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Channel 5 News: Dave Andelman complains about food trucks hurting brick-and-mortar restaurant business

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[We've moved this discussion of this local news story from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866817 -- The Chowhound Team]

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.

  1. Do you think they PGS will agree to no PG festivals or other PG money making events within the same distance of andy Brick & Mortars

    1. Georgetown cupcakes drove the Cupcakory truck away so I guess the answer lies in variety, quality and price point rather than whether the premises has tires.

      1. Probably a Not About Food topic, but Dave Andelman has been beating the anti-food-truck drum for weeks now, using his own TV and radio shows, appearing as a guest on various other talk-radio shows around town, writing editorials in the Somerville Patch and Boston Business Journal, and pressing his case on Beacon Hill as the head of his lobbying group, the Restaurant and Business Alliance. The comments (mine included) on the Patch editorial are fun: http://somerville.patch.com/articles/...

        I've noted elsewhere that there's a huge overlap between RABA members and Phantom Gourmet sponsors. Boston Inno did a piece on it, spurred by some public comments I made noting this connection: http://bostinno.com/2012/08/20/why-is...

        In short, it's your basic case of crony capitalism, Andelman lobbying on behalf of his sponsors with brick-and-mortar restaurants to gain them a protectionist advantage against an innovative new market entrant. The Phantom just found a new angle to the world's oldest profession.

        http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

        2 Replies
        1. re: MC Slim JB

          It's not like Phantom needed a new angle. They have no shortage of angles to the world's oldest profession.

          1. re: Blumie

            Had I twelve thumbs to hold up in approval of this comment, I would.

        2. The real answer is that yes it hurts restaurants but if it does then costs will decline because the longer term effect would be on real estate values, meaning rents. A landlord's rents are in the end based on the success of the tenant businesses. If the tenants don't make money, the rent has to go down.

          This could happen by restructuring the rent clause to shift more of the total expected rent to percentage rent. Some restaurant leases include percentage rent, meaning there's a base rent and then a percentage of sales above some threshold. This is more the case with bigger restaurants and chains because no one can audit small, largely cash businesses.

          But the long-term adjustment would be in rent to make up for lost sales. This could displace some restaurants in favor of other kinds of tenants but that would mean the location is marginal as a restaurant to begin with because a good restaurant tenant pays more.

          1 Reply
          1. re: lergnom

            This is more the case with bigger restaurants and chains because no one can audit small, largely cash businesses.

            ~~~

            unless a place has a cash-only policy, like say, bartley's, the majority of restaurant meals are paid for with plastic. we live in a relatively cashless society at this point.

          2. I can see his point and somewhat agree with him. The food trucks have more variable then fixed costs. I'm not a big fan of the show, but not a fan of taking business away from store front mom and pop stores either.

            21 Replies
            1. re: libertywharf

              As I point out in the Somerville Patch comments, the logic of acting to protect the interests of established entrants against newer ones because of alleged "unfair competitive advantages" leads to some interesting places.

              1) Why isn't Andelman advocating protectionism against the big national chains that have moved into the Seaport, sucking business away from independent brick-and-mortar restaurants in other neighborhoods of the city? Don't they have an unfair competitive advantage, with their deep pockets to sign long-term Waterfront leases and buy $400K full-liquor licenses, their sourcing economies of scale, their national advertising budgets, and their access to abundant, cheap parking?

              2) Who will protect the food trucks from the unfair advantages that brick-and-mortar establishments have, like the ability to seat customers, let them use a bathroom, serve alcohol, operate in a blizzard, have a fixed location where their customers always know to find them, have running water and gas cooktops?

              3) Where was Dave when Amazon and Apple were turning the bookstores and the CD shops into empty storefronts? Doesn't protecting legacy businesses demand that we put the brakes on any innovative new business model or technology advancements? Won't someone think of the buggy whips?

              Anyway, Andelman's position seems like an odd, anti-capitalistic, protectionist stance for such an allegedly pro-business, anti-regulation Republican. Or maybe we should apply Occam's Razor, and conclude he's just whoring for his sponsors after all.

              http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                1. re: MC Slim JB

                  Or maybe we should apply Occam's Razor, and conclude he's just whoring for his sponsors after all.

                  ~~~~

                  this^^.

                  1. re: MC Slim JB

                    I guess we pick and choose our topics. Not all the rests in the seaport area are chains. The chain concept applies more to legals then mortons. At least mortons does not have their food prepared in a commissary and shipped to the final destination.

                    Why some don't like food trucks is because they can use the social media outlets to determine the busy areas, and as long as they keep moving the board of health cannot catch them.

                    1. re: libertywharf

                      You see my point about protectionism though, yes? As in, where does it end? Do we let lobbyists determine who deserves protection from whom? Why not protect the interests of local restaurants against national chains? Doesn't this kind of protectionism stifle innovation?

                      I could take the argument completely the other way, and contend that food trucks deserve special treatment as an infant industry. Alexander Hamilton would approve.

