Thursday, January 05, 2012

Foodtrucks and Compromise

Count me as one of the fans of the exploding gourmet food truck revolution: the quality of these lunch or light dinner bites, combined with the short term availability, make them a compelling draw for me. Here in SF, we have amazing choices, like the Bacon Bacon truck, the Rib Whip, and An The Go, among dozens of others. One of my favorite parts of the summer was the Friday night Food Truck Crush at the Larkspur Ferry building: 5 or so of the region's finest, lined up to tantalize me with their offerings as I disembarked from the City. Delicious.

Recently, the food truck phenomenon is getting a little uglier. Traditional restaurants, paying rent for fixed space in a desirable location, are seeing their customers siphoned off by trucks parked just outside. Free economy, right? Sure, but these trucks are sometimes coming to the same spot daily, staying for hours, and taking up parking and commerce spots, in some cases obscuring the storefronts of their competition. Restaurants are fighting back, calling police to tow the offenders, or, in some cases, taking matters in to their own hands. And food truckers are not all so thrilled either: as their business booms, the shared prep space they use to whip up these morsels is getting more crowded and some are moving into fixed storefronts, if only to have a little breathing room.

Now, today there is a heated debate in Sacramento: legislation is being considered to restrict the trucks. Among the restrictions are having to move every 30 minutes (a law on the books now). As predicted, there is a backlash from food truck aficionados, the truck owners, and festival organizers; the petition in Sacramento seems to focus on the fact that, if the ordinance is enforced, it would stop festivals and the like. And I find myself torn. One one side, I LOVE the tasty treats, and the endless variety, and I want to see them flourish. On the other, it does seem that they are often turning a food truck into a temporary restaurant, and impacting the businesses that have paid good money to be in high traffic areas. It's only going to get worse, as more trucks compete for the dining dollar. 

My suggestions:
  • Yes, these trucks are trucks. They should have to move...unless they are parked at either a vacant location, with the permission of the property owner; a public location that does not offer regulated parking (i.e. meters, garage, etc.); or with a permit from the city (for festivals, etc.). 
  • The trucks should have a portion of their license fee be designated for a fund for fixed restaurants within 1 city block of the truck's locations. The Trucks should have to report their locations and times, or fund a monitored GPS that will do the same (maybe an app?); the city should have to write a check, monthly, based on the amount of time the business was in their area, to the nearby restaurants.
  • Smart local restaurants should turn the tables: offer the use of their facilities to the truck owners in certain times, in return for a small fee and a guarantee that the truck will not impact their business by selling nearby. First mover's advantage.
I hope the balance can be met, as I want to see the cities turn their urban blight (abandoned areas, closed buildings) into thriving food centers, without harming the hardworking restaurants.

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