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Food Trucks and the Cities that Should Love Them!

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EricW //

In January we posted an article in which we talked about what I think are the four categories of food truck operators, one of which is a group of food truck operators whose goal is to open up a brick and mortar location (food trucker terminology for a restaurant!). Since then, I have thought a lot about those owners and operators who I've met that have opened or are in the process of opening restaurants (like the 5 in Boston that I mentioned in the article) and the impact that they (and all) food trucks have on the economy and the effect they have, overall, on the cities and towns in which they operate.

I know that for some this may be viewed as a bold statement trucks are a thorough and genuine addition to any city or town! In my experience over the past 18 months of being actively involved in the food truck industry including exploring food trucks in all kinds of cities and town, as well as over 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry, I can confidently report that food trucks have a positive impact everyplace that I have gone. And, when I say positive impact I mean a win, win win! 

WIN: I have stated over and over again that food trucks are a great mechanism for the American dream. Small business owners and dreamers having the opportunity to do what they love: growing a business and making a living. 

WIN: Consumers get to eat and experience a vast variety of foods: local, fresh, and healthy; unique creations; ethnic cuisine; American favorites like ribs, a burger or a homemade doughnut. And, food trucks are often an opportunity for many people to experience a type of food they may have never tried before. It's truly an almost limitless menu!  Ever heard of an Arepa? YUM!

WIN: Cities and town, of course, benefit in many ways. Food trucks sometimes gather in places of urban blight or in undeveloped areas that provide a showcase, bringing to those areas a new energy and interest. For example, in Austin, TX, where food trucks can only operate on private property, food trucks regularly help draw people and interest to less desirable or less populated areas that eventually get developed, forcing the trucks to other areas and other vacant lots. Some of those lots in Austin are actually made into food truck parks! Another benefit of a food truck community is that many cities and towns that may not be able to support a variety or numerous restaurants are often able to have food trucks roll in and offer residents and workers in the area a delicious variety of food choices. And, then, there's the possibility that a food truck that operates in a town that embraces them will expand and open a restaurant there! And, of course, let's not forget the economic benefit of tax revenue, job creation and local purchases!

Winning, all around!!!

With all that winning going on, one might think that everyone would be on board and supportive of the food truck community and industry. One might also think that cities might be cooperative and responsive to food trucks especially when truck operators have opened restaurants in those cities and towns. Ironically, that is not the case. At least not in Cranston, RI who last year passed an ordinance that food vendors must be located more than 1,000 feet from any establishment that serves food. Then, just this past Monday they denied a renewal license to a hot dog cart that had been operating on private property, at a Lowe's location for over 10 years.  Apparently, the cart was just under 1,000 feet from a Texas Roadhouse (which by the way does not open until dinner time while the hot dog cart operates mostly during the late morning and lunch hour). 

We reached out to Garrett and Melinda from the Institute of Justice and asked about other cities that have been unfriendly to food trucks. Garrett shared "If we’re going to draw attention to cities with bad food truck laws, we would be amiss to forget Baltimore, Akron, Dallas, Miami, Rochester, Richmond VA, and Englewood NJ, - and basically everywhere else in New Jersey.  We can supply five more places in New Jersey alone that have made it utterly impossible to do business as a food truck.  Perhaps that’s an article unto itself."

This all seems to be counterproductive to the values of free enterprise and competition. And, to the ability of offering choices to consumers. Naturally there is good reason to enforce health and safety codes but that is, of course, quite different than the selective process of licensing who may and may not operate a legitimate business, of any kind.

Below is a partial list of food trucks we have recently met or visited that also now operate a restaurant or are opening one soon. We reached out to some of them and asked them to share their experience. 

As we continue on this journey of growing, one of our goal is to support food trucks by helping them get the word out that it is good business for a cities and towns to support them.