                      The board of health argument is specious. Andelman likes to refer to food trucks as "gypsy operators", suggesting that they can and do park anywhere they want. This is a lie. A food truck is not like a three-card monte game that can pop up anywhere and then vanish the moment they spot the coppers. Every truck goes to a location licensed by the city and typically stays there for the day.

                      Even if this weren't true, all ISD would have to do is go to http://streetfoodapp.com/boston or get the corresponding app. Food trucks don't hide their location; that would be bad for business.

                      http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                      1. re: MC Slim JB

                        Plus, the health inspector point is thrown in to basically cast a foul aspersion on the cleanliness of food trucks for the street food phobic. Kind of like the Legal Seafoods ads, where Roger Berkowitz tells viewers that all their seafood is checked daily in their own labs...Saying, without saying it, that if yours isn't, you're taking your life into your hands...

                        1. re: galleygirl

                          "...where Roger Berkowitz tells viewers that all their seafood is checked daily in their own labs...Saying, without saying it, that if yours isn't, you're taking your life into your hands..."

                          -----------------
                          I think that's a stretch. Their quality lab is Legal's competitive advantage. And what's wrong with advertising, and standing behind, the quality and freshness of your product.

                          1. re: Niblet

                            I agree with galleygirl that Andelman is trying to slur the cleanliness of food trucks. The term "gypsy operator" is a typically offensive usage meant to imply that they're operating beyond the law, unlicensed, uninspected, dirty. He also is deliberately ignoring the fact that ISD has been pretty rigorous about inspecting the trucks. I suspect ISD is on the job because the Mayor has put some political weight behind supporting the food truck movement and doesn't want an embarrassing incident due to under-inspection.

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              Well of course you agree, you made the original statement with which galleygirl was concurring. I don't agree with the correlation that Legals is casting aspersion on their competition by focusing on and touting the quality of their own product.

                              1. re: Niblet

                                I should have been clearer: I'm conceding your point about Legal while defending mine about the "gypsy" slur.

                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                        2. re: MC Slim JB

                          Protectionism isn't bad. Suppose Mr Softy parks his truck in front ofyour house all the time. All day long. Would that be right? Would you call the cops?

                          The idea that foodtrucks can take advantage of a great location without paying the entry price is not right. Period. Stop all the Econ 101 posturing and look at reality.

                          1. re: sal_acid

                            The problem with this argument is that in fact, food trucks can't just park anywhere they want. The City tells them where they can park and charges them a fee for it, and imposes a host of other licensing fees and regulatory hurdles. Food trucks have their own specific set of costs and business challenges, their own big obstacles to profitability: it's just that brick-and-mortar rent isn't one of them.

                            How do you feel about protecting Al's against other restaurants opening on his block? Those clearly weren't there when he opened, and it changes his business case. Is that unfair? What about all the unfair advantages that Al's or any brick-and-mortar establishment has over food trucks (seating, bathrooms, etc.)? Do you think the law should step in to level that playing field?

                            http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                            1. re: MC Slim JB

                              If you are comparing like with like, it would be a take-out sandwich shop with a food truck. In that case the product and services are the same. Just the rent is different.

                              If the city locates them wisely, then both B&M and truck will benefit. If the truck wants to park next to the B&M then that seems wrong to me.

                              1. re: sal_acid

                                Again, trucks can't just park wherever they want. The City restricts them to a handful of specific locations which it approved after a long planning process that included local businesses. I imagine Al didn't speak up when he had the chance, thinking, "Pffft, I'm not going to lose business to some idiot in a truck doing pork-neck chili / Fritos burritos for $8 a throw."

                                One has to wonder: if the food truck business is so lucrative, easy, and blessed with unfair advantages, why aren't more brick-and-mortar restaurants jumping on the bandwagon?

                                If an unlicensed truck were to randomly set up shop in front of a brick-and-mortar restaurant, I agree that would be wrong, but that is not what's happening.

                                http://mcslimjb.blogspot.com/

                                1. re: sal_acid

                                  Yet the take out sandwich chain Firehouse subs chose their new location despite the fact that there are 5 food trucks within 2 blocks and one about 100 feet away.

                            2. re: MC Slim JB

                              Thanks for all your well-stated points, MC. Where will it end? Maybe budget sandwich shops shouldn't be allowed to open up near high end restaurants, as they'll take away business as well! The food truck experience is completely separate from a sit-down establishment. If someone wants a nice lunch with table service, they'll opt for the brick/mortar. Food trucks provide an alternative experience that really doesn't compete, IMO. This certainly reeks strongly of ulterior motives......

                              1. re: MC Slim JB

                                How about my rights in a free, supposedly capitalist society, to eat where I want to eat? If I want to have a nice chick pea fritter sandwich from the Clover Food Lab truck in Dewey Sq., instead of waiting for a burrito from Chipotle, that's my right to do, isn't it?

                              1. re: libertywharf

                                that is capitalism. Mom and pop's are more likely to afford a food truck than opening a restaurant in harvard square.