From New York to Los Angeles, high-end, fast-food served from catering trucks like Baby’s Badass Gourmet Burgers, or Kogi’s Korean BBQ taco truck, has captured the attention of Americans bored with stale brick and mortar food offerings.
Because of the recent popularity and explosion of gourmet food-truck vendors, battles have surfaced between food-truck vendors and restaurants in several major cities across the US.
The Wall Street Journal’s Sarah E. Needleman reports Boston, Chicago, St. Louis and Seattle are among the cities enacting laws that restrict where food trucks can serve customers in proximity to restaurants and for how long.
“The rules are unfair,” says Amy Le, owner of Duck N Roll, a food truck in Chicago serving Asian-style cuisine that includes short ribs and mango lychee.
Food-truck operators argue that since cities already allow restaurants to open up alongside one another, they shouldn’t be singled out for offering an additional dining service.
Shortly after Le launched her business last fall, she received a ticket from local law enforcement for doing business about 150 feet from a wine bar50 feet within the city’s limit for how close food trucks can park outside of retail food establishments.
Le says the violation cost her about $300, and she lost $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.”
Needleman claims food-truck operators complain that in many cities they are still relegated to antiquated rules intended for ice-cream, hot-dog and other traditional mobile vendors with smaller and less complex menus.
And in New Orleans, mobile food vendors are forced to change locations after 45 minutes in one spot, among other restrictions.
“It’s not a feasible amount of time for this business model,” says Rachel Billow, who last year co-founded La Cocinita, a food truck that serves Latin American cuisine. “It takes about a half-hour to set up.”
Billow and her business partner, Venezuelan chef Benoit Angulo, started La Cocinita after several years of working in the restaurant industry. They invested $50,000 in start-up costs, which included $12,000 in modifications to their vehicle to satisfy the city’s fire code.
Truck operators stress that being permitted to stay in one spot for several hours is vital because they post their locations every day on their Twitter and Facebook pages.
“Even if we have to move once, people are going to complain they can’t find us,” says Skip Stellhorn, who runs Pollo Fritto, a fried-chicken truck that began operating throughout the San Francisco Bay area in January.
Restaurant owners say the food trucks are unfair competition, because they often undercut their prices. Camy Silva, co-owner of El Gaucho Luca’s Cafe in downtown Las Vegas, charges about $8 for a hamburger, twice as much as the food trucks.
“They come during our busiest hours and park in front of us,” says Silva. Las Vegas legislators are considering an ordinance that would prevent food trucks from parking for more than four hours a day on a public street within 300 feet of a retail food establishment.
Gavin Coleman, general manager of the Dubliner, his family’s Irish pub and restaurant in Washington, D.C., says food trucks don’t just compete with him for foot traffic.
They also occupy a long stretch of parking spots where his customers look to park their vehicles. And they play loud music that he fears is a disturbance to patrons who dine on his outdoor patio.
“Businesses pick locations and business models around certain peak times,” says Mr. Coleman. “Food trucks can poach that business and then pick up and leave.”
Restaurant owners may have more clout with government officials because the property they occupy generates income for the county in the form of property taxes, but the food truck problem for them isn’t going away any time soon.
Needleman claims in Boston, there are now 38 food trucks in operation, up from 17 a year ago and about six in 2010. St.
Louis currently has 29 food trucks, up from 14 last year and zero in 2010. Meanwhile, inquiries about food-truck permits in Sacramento, Calif., now average three to four a week, compared with just one a month a year ago.