Some of the most-clicked items in Restaurant SmartBrief, read by restaurateurs, chefs and foodies, are about food trucks. SmartBlog on Restaurants and Restaurant SmartBrief contributor Janet Forgrieve decided to explore the topic further.
Food trucks continue to be a hot topic this year — the mobile eateries were the star of last spring’s National Restaurant Association convention, and the summer’s newest food reality show had mobile kitchens competing in a cross-country race to delight diners from Southern California to Manhattan.
But even as frequent media stories detail new fine-dining mobile offerings and creative casual lunch options, municipal governments are struggling to balance the interests of brick-and-mortar eateries, mobile food-truck operators and the needs of residents who crave both low-priced, convenient food choices and public parking in congested cities. The results of the balancing acts are playing out in very different ways from city to city.
In Chicago, the city’s aldermen still haven’t heard a proposal to change the rules that now limit food prep to commercial kitchens, which means mobile food entrepreneurs can sell their wares in the city limits but are prohibited from doing any food prep on board, a fact that’s not holding some intrepid mobile chefs back. In contrast, the nearby city of Evanston, Ill., passed new rules last week allowing fully functioning food trucks to cook and roll through the city’s streets.
In June, two New York City Council members drew sizable opposition when they proposed a plan to tie food-truck permits with parking violations, proposing a strict rule that would have given parking officials the power to permanently revoke permits after a certain number of parking violations.
In Los Angeles, officials seeking to ensure that food-truck offerings are as safe for consumers as the ones they find at the city’s restaurants are considering requiring the mobile eateries to post the same health-inspection letter grades as brick-and-mortar restaurants have been required to post for several years.
Meanwhile, in the nation’s capital, business owners and politicians are aligning to fight growing competition from food trucks, as documented in a story in Friday’s Washington City Paper. The story details the experiences of veteran chef Stephan Boillon, who found himself unemployed two years ago. Boillon initially tried to open an upscale sandwich shop, but switched gears after the project proved too pricey. Even with existing restrictions that limited his mobile menu and hours of operation, Boillon and a host of new mobile restaurant operators have found a receptive audience for their offerings. Now, as the popularity of mobile trucks has grown, opponents are pushing for stricter regulations that limit the length of time trucks can stay in one place, how far away they must move when time is up and how far away they must park from brick-and-mortar food establishments, the City Paper reports.
Does the new breed of food trucks pose a threat to traditional restaurants? Do municipal governments have a role in regulating rolling eateries? Leave a comment.