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food truck debate

As our industry becomes more main stream throughout the country, more and more cities are beginning to look at starting a dialog to determine if food trucks have a place in their communities.

We have researched many of the common points brought up by those opposing mobile vendors. Although many of those against the rise of food trucks have ulterior motives that circle back to the brick and mortar restaurant industry.

If the industry is to continue its growth, we need to identify those issues, sit down and civilly discuss that food trucks are not the danger to restaurants and communities that many are trying to convince cities they are.

Food Truck Debate Issue 1: Food Trucks don’t pay rent

They may not have leases or rent payments as high as restaurants, but food trucks still have to pay for commissary space to clean and restock their “kitchens,” they pay for licenses, permits, food and staff.

In many communities, food trucks also are legally required to pay for rent on storage space and commissaries where they do most of the prep work.

In cities such as San Francisco, mobile vendors are charged upwards of $10,000 a year to maintain their licenses in certain districts. New York City has a limit of permits they issue to street vendors which include trucks and carts.

Outside of liquor licenses, cities do not limit the amount of restaurants which can operate within their city limits.

Food Truck Debate Issue 2: Food Trucks unfairly compete with restaurants

One of the most common complaints by dissenters is that Food Truck operator’s relatively low costs give them “an unfair advantage”. Before the recent uptick in mobile food vendors across the country, this occurrence in the restaurant industry was always referred to as a “competitive advantage.”

So long as the owner of a competitive advantage was passing the benefit of their “advantage” to their customers in terms of value both economically and the quality of their cuisine, this has always been looked at as a positive.

The fact that the mobile food industry has changed its perceived limitation as a “food of only convenience” is what has shifted consumer perception. The current emphasis on value in the market strongly favors the Food Truck model, and is what has attracted many consumers to the new generation of food trucks.

Food Truck Debate Issue 3: Food Trucks only go to trendy areas

Of course food trucks go to trendy areas, food trucks thrive in areas with high foot traffic, but at the same time, isn’t that what restaurant owners try to do when they open up?

They find areas where their business model has the best chance to succeed. Why should food trucks be held down to a foundation or lease if all they have to do is start up their truck and drive to another area where consumers spend their time?

It can also be said that trucks develop something close to cults. Food trucks have followers, the difference lies in their devotion and as shown to date, food truck followers will follow their food wherever it is, so new trendy areas can be created by food trucks that new restaurateurs can follow if they choose.

Food Truck Debate Issue 4: Food Trucks polute the environment

The longer the food truck industry is popular; technology will help it to become greener.

Many trucks around the country already run their vehicles off the vegetable oil they produce so as to cut down on oil costs for fuel and the emissions their trucks create. If they are so concerned about the environment, are they as critical of restaurants that generate upwards of 41% of their carbon foot print from merely heating and lighting their restaurants?

Dependent on the area of the country and what is their source of power generation, I’d certainly take a food truck that is driving around town on vegetable oil or biodiesel, over a restaurant that requires nuclear or coal based power generation.

Food Truck Debate Issue 5: Food Trucks generate excessive trash

This is an area where we may be in agreement currently, however the food truck industry is evolving. An example of this can be seen in San Francisco where the group Off the Grid has created lots for food truck festivals throughout the week.

When they started, they were holding 3 hour events where approximately 300 hundred consumers attended every hour, now they are holding 4 hour events with upwards of 700 consumers showing up every hour.

Their solution? Asking each vendor to provide a trash can outside of their vehicle as well as charging each truck a little more for their participation so the event planners can hire more assistance to help clean up the site.

Food Truck Debate Issue 6: Food Trucks create more traffic

food truck debateSince food trucks spend the majority of their operating time parked in a lot or a parking spot selling their fare, this point seems moot. Another way to look at this argument is that food trucks use social media to inform customers of their location from day to day.

Much of their sales come from people already in the area, as opposed to many brick and mortar establishments which get people taking taxis or driving themselves to the restaurant’s permanent location. Imagine the cuts in deaths due to traffic incidents if people stopped using taxis or personal vehicles to get to their food source?

These are far from all of the negative points driven by those who do not back the food truck industry, but we have found these to be the most common.

If you are aware of other topics which are used to attempt to dissuade municipalities from approving laws and regulations which allow food trucks into their community, feel free to share them with us in our comment section below, Tweet us or share them on our Facebook page.

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Apparently this London council committee feels that too many food trucks are paying too little in fees and are parking too close to restaurants. The matter will go to the full council this evening.

LONDON, ONTARIO – A council committee doubled the proposed license fee for a food truck operator and considered whether to put the whole concept off for another year.

On Monday night, the Community and Protective Services Committee again looked at the implications of allowing eateries-on-wheels to operate in the city this summer.  They heard from several restaurant owners who expressed concern about the low-cost, mobile competition from food trucks.  Councillors Judy Bryant and Bill Armstrong pushed to delay the decision until 2015 but the idea was voted down.

Mayor Joe Fontana suggested modifications to the proposed bylaw that were accepted on a vote.  They include:

  • more than doubling the license fee from $1225 to $2620
  • tripling the distance trucks must stay from homes, schools and restaurants to 75m
  • a total of eight trucks, down from twelve

The latest version of the food truck proposal will undergo scrutiny again by full council at their meeting on Tuesday night.

Find the original article at blackburnnews.com/ <here>

London Ontario Canada

It appears that Canadian city councils are having the same issues with food trucks as their American counterparts, unfortunately those that argue against them use the same false logic.

LONDON, ONTARIO – A dozen food trucks could be up and running “quickly” in London but city councillors will have to get off the brakes first.

After about two hours of debate the five-member Community and Protective Services Committee voted Monday (April 28) to refer a staff report nearly a year in the making back for further debate at a special meeting before full council convenes next Tuesday (May 6).

At the meeting the committee will consider three revisions to the bylaw that would limit to 12 the number of food truck licences issued in 2014, would see those licences distributed through a lottery (not an auction as was suggested by Ward 4 Councillor Stephen Orser) and would require the program be reviewed in the fall so changes can be made for 2015.

The debate bounced between councillors such as Bill Armstrong, Harold Usher, Denise Brown and Orser who are concerned about putting existing restaurants in the downtown core at risk by flooding the market with unfair competition, and those such as Matt Brown and Nancy Branscombe who cringe at the prospect of losing another food selling season mired in micromanagement, like approving individual menus.

Branscombe could see the green in the grass on both sides of the fence: she said when she travels abroad she “always” eats street food and is eager to see a similar experience in London. But the Ontario Progressive Conservative candidate for London North Centre has no appetite for rushing into an approval and putting pressure on existing businesses.

“I would be feeling very bad in a year if businesses closed because of this.”

Both city bylaw enforcement manager Orest Katolyk and a city solicitor advised the committee that enforcing a menu standard enshrined in a bylaw would be troublesome at best.

Armstrong was more blunt, arguing the politicians have no business telling consumers what they want to eat.

“I find it hard for us to sit here and say let’s decide the menu,” he said. “Who are we?”

Whether councillors decide to wade into menu vetting or not, where they will be allowed to set up shop and how much they will pay the city for the right to do so is up to them.

More than 220 parking spots around the downtown core were recommended for food trucks with rules forbidding them from parking within 100 metres of schools or festivals (as in Victoria Park) or 25 metres from existing restaurants or residential buildings.

That number gave Denise Brown pause; she’s concerned after removing parking spots last summer for outdoor patios, there will be another reason to avoid the downtown if even fewer spots are available.

John Stobie, owner of two Stobie’s Pizza locations downtown, said he welcomes competition as long as there’s a level playing field. After some coaxing he revealed he pays more than $100,000 on the leases for his two locations – a lot more than the $1,225 licence fee a food truck owner would pay.

“I’d love that $1,200 fee.”

Find the entire article at londoncommunitynews.com <here>

LITTLE ROCK, AR – The Arkansas Journal of Social Change and Public Service, a volunteer effort by students at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Bowen School of Law, held its first public symposium Oct. 26. The topic was food, policy and community in Arkansas, with solid discussions on how to broaden access to local food.

arktimes food truck panel
SYMPOSIUM PANEL: Discusses trends in food and commerce in Arkansas.

The 40-person audience was a mix of food service distributors, chefs hoping to get into the food truck business, representatives from Heifer International and other hunger relief organizations and folks from the Department of Human Services, the Boozman College of Public Health, the Clinton School and the law school.

A familiar recitation of the friction between food trucks and standing restaurants dominated the discussion “Food trucks in the Little Rock landscape.” Eric Tinner, owner of Sufficient Grounds Cafe and The Sports Page, represented downtown restaurants. He cited the significantly higher overhead for brick and mortar businesses, and how, on Food Truck Fridays, some of his colleagues have lost 20 percent of their business. “We need smaller businesses [filling the empty storefronts downtown] to draw people in, and food trucks are not it. They’re a temporary solution. They don’t invest in the infrastructure,” he said. Specifically, he named El Jalepeno, a food truck turned downtown brick and mortar, that recently closed, and All American Wings, which left its downtown location because, according to Tinner, “he could not compete with the lower prices [of food trucks].” Tinner maintains that the city of Little Rock and the Downtown Little Rock Partnership have only aggravated the situation.

But Downtown Partnership director Sharon Priest said the Partnership’s mission “is not to bring food trucks into downtown … . We’re trying to bring downtown back to life. That’s our goal, and we’ve been pretty successful thus far.” The Partnership sponsors Food Truck Fridays at the Capitol and Main intersection in autumn and spring and has held two food truck festivals so far. The first festival had 17 food trucks and a crowd of 5,000. This year’s festival had 29 food trucks, a cold, constant drizzle, and 2,700 in attendance.

“I’m a member of the Partnership, and it’s difficult for us to pay dues every month to something that undermines our business,” Tinner said.

Panelist Justin Patterson, with food truck Southern Gourmasian, said, “No scientific evidence exists that indicates food trucks hurt businesses.”

Find the entire article by Cheree Franco at arktimes.com <here>



Minneapolis Food Trucks
Photo by Wayne Djiubinski

MINNEAPOLIS, MN – If you haven’t noticed the proliferation of mobile eateries on city streets in the past couple of years, you’ve probably been on a prolonged journey to the Gamma Quadrant or maybe doing time in a maximum-security lock-up. Food trucks have become almost impossible to miss.

Just walk along downtown streets in either Minneapolis or St. Paul during the lunch hour, and you’ll find trucks dishing out street food with pretensions — duck confit, portobello mushroom sandwiches, mac and cheese and pulled pork — to the huddled masses yearning to eat cheap.

Currently, there are about 40 food trucks in Minneapolis and 60 in St. Paul, up from none a few years ago. More could be on the way, and once-and-future chefs won’t be the only ones launching them. A 2011 survey by the National Restaurant Association found that 36 percent of eateries in the “fast casual” category (think Panera’s or Chipotle Mexican Grill) say that they are likely or somewhat likely to start food trucks of their own; they see the trucks as a good way to expand their businesses and to acquaint customers with their food.

Cities across the nation have viewed the trucks as a boon. They add to tax revenues and liven up the street. When I visited the other day, Marquette, which is normally as empty as the far side of the moon, had an almost festive air with seven trucks parked end-to-end and customers milling around deciding what to eat. Says Lisa Goodman, the 7th Ward Councilwoman who championed food trucks to in Minneapolis: “I’m ecstatic. It’s been so successful.”

Not everybody is thrilled. Kim Gruetzmacher, owner of the 8th Street Grill on Marquette, complains that the city is allowing the competition to sit right on his doorstep and take away customers.

“They [trucks] are cherry-picking the best hours of the day, 10 to 2, from those of us who have to pay rent 24/7,” he says.

His restaurant is hurting less than eateries in the skyways because it’s open for happy hour and dinner while they do only breakfast and lunch. “One woman told me that her business was down 40 percent, and she had to lay off employees,” says Gruetzmacher.

$5 to $10 a dish

It’s easy to see why the business has expanded so quickly. For recession-weary office workers, the trucks offer fare that at $5 to $10 a dish is cheaper than what’s available at full-service restaurants and is a cut above fast food or a sandwich brought from home. Truck owners, some of them former executive chefs, have assembled inventive menus featuring veggies from local farms, meats that have been slow-roasted for eons and exotic ingredients like yuzo and tomatillo.  “I go to the fish market every day at 5 to get the best,” says Billy Tserenbat, a former executive sushi chef who launched Sushi Fix forty days ago.

For young chefs, like Kyle Olson, one of several who operate Get Sauced, trucks offer a toehold in an industry that’s been whacked hard in the five-year economic downturn. “We hadn’t the means to open a restaurant,” says Olson. “A truck was more approachable.”

Launching a restaurant, after all, can cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions; in contrast, a food truck can get off the ground for as little as $40,000, according to Richard Myrick, editor-in-chief of Mobile Cuisine Magazine and author of the forthcoming “Running a Food Truck for Dummies.”

Find the entire article by Marlys Harris at minnpost.com <here>


As we noted yesterday, WTTW the Chicago PBS network aired a debate on the Chicago ordinance which would allow food trucks to prepare meals to-go in these mobile kitchens. This ordinance has had coverage in The Wall Street Journal as well as other national media but we believe this may be the first face to face debate on the issue.

The debaters were Ald. Scott Waguespack, the aldermen responsible for the ordinance, Matt Maroni, the owner of the Gaztro Food Wagon, Dan Rosenthal, and Glenn Keefe, Chicago brick and mortar restaurant owners. For those of you not in the viewing area, we bring you the video of the debate in its entirety.

Please share your opinions on the debate. We would love to hear your thoughts.

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