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Sep 8, 2012 02:22 PM

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.