers.
The cynic in me wonders how much of this is the Phantom Gourmet business disliking food trucks because they aren't profitable enough to contract with PG for TV ads or vending at PG events."

The Phantom Gourmet organization is for the most part frowned upon by Boston area Hounds and other foodies. They have TV and radio shows, wherein they discuss, promote, review, and sometimes picture, the food in local restaurants at a broad range of price points. There have always been suspicions about whether or not places that advertise with them get more forgiving reviews. There's a lot of emphasis on huge, gooey, and alcoholic. From what I've seen, they review a lot of Chinese places and occasional Japanese, but not Indian or other Asian establishments. This may also color their opinion as regards food trucks.

Are there regulations in your area designed to equal the playing field between trucks and restaurants? If so, how well are they working? Is there ill will between the businesses formats?

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  1. We have TONS of them here in austin and they are a welcomed addition to the local food scene. The more popular trucks here usually end up building a brick and mortar in the end.

    1. Grey

      No food trucks in the suburb where I live, But as I look at food trucks in New Haven and Bridgeport (the 2 nearest cities of more than 100k population), the trucks are not generally located near restaurants.

      No zoning or ordinances are needed to keep the trucks out of the restaurant/business districts, simply enforcement of the parking laws.

      Most areas in the commercial zones have meters with a 2 hour time limit. Meter repeating (feeding the meter for more than a 2 hour stay) is illegal and the trucks would have to move or be towed. It's not worth the parking, setup time and looking for another space to move every two hours. In New Haven, the trucks are congregated near Yale Hospital and in a parking lot right off I-95 near the harbor.

      In the city proper, one is more likely to find food carts on the sidewalks. There are limited vendor licenses issued which keeps this under control.

      I visit Hartford every few months on legal buisiness, and there is a long line of food trucks set up along the park opposite the State Supreme and Appellate Courts and some other state office buildings. There are no restaurants quickly accessible for lunch from the courts.

      1. Not at all in my town, but we're a hippy/crunchy/granola type of place (with just enough anarchists to keep it interesting). Every now and then someone proposes regulations beyond what is required of brick and mortar restaurants, but it never gets too far. Trucks are allowed to park on private property with permission of the property owner, and they must follow all state and local food safety regulations.

        On the other hand, the next town over has so many onerous regulations, food trucks just don't try. The border between the two towns runs N-S along a street. Trucks frequently set up on the "safe" side of the street.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mpjmph

          Carrboro, NC. You left that out.

          1. re: mpjmph

            How odd. The hippy-granola places are usually regulation central. I guess there's some types of people they don't want to regulate and some that they do.

            1. re: Perilagu Khan

              Not necessarily; Portland has a great food truck/cart scene and is also described as granola-y.

          2. A fascinating subject, as backwater America wakes up. Many lily- white planned communities prohibit food trucks, reminiscent of lower class imagery. Austin is on the enlightened cutting edge. I treasure my weekend food truck tacos north of the Manatee River in Florida, but Lakewood Ranch just south prohibits them.

            Even in Mexico, where I live off-and-on, Puerto Aventuras prohibits food trucks. It is another planned community, appealing to affluent whites. But not this white guy.

            1. I live in Calgary, Canada and the "business" side of things seems to be going better than the "food" side of things- there is widespread disappointment with nearly all of our food trucks as their food isn't particularly good!

              4 Replies
              1. re: Jetgirly

                That means opportunity for someone, and good eats for you. Hope it happens soon.

                1. re: Jetgirly

                  We have a similar situation in Vancouver, BC IMO, exacerbated by the stringent limitations that were/are applied to carts and trucks. There is a cap on how many can be opened, where they can locate, permits/parking are prohibitive and thus prices and quality are not in line with what I expect from street food. They've only been allowed for three years at all (apart from hotdogs previously) and some of the strictures appear to be loosening a bit so I'm hopeful that we can learn from other cities who have successful street food scenes. Another drawback currently is that the majority of trucks and carts are in downtown and only open M-F during the day, curtailing the number of folks who can access them. And then there's the weather... :-).

                  I have read some discussion about how the trucks etc affect the bricks and mortar places and it's possible that is where some of the restrictions came from.

                  1. re: grayelf

                    The original selection jury of nine(?) (in the second year of vetting) was a bit stacked - IIRC, two members were restaurant owners, one member represents the BC restaurant industry, one member represented a Business Improvement Association (which of course lobbies for bricks and mortar businesses).

                    Also - the City of Vancouver stipulated that food carts use organic/local/sustainable/fair-trade products for all the preparations. That requirement of course necessitated higher prices. I believed that this stipulation is being relaxed.

                    Those are the primary sources of controversy - plus the "lottery" selection process in the first year. One jury member quit after noting the nepotism and conflict of interest in the short-list.

                    The scene has much room for improvement in terms of overall quality and price...but I have to say that the trucks do add a good bit of spark to the downtown core. I characterize the whole scene as a thinly veneered take on Portland - almost like a movie-set. But there are at least one or three carts that are worthy.

                    I also think that the nascent cart industry is coming together as a group and will probably lobby for the changes that will make the whole scene better and more sustainable (eg cart pods à la Portland, weekday operation on private property, more desirable locations along the sea-wall and the parks, eliminating City of Vancouver's infamous red-tape, etc). How I would love for the city to shut down the crappy greasy vendors that line the seawall now with food carts. More carts will also mean more competition and (in theory) lower prices - but I have a feeling that we are coming close to topping out on the number of carts in terms of business viability.

                    PS on climate - Portland and Vancouver are pretty similar in terms of climate and rain. Vancouver gets 161 rainy days per year and Portland gets 154. Vancouver cart owners need to stop using climate as an excuse.

                    1. re: fmed

                      Agree we need to promote the pod idea somehow -- destination food carts is an idea that will help combat the climate especially if we borrow from Portland and have central tentage with wood burning stoves (can't see the latter EVER being allowed here but we can dream). I don't think it's just the cart owners who consider climate an impediment -- I can't see standing in line in the pouring rain for food you have to eat outside in the pouring rain, and we noted many carts closed in Portland on rainy days when we visited, so I'm guessing they don't get the clientele to warrant staying open when it's chucking it down.

                      Jack Pool Square would be perfect for a pod, albeit perhaps not a permanent one.

                2. I'm not sure what the ordinances are governing trucks here in Pasadena CA, although it appears they're allowed only on commercially-zoned private property, which translates into "only at night." . The only one we know about is on the lot of an auto- repair shop on South Fair Oaks; it's come to our rescue several times since most Pasadena restaurants close well before any grownup's bedtime, a very strange phenomenon made stranger by its universality throughout LA County.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Will Owen

                    Okay - just saw something in the paper this morning that says CA state law now allows cities to regulate food trucks but not to ban them. Don't know how long existing bans have before they're forced to expire, but several cities in our area are moving in that direction. I believe they can be restricted to private property, as they seem to be here and in Altadena. South Pasadena has an existing ban, although I have seen a dumpling truck down by the city park on Mission.

                  2. Out here on eastern Long Island, at least in the Hamptons, you have to bid to get a designated spot...mostly on town beaches or town parking lots. It's not to help restaurants though, just to fill the town's coffers a little more. I think there are a few travelling ones starting to pop up, with Twitter alerts. One step ahead of the health inspector!

                    1. In the county where I live (Northern VA), we have quite a few food trucks. Ok...technically, they're loncheras that go around to construction sites, but still it's something. Some of them are pretty good. As far as I know, there are no regulations regarding them. I'd love if some DC food trucks would head out here!

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          Yeah, good, often multicultural, largely inexpensive food prepared quickly by actual people in convenient locations, that sure is annoying.

                          1. re: lifeasbinge

                            It's neither very good, nor that inexpensive. And the locations are anything but convenient.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Is someone forcing you to eat lousy expensive food somewhere inconvenient?

                              If so, your experience is the polar opposite of my food truck experience.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                interesting. my experience with food trucks is the opposite, apparently, and surely they are superior (paused here to consider - yes, superior in every way) to the mega-chains with their vaguely "food-like substances". I stopped eating at McD, BK etc when I noticed that my "food" tasted of nothing but chemicals.

                                1. re: lifeasbinge

                                  If the same food was served in a brick-and-mortar place, it wouldn't be all that extraordinary or special.

                                  People get all starry-eyed simply because it's food from a truck that's dolled up to look cool and hip, but shorn of that facade, what do you really have? That emperor who still can't find his clothes?

                                  If they were making real, and real good, food they'd be able to open up a real restaurant.

                                  PT Barnum is smiling somewhere me thinks.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    Love that you pose the question, but disagree completely with your observations. PT Barnum would have bought a taco.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      I see, so food trucks are not good, despite others having had what we consider an excellent experience with them - and I hardly think it "courteous" to imply that other hounds are merely undiscriminating. If I read you correctly, you're saying not only that food trucks aren't good, they couldn't be good. Are you a "brick and mortar restaurant" and thus "annoyed" by food trucks?

                                      1. re: lifeasbinge

                                        Are you a "brick and mortar restaurant" and thus "annoyed" by food trucks?


                                      2. re: ipsedixit

                                        "if they were making real and real good food they'd be able to open up a real restaurant."

                                        Not all food truckers start at that level. I am very familiar with the food trucks that line up along the park opposite the CT Supreme and Appellate Courts and other state offices in Hartford.
                                        A number of these are owned and operated by brick and mortar restaurants. The fixed locations are too far to meet the time constraints of workers' lunch hours. Getting parking for delivery vehicles is virtually impossible, but using the trucks to make available a portion of the restaurant's menu works well. These are not your hot dog/taco operations.
                                        In fact one of my favorite Hartford area Chinese restaurants started a food truck operation there 20 years ago. Now they use the truck and staff from the restaurant to cater parties on days state government is closed.

                                        On the flip side, here in Fairfield, CT there is a celebrated Hot Dog emporium called Super Duper Weenie. About 2 weeks ago I caught a PBS special on Hot Dog places that was made in 1999. Super Duper was operating from a food truck just off I-95. About 8 years ago he took his accumulated earnings and opened his Brick and mortar location about 1/4 mile from where the truck operated. It is hugely sucessful. This is not so different from my great grandfather having a pushcart on the lower East Side before he accumulated the capital to open a store in Brooklyn.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          Quite a few brick and mortar restaurants around here did start as food trucks.

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Wait a second. Why are we limiting food fanaticism to brick and mortar places? Ever thought that some folks would like to crank out great food without all the associated headaches?

                                            And by the bye, the PT Barnum reference is historically inaccurate.

                                            1. re: ipsedixit

                                              Link to an old but relevant article on New Haven, CT food carts:

                                              I had a client at the Yale School of Medicine (YSOM), and during the summer there were easily between 30-40 carts on that campus every day; most of them had foods that were so specific to a certain country that they wouldn't be available in a "brick and mortar" setting.

                                              1. re: unagi1

                                                some of the best eating in New Haven is at the food carts near Yale Medical Center. BUT the OP was asking about Food Trucks. The carts in New Haven are easilly movable and licensed by the city. They do NOT occupy the very short supply parking spaces.
                                                But most of those ethnic cuisines are readilly available in New Haven Brick and Mortar restaurants (albeit not near the hospital). New Haven has reinvented itself from a manufacturing city to a dining and nightlife destination.

                                                One would be hard pressed to find an ethnic cuisine not available in New Haven Restaurants: Thai, Indian, Chinese, Ethiopian, Malaysian, French, Italian, Middle Eastern, Carribean, Soul Food and the list just keeps growing.

                                                My mom lives about 1 mile from those Med Center food carts, and on a sunny day, I'll wheel her in her wheelchair for an International Al Fresco lunch, a great treat for a 90 year old former world traveler with limited mobility.

                                                1. re: bagelman01

                                                  Actually, I had already replied to the OP re: food trucks below. I admit I did leave out Miami / South Florida food trucks out of the resumé.

                                                  The post above was with regards to the brick/mortar vs. mobile food stand contention.

                                            2. re: ipsedixit

                                              > "If they were making real, and real good, food they'd be able to open up a real restaurant."

                                              We've actually been seeing a reversal up here. Bricks and Mortar restaurateurs and chefs opening up food trucks. But I do agree with you for the most part that food is generally not special. They aren't particularly quick either.

                                              1. re: fmed

                                                Wait, we can't combine all food truck experiences into one neat little biz pkg.
                                                What flies in CT doesn't fly in NJ. Taco trucks in LA aren't even a cousin to what's being offered in NY...so back on point with the original OP- yes, they ARE controversial from many standpoints
                                                -City approval
                                                -how receptive current brick & mortar resto feel about them nearby
                                                -where they operate
                                                -how they operate
                                                -customers love em or leave em
                                                -are they independent or owned by established restaurants

                                                on and on..this trend.

                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                  To clarify - I'm speaking only about the (general mediocrity of) trucks/carts in my city.

                                              2. re: ipsedixit

                                                I agree with you, ipsedixit, completely. Where I live there are no food trucks--I only ate at one once in the US out of desperation (it was a simple one near a construction site, nothing gourmet, with so-so food).
                                                I find the whole standing-on-the-street-thing while eating really unappealing. I also get the impression that if they were good, they'd have a real building. But, to each his own. If someone wants to wait in line and stand around on the street--it's up to them.

                                                1. re: Wawsanham

                                                  while not disputing your dislike of standing on the street while eating, many food trucks in our area are set uop near parks with picnic tables for dining. I especially like those along Long Wharf in New Haven, where you have a chance to sit and eat overlooking the harbor. And as I've written before many of these trucks are operated by brick and mortar restaurants to bring lunch to workers to far from a choice of lunchtime dining.

                                            3. re: ipsedixit

                                              I agree that the shiny new trucks with the trendy fusion food are often pretty expensive for what you get. Add waiting in long lines and the trucks are no longer fun.

                                              I love a good taco truck, they have always been around, in industrial areas where there are few restaurant options for workers, or maybe by the park in the afternoon when there are some soccer games going on. Meets all the criteria for tasty, fast and inexpensive.

                                              San Francisco seems to have been through the contentious phase a couple of years ago. I am no expert but I believe that SF has regulations about when and where trucks can operate. There are also some organized truck events, like Off the Grid and the newly opened SOMA Streat Food center. I'm not sure how similar these are to Portland's pods.

                                        2. No perceptible ill will in the greater DC metro area.
                                          With 7-10 jurisdictions involved and perhaps 7dozen license,permit and zoning regulations start ups are interesting stories.

                                          1. In Pittsburgh, there are a few food trucks, but the city laws (they cannot set up within 500 ft of a similar brick and mortar restaurant; trucks must move every 15 minutes) make it very difficult for them.

                                            1. I would love to see food trucks around town when we have special events such as the Cruisin' Grand old car rally every Friday evening in the summer. I think it would bring more people to events and have them buying food instead of toting their coolers. But the brick and mortar restaurants hold sway here....I say fine, then get your own food truck and join the party.

                                              1. The owners/operators of some of the, in my opinion, poor quality and overpriced restaurants in downtown Minneapolis are trying to drive away (ha!) the food trucks. Instead of looking at their own establishments and trying to be competitive, they would prefer just to eliminate the competition.

                                                "Skyway eateries fume over food trucks

                                                Owners of Minneapolis skyway-level restaurants, upset that popular food truck rivals are eating their lunch, are seeking ways to fight back.

                                                Some are pressing the city to toughen rules and fees on the newcomers. And some aren’t waiting for the city to act.

                                                Larry Abdo, owner of the MyBurger restaurant on the skyway level of 601 Marquette Ave. S., took to the streets outside, posting ads on his own parked truck near a row of food trucks that read, “Tasty burgers, crispy fries and, you know, walls.”

                                                The idea didn’t last a day: Minneapolis cited Abdo for violating sign regulations and made him remove the ads. He wasn’t fined. "

                                                More here-


                                                1. Very mixed in NJ. Hoboken they love it, but that's a crowd use to NYC commutes and lots of lunch choices curbside. Shore got a taste recently thru a truck fest and complained about long lines, running out of food and the surcharge..wonder how that translates for food trucks looking to expand a following, not turn newcomers off.
                                                  Generally speaking food truck love has to overcome alot in a state with excellent weather 45% of the year, loads of small mom & pop brick stores and the City telling owners "you can't park here."

                                                  1. As mentioned upthread, the regulations concerning food trucks in my hometown of Pittsburgh are onerous. Due to this, food trucks only venture into the downtown central business district where I work under exceptional circumstances, and I have never patronized one in this area.

                                                    I've been to food trucks in other parts of the city and in several other cities and have had pretty good experiences with them. I would like food trucks to be available within reasonable walking distance for me.

                                                    All of that said, I understand the onerous regulations regarding food trucks in this city. I do not think food trucks should be able to set up shop around the many brick-and-mortar establishments, who are paying more in rent/taxes/regulatory fees/business association fees (and have significantly higher overhead), and vulture business, especially when there are brick-and-mortar spaces available for new restauranteurs to occupy if they so desire. I respect and understand these concerns and accordingly don't really miss being able to regularly patronize food trucks.

                                                    1. This is becoming an issue in Las Vegas, where there is a proposal in front of the city council to restrict trucks from within 300 ft. of a restaurant. Of course, that pretty much means the trucks would have to be on the outskirts of town. And it is controversial partly because the mayor (who is apparently backing it) has interest in a downtown restaurant. But downtown is the place that could really use a few more food trucks, especially since Zappos is moving their headquarters there.....It will be interesting to see how it pans out..the proposal was on the agenda for the city council meeting but was tabled...

                                                      1. Hi Greygarious,

                                                        I think that if the food trucks are hurting some of the brick and mortar businesses in Boston, then those businesses in particular are not doing a good enough job of differentiating themselves or bringing something unique to the landscape. We live in CT, but rented an apartment in Waltham for over a year -- not once did we "cross-shop" a restaurant with a vendor stand.

                                                        University towns such as Madson, WI, Ann Arbor, MI, and New Haven, CT are very food-truck friendly and they are a great addition to the food scene. It's sort of too bad that Boston, which has such a high number (if not the highest number) of colleges, does not support that ideology as well.

                                                        1. I'm in St. Petersburg and the regular restaurants object to the trucks cause there's not that much business on account of the slow economy.

                                                          I can see their point, it costs a lot of money to build out a restaurant.

                                                          1. In San Francisco there was a lot of opposition for a time, by b&m businesses, but it seems to have relaxed some by now. in this city, at least, it hasn't seemed to hurt b&m businesses in the slightest - in my neighborhood alone (the mission district), there have been no fewer than 10 new restaurants in the last year.

                                                            i like the convenience of buying really good fried chicken down the street from my office, or an indian burrito or a korean duck taco. i love the variety of choices they afford. we also have several areas around the City where food trucks amass on a weekly rotating schedule, and more recently, a permanent food truck park, with covered seating, beer stands, and Wifi. i love this trend. to me, people who pooh-pooh it are just kinda grumpy. don't go. it's still fun for a lot of us.

                                                            2 Replies
                                                            1. re: mariacarmen

                                                              "we also have several areas around the City where food trucks amass on a weekly rotating schedule, and more recently, a permanent food truck park, with covered seating, beer stands, and Wifi"

                                                              This is actually what the food truck scene has turned into in austin as well. Big parking lots with lots of tables and several trucks/trailers all parked together. The food truck scene is pretty amazing here, we have some REALLY good trucks.

                                                              1. re: twyst

                                                                we were in Austin 2 NYEs ago and sampled the trucks in one of those lots!

                                                            2. For some wonderful food truck stories, visit www.foodcurated.com. Liza dG does a outstanding job of bringing the hard-working food truckers to her audience. Not to mention how HUNGRY I get every time I tune in!