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Brick-and-mortar restaurants vs. food trucks.
August 22, 2012 11:28 PM   Subscribe

There is growing discontent within the food service industry between brick-and-mortar restaurants and mobile food trucks. Many restaurants feel that the food trucks' mobility advantages take away their business and support cities enacting time-and-location restrictions on food trucks in order to "level the playing field." The food trucks argue that these time-and-location restrictions are unfair because they prohibit the food trucks from competing fairly. In the Boston area, this discontent has been playing out in an ongoing feud between the Phantom Gourmet restaurant-reviewing brothers and the Staff Meal food trucks.

Here's some further reading on the Phantom Gourmet (PG) vs. Staff Meal food truck feud.

The feud traces back to 2011 when one of the PG brothers made angry characterizations about hostesses on the PG radio show. The Staff Meal owners found this offensive, so they blacklisted all three PG brothers from being served at Staff Meal food trucks. (See second link in FPP. The original broadcast is no longer available for download on the PG radio show website.)

The food truck vs. brick-and-mortar element began earlier this year when one of the Staff Meal owners wrote an open letter to the City of Boston calling for a change in the structure of Boston's food truck system. The PG radio show picked up the issue in July with a brick-and-mortar restaurant-owner guest who stated that food trucks were hurting his business. (See audio labeled "7/27/12 Al from Al's State Street Cafe.") The next week the Staff Meal owners went on the PG radio show to rebut. (I cannot find the audio on the PG radio website; please post if you can.) Following this appearance, the Staff Meal owners published a blog post titled "Hey Phantom Gourmet" and a tweet showing their "Do Not Serve" poster for the PG brothers.

The PG brothers responded by posting another of the Staff Meal owners' tweets that bragged about having fired someone via text to Facebook asking, "Do you think it is wrong to fire an employee by text then brag about it on twitter?" BostInno has previously interviewed Staff Meal about their lack of filter when it comes to Twitter. The next day, the Staff Meal owners posted a photo of their apparently vandalized "Staff Meal" food truck being renamed "Giraffe Meal."

Now adopting the cause of brick-and-mortar, one of the PG brothers published an op-ed supporting the proposed requirement that food trucks stay 1,000 feet away from brick-and-mortar restaurants. Another Boston food writer then suggested on Facebook that the PG brothers-owned Restaurant and Business Alliance is comprised primarily of businesses that have appeared in one form or another on the PG television show. BostInno discussed and suggested that the "alliance" is just a fancy term for "Phantom Gourmet sponsors."

It is worth noting that Boston magazine handed out the annual prestigious "Best of Boston" awards recently. In the numerous and popular "Food and Restaurant" categories, no awards were given for food trucks.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston (150 comments total) 50 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wait until they find out what the Chinese restaurants and Pizza places have been up to for the past several decades!
posted by ShutterBun at 11:40 PM on August 22, 2012 [20 favorites]


Wait, I thought business was about taking risks and being dynamic and seizing opportunities? Whingeing about the exact incline of the playing field was not mentioned as part of this dynamic-ness.
posted by memebake at 11:58 PM on August 22, 2012 [10 favorites]


1. Business exists.
2. New business come along who do things differently, make a bit of money
3. Old industry thinks to itself "Hey, should we try that too, get on-board, try to up our game? Nah, we'll lobby the government to make new business illegal."
4. Repeat as necessary in fields of publishing, dining, music, etc. etc.
posted by Jimbob at 12:04 AM on August 23, 2012 [95 favorites]


In Vancouver, the result of this "tension" (which is, in my opinion, basically a business cartel manipulating government) was the creation of an extremely strict licensing system for food trucks, distributed by lottery annually, thus artificially limiting supply (and making them extremely difficult or expensive to acquire). There are also a number of food quality restrictions imposed exclusively on food trucks (organic/locally sourced, relatively healthy, etc) which makes it increasingly difficult to compete with buck-a-slice operations.

The result is food carts which generally cost as much or more than brick and mortar restaurants, with a few notable exceptions.
posted by mek at 12:04 AM on August 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


Jimbob's got it, when your response to competition is to try to get the government to kill it, your business model is in trouble.
posted by blm at 12:05 AM on August 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Of course it's notable that, being the racketeering colonial craphole that Vancouver is, food trucks were nearly completely prohibited (for "health reasons") until 2010.
posted by mek at 12:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Food trucks are a scourge in NYC (personally, ranking just under pedi-cabs) so I welcome any restrictions on them. Then again, I don't understand why real restaurants are so nervous about this fad. Unless all of humanity truly decides they'd rather stand around eating their meals breathing in exhaust fumes and dodging pedestrians, or sitting on a park bench leaning over plastic trays trying not to spill artisinal mayo/salsa/mustard/ice cream on their slacks, then I think the fad will eventually level off and decrease in popularity. At least, I hope so. "Got a great date idea honey, let's get our food from a TRUCK!"
posted by ReeMonster at 12:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yep. And record labels hate these new-fangled downloads.
posted by lumpenprole at 12:29 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


In Seattle, when I go to a food truck it's because it's cheap and DELICIOUS Mexican food. I wonder why they tend to be Mexican.
posted by victory_laser at 12:31 AM on August 23, 2012


The comparison with tech works only up to a point - it's not as if an increase in food trucks is do to natural human progress. Maybe it's because there's a recession and everyone likes to pat themselves on the back for paying a few bucks less for lunch (that tastes just as good!).

Incidentally, my favorite burrito bus in Seattle is also chain-owned by a restaurant on the other side of town.
posted by victory_laser at 12:38 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why real restaurants are so nervous about this fad

- It's absolutely not a fad. From LA to London, food trucks are a big thing and the trend is several years old already.
- Restaurants have high fixed costs: so if revenues go down 10%, profit goes down a long, long way; compeition in a recession from a cheaper, more mobile restaurant is not welcome.
- Food trucks are future restaurants and therefore future competition; they are an easier and cheaper way to try things that might not work as a restaurant. It allows that Mexican/Vietnamese fusion wrap entrepreneur to tinker with her offer and drive around to find where her hardcore customer base is.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:42 AM on August 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Yay capitalism!

I love seeing a good predator and predator brawl!
posted by Slackermagee at 12:42 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Rent-seeker, ugh. If your restaurant is less appealing than a food truck, make a better restaurant. The govt and populace do not owe you a living. (wow, that sounds really right wing! I'm a total pinko, I swear!)
posted by smoke at 12:50 AM on August 23, 2012 [38 favorites]


Jimbob's got it, when your response to competition is to try to get the government to kill it, your business model is in trouble.

That sounds right in general, but it's not necessarily true. Your competition may actually be doing something (serving food in unsanitary conditions, treating workers poorly, not paying appropriate taxes, breaking zoning laws, etc.) that you think should be regulated but has been overlooked by regulators, so you call on the government to do something.

I can also see how communities would want to decide how food is sold in the community, and that might apply especially to food trucks, whose owners might not have the same stake in the long-term well-being of the local community.
posted by pracowity at 12:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


It's absolutely not a fad.

It's only in the last year that I've seen ENTIRE NYC STREETS completely lined with different food trucks. Such as Union Square West. It looks like a fucking shopping mall food court.
posted by ReeMonster at 12:55 AM on August 23, 2012


It's definitely a trend, but you called it a fad.
posted by ericost at 1:00 AM on August 23, 2012


We don't have them here, and I would be cautious about eating from a chuck truck, as a rule.
posted by Mezentian at 1:09 AM on August 23, 2012


I think that it's silly to think of restaurants in any form as a zero-sum game. I eat at least two meals every day. 90%+ of my meals are from restaurants. So my favorites I hit up with regularity, but I try something new. I rotate around. There are literally thousands of restaurants, but there are millions of people who like to eat at them and enjoy variety.

A rising tide lifts all boats, and calling for restrictions from food trucks because you feel they have an advantage is silly and anti-competitive (clearly). Evolve. Come up with better food, different promotions, or any number of other things to get us back to your place over and over.

Food trucks have distinct disadvantages too. Typically when they're available here in Phoenix, they're clustered together at farmer's markets or the like as basically the primary meal option. So they have insane lines. And food trucks have trouble with scale. They can only offer so many menu items and only then so fast. (At least this is an issue with most of the specialty trucks out here. The roach coaches tend to have a lot of stuff prepped and tend to be more like a diner on wheels, but I don't think that's part of the "trend" we're talking about here.)

So they're slow. They're limited in selection. They run out of stuff very easily. And you have to find them. They're a fun novelty and sometimes the food is fantastic, but they're not about to kill restaurants. Ever.
posted by disillusioned at 2:28 AM on August 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


Its hot, cheap, filling and good. What's there not to like?

Versus the licenses, employees, infrastructure and costs of a brick and mortar restaurant where you might have to wait for a fancier meal?

One of the best I've had is at dusk outside the British Museum in London, the last thing I expected to be eating, sitting by the lions, was goat curry and rice (yum)

They serve two different needs - speed and convenience vs the ambience of a restaurant. AND its not a chain type of fast food either but all kinds of delicious stuff.
posted by infini at 2:40 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


- It's absolutely not a fad. From LA to London, food trucks are a big thing and the trend is several years old already.

Which distinguishes it from a fad in...what way, exactly?

They became a "fad" as soon as people stopped calling them Roach Coaches, as far as I can tell.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:44 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I have to admit to a certain amount of confusion over why people enjoy food trucks so much. I've eaten food while walking around Dublin or sitting on a park bench or what have you, and the thing I remember most clearly about doing it is wishing that I was sitting in a proper restaurant or café. Keep in mind, I was eating things like sandwiches or a burger - stuff that's easy enough to carry around. I really can't imagine eating a 'proper' meal without a table in front of me.
posted by anaximander at 2:57 AM on August 23, 2012


Its a fad in the same way that getting DVDs in the mail was a fad when I graduated college in 2000. I haven't walked into a video rental store in over 12 years, and I haven't received a DVD rental in the mail since I left the US 5 years ago, but yet I still watch (and pay) for movies.

The only difference is that not every restaurant is going to go bankrupt like Blockbuster did, because sometimes I actually prefer a nice restaurant experience. What this kind of trend is doing is forcing restaurants to be better and more competitive. It is good for the consumer, and good for the market. It is bad for the non-competitive business owner, particularly the one who is resistant to change.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


This is why you can't buy a hot dog from a cart in Chicago.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


So how about offering fixed restaurants a level playing field?

What are food trucks? Compact 100 square foot restaurants without seating.

Do cities allow non-food truck restaurