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Politics

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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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During the research for our list of the Top 20 US Cities to Open a Food Truck we looked at a number of variables that helped define those cities that a new food truck vendor would be able to build their brand with the best chances of success. To follow up that article we thought it would be fun to develop what we call Food Truck Utopia.

food truck utopia

We understand that a Food Truck Utopia will probably never exist, but can certainly be looked at as a model for cities to strive for.

The City

Politicians: FTU is governed by a group of individuals that are open and accepting to all small business. They refuse to protect one industry over another, and provide the local population with the ability to make their own choices when it comes to how they spend their money.

They will also have great communication with the food truck vendors at all times, not just when problems arise.

Legislation: The laws and ordinances that are developed to oversee the city’s food truck vendors will only be in place to protect the health and safety of the public. The fees to operate will be fair and consistent with all small businesses.

Also, food trucks will be able to park where there is space as long as they do not cause traffic or public safety problems. There will be no buffer zones, mandatory gps tracking, limited number of permits or time limits for parking.

Business: The business community within our city limits will not look at food trucks as competition and will not petition our politicians with requests to create a “level playing field.” They will understand that food trucks only provide the consumer with multiple dining choices.

The business owners will have the ability and desire to keep regular communication with the food truck organization to resolve problems they may have with it’s members.

Weather: Our city will have moderate temps throughout the year, but at the same time there are seasonal changes that require food trucks to consider menu changes that reflect the change in temperatures. The weather cannot cause the consumer base to want to stay indoors (ie heavy rain, extreme hot or cold temps).

The People

The vast majority of the residents will be foodies or people who appreciate creative culinary techniques. The FTU population will be employed middle to upper-middle class citizens of all ages, gender, creeds and races. They will be tech savvy and highly involved with social media. There will be consistent growth in the population, as well as continual growth in their disposable income.

The general public will spend a lot of their time outside of the home in our downtown areas and public spaces. Our citizens will also do a lot of catering for personal events or for the businesses they work for. As a final point, the people will go out of their way to attend the many food truck events that take place year round.

The Organization

There will be a strong food truck organization with direct communication to its members, local business leaders and politicians. The organization make sure its members follow the legislation put in place, keep their disagreements in house and provide a single voice to the community. The FTUMVA will make sure trucks do not squat on their favorite parking locations, stay mobile (read change locations daily) and keep them from parking in front of direct competing brick and mortar businesses.

The organization will also work with local businesses and charities to provide the members business and partnership opportunities. The will be educational classes (culinary technique and business management) provided to new and existing vendors and mediation work between members and other businesses that may have issues arise.

Additional Factors

  • Large number of commissaries or commercial kitchens to select from.
  • Public spaces where food truck events can take place.
  • An abundance of street parking.
  • Pedestrian friendly streets with a high foot traffic count at most times of the day.
  • Bars and businesses willing to partner with food truck organization members to fill their needs for catering for their own customers.
  • A fully staffed and trained health department to oversea the trucks and the kitchens they work from.
  • Surrounding communities that accept our food trucks within their city limits.
  • A large population of people within driving distance of our community full of people who want to visit our food trucks.

Please note that the city a food truck operates in is only a small piece of the puzzle of what makes for a successful food truck business. Yes it’s important, but the primary factors that build strong mobile food businesses are:

  • Concept
  • Quality of food
  • Quality of service
  • Ability of staff
  • Management of the business side of the operation (keeping food and overhead costs down, managing suppliers, marketing, networking)

Without a firm grasp and execution all of these principles it doesn’t matter where your truck parks or how open your community is to the mobile food industry, success will be nearly impossible to achieve.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on what a food truck utopia would look like. Please feel free to add your thoughts or suggestions in the comment section below.

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NEW YORK, NY - Sorry NYC mobile food vendors. If you were planning to use the candidate’s thoughts on food trucks as part of your voting platform for your decision your choices appear to be bad and worse.

new-york-city-mayoral-debate

NYC is about to elect a new mayor and the topic of food truck regulation has been brought up by both candidates, Bill de Blassio (D) and Joe Lhota (R). Unfortunately both have recently made comments picked up by the VillageVoice that appear to show that neither are siding with vendors:

While Bill de Blasio celebrated his primary win with a party featuring LCD Soundsystem on the playlist and, as the Bedford + Bowery blog described it, “a Smorgasbord-esque assortment of gourmet food trucks,” he has also called for more regulation of the mini-industry. In May 2012, the Brooklyn Dailyreported that he sides with brick-and-mortar restaurants that see food trucks enjoying unfair advantages because, for example, they don’t need to post inspection grades in their windows. “The fact is right now that the weight of regulation falls on our traditional businesses,” he said.

Joe Lhota, meanwhile, says food trucks clog roads, and he calls for more parking regulations. “They send you a Tweet and let you know what corner they’ll be at. It’s part of their business model,” Lhota said in May. “They’re parked all over the streets, on every corner of the city, and they cause congestion.”

So it seems, you have to choose between candidates who think that the food truck industry is something the city needs to protect restaurants from and another who thinks food trucks on the street are far worse for the public than the numerous delivery vehicles that traverse New York’s already  busy streets.

Neither of them seem to be a Mayor that will embrace food trucks for anything more than a political whipping boy. The sad thing is that what happens in New York will be seen and mimicked across the country in cities that may be looking at the big apple for guidance on how they should handle the growth of the mobile food industry in their communities.

If you were to put together a food truck platform for the perfect elected local official, what would it contain?

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akron ohio logoAKRON, OH - Akron City Councilman Jeff Fusco (D-at large) will chair a committee tasked with researching the topic of food truck vendors in the city of Akron.

The Akron City Council is looking into joining other cities like Canton and Cleveland that have allowed food trucks to sell prepared meals on city streets.

The topic has headlined several recent Akron City Council meetings as representatives from the local food truck industry have spoken to urge Council to consider changing city law to allow the operation of food trucks in Akron. Currently, it is against the law in Akron to sell goods from a vehicle, with the exception of ice cream trucks.

Representatives from Downtown Akron Partnership and the city’s brick-and-mortar restaurants have pushed back, fearing that locally owned restaurants would suffer a decline in business if food trucks were permitted to operate in the city.

Fusco announced at the July 8 Council meeting that the following individuals will serve on the committee: Councilwoman Margo Sommerville (D-Ward 3), owner of Sommerville Funeral Home; Veronica Sims, an Akron Public Schools Board of Education member; Suzie Graham, of Downtown Akron Partnership; Guido D’Orio, of NEOSHRED, and a member of the North Akron Board of Trade; and John Buntin, of Kenmore Komics, and a member of the Kenmore Board of Trade. In addition, Fusco said, representatives from both the food truck and brick-and-mortar restaurant industries will be consulted as experts.

Fusco said the committee is gearing up for a thorough and lengthy exploration of the matter.

“We look forward to moving forward with this,” Fusco said. “It’s going to take a lot of time. We want to make sure we’re very thorough … so we can make informed decisions.”

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One of our Twitter followers shared a great article by S.R. Mann at Pocket Full of Liberty and we were granted permission to republish a portion of it for our readers.

Food Truck Revolution

Various publications have talked about the rise of food trucks for the past few years. Reporters from New York to Los Angeles to Salt Lake City to Indianapolis to Syracuse to Boise have written articles remarking on the increase of these mobile culinary venues in their cities. And their popularity is nothing to shake off either:

In a 2010 survey by Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm Technomic for American Express, 26 percent of Americans said they had visited a food truck in the last six months, despite the fact that most trucks are concentrated in a few big cities.

Increased popularity means that food trucks are taking in larger market share of the food industry. In 2009, food trucks brought in $1.2 billion in revenue with that revenue going up 8.4% each year from 2007 to 2012. In 2011, food trucks took in 37% of all the revenue earned through various forms of street vending. And by August 2012, food trucks all over the country collectively saw their revenue go up by 15%. Forbes’ Venkatesh Rao described the increased popularity of food trucks (and farmers’ market) as “a recession-era mini-boom” in the “local food economy.”

These numbers have gotten large enough that the independent gourmand trucks have looked into franchising — and already existing franchises and chains are looking to break into the market as well. Burger King announced plans to roll out food trucks in New York City back in 2012. Their trucks are now out and about in San Francisco.

Naturally, permanently-stationed “brick and mortar” restaurants are concerned about how food trucks affect their lunch crowds — and their bottom lines. As one quick anecdote, restaurant owner Guy Behunin of Salt Lake City stated that his lunch-driven restaurant lost “between 17 and 30 percent” of his profits due to food trucks.

However, rather than compete toe-to-toe with Quick Meal Mobiles, some restaurateurs have appealed to city governments to place strict regulations on food trucks in order to recoup lost revenue. Boston, Chicago, Seattle, and St. Louis are among the many cities enacting laws to crack down on food trucks on behalf of restaurateurs. In Chicago, Amy Le of Duck N Roll food truck was ticketed despite abiding by the city’s regulations:

Three weeks after she launched the business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar—50 feet within the city’s limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.

Ms. Le says she later had to spend nearly a full day in court to find out what the violation would cost her—about $300—and that she lost an estimated $600 to $700 in sales as a result.

“The 200-foot buffer prohibits me from competing,” says Ms. Le, 32 years old, who also opposes a new rule requiring food trucks to install global-positioning devices so the city can track their whereabouts. “It is a free market. Let the consumers decide when and where they want to eat.”

But Chicago isn’t the only city manipulating the free market in favor of brick and mortar restaurants.

Find the entire article by S.R. Mann at pocketfullofliberty.com <here>

S. R. Mann is a Mother & aspiring philosopher. More libertarian than conservative. Best described as a right-winger who marches to the beat of her own drum. Analytic, passionate, pragmatic, and often irreverent.

You can follow her at @sevenlayercake on Twitter or http://www.pocketfullofliberty.com/food-trucks/

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Portsmouth VAPORTSMOUTH, VA – Another city in the country is beginning to analyize the idea of allowing food trucks within their borders and on their main streets. In Portsmouth, VA the story is starting the same way it has in many other cities across the country…a city council member throwing out a false narrative which has been proven incorrect over the last 5 years.

This snippet from hamptonroad.com:

The City Council is considering whether to allow food trucks on public and private property throughout the city.

City staff presented a report on the issue, which was met with little enthusiasm by council members, at a work session Monday.

Councilman Bill Moody Jr. said altering regulations to allow the trucks could hurt restaurants. He also wondered whether they could pose health risks.

Council members agreed to further explore the issue by setting up a task force of city officials and others.

Current regulations do not allow for food trucks, according to a report prepared by city officials.

Attention to the Portsmouth City Council:

Competition breeds better restaurants. It doesn’t close them. If a restaurant is worried about trucks making better food, they should cook better food or provide better service. They have  roofs, walk-in seating and a full staff.

Food trucks are no less safe to the public than any restaurant in your city. Not only is the truck inspected, but in cities where a truck is required to use a commercial kitchen, those kitchens are also inspected.

Get on Board the Food Truck Revolution

While the above quoted article also mentions that there has only been a single applicant for food truck registration, it doesn’t mean there isn’t a need to modify your current rules to allow food trucks in your city.

By allowing this one truck to begin operating, you will open up a set of flood gates which will invite additional culinary entrepreneurs to get their business plans put together. Food trucks don’t create competition with restaurants in most cases…the industry that should be concerned is the one centered around city employees bringing in brown bag lunches.

Give your constituents more choices…don’t limit their options because you want to protect a segment of the food industry that does not need political protection.

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SUNRISE, FL - It was much ado about food trucks last week in Sunrise, with owners of the rolling restaurants urging commissioners to nix an all-out ban.

fl-scuotto-sunriseArlon Kennedy, a Sunrise resident who got into the business last year, told commissioners they should embrace food trucks, not ban them.

“We live in an open democracy, the hallmark of which is competition,” Kennedy said. “Food trucks have found a creative way to deliver food to people. I don’t think we want to kill that. I think that is part of the American spirit.”

The meeting lasted almost five hours, with tempers flaring, mainly from the dais.

Commissioner Joey Scuotto initially said he favors a ban on gourmet food trucks. On Tuesday, though, he disputed reports he is in favor of a ban and said his opinion is not at all flavored by the fact that he owns a restaurant.

“The reason I got hot on this topic [is] we have the fourth-largest corporate park in the state,” Scuotto told the overflow crowd. “Food trucks may want to come into this corporate park, and it wouldn’t be fair to let them roll in, make money and leave. And that’s pretty much how this started.”

At one point, three officials from the Chamber of Commerce came forward to say they favor allowing food trucks at special events. Scuotto referred to the men as “The Three Stooges” as they walked to the microphone.

“We don’t want to see them parked at every corner, but we want to see them at special events,” said Mike Jacobs, executive director of the chamber. “I know it’s a hot topic, but it really shouldn’t be.”

Mayor Mike Ryan said he wanted staff to draft an ordinance that would require food truck owners to get a permit to give the city some control over when and where they operate.

Find the entire article by Susannah Bryan at the Sun Sentinal <here>

 

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WASHINGTON DC - President Barack Obama’s historic first inauguration drew upward of 1.8 million people, no doubt an inaugural record, overwhelming the District and its infrastructure.

2009 inauguration crowdBut there were plenty of vendors on that bitter cold 2009 day, some 1,200 within the so-called “exclusion zone” near the National Mall and parade route, to serve the crowd’s insatiable desire for Obama-inspired T-shirts and hot dogs. There were so many vendors bunched together in so few locations, in fact, that some later complained about their opportunity to earn a profit.

That won’t be a problem in 2013, as the District prepares to welcome a relatively paltry 800,000 visitors. They’ll be back to normal this year, according to the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, as exactly 100 vendors applied for a license to vend within the exclusion zone.

A lottery planned for next week will determine exactly where they’ll be placed for the day. The various security forces, including the Secret Service, have yet to sign off on the locations.

Of the 100, 70 will sell merchandise, 25 food and five both merchandise and food. Of the 25 food vendors, per DCRA, 20 will be food trucks (list list of vendors has yet to be announced).

 

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The language in question from the District’s proposed vending regulations sounds innocuous enough: Food trucks may not vend from a parking spot adjacent to an “unobstructed sidewalk” that’s “less than ten feet (10 ft.) wide in the Central Business District.”

DC food truck association sidewalk map

But since the proposed regulations were published in October, members of the D.C. Food Truck Association have been trying to determine what those words could mean for their businesses, and what they’ve learned has unnerved them: Eight of the 10 most popular food-truck destinations downtown do not technically comply with the proposed rules as written, according to research done by the association.

Only the Metro Center and L Street NW locations fit the current criteria, notes Che Ruddell-Tabisola, executive director of the association and co-owner of the BBQ Bus.

The city is still taking public comments on the regs. Comments are due by 5 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 13, and may be sent to Helder Gil, Legislative Affairs Specialist, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs at 1100 Fourth St. SW, Room 5164, Washington, D.C. 20024. Comments may be e-mailed to DCVendingRegs@dc.gov.

 

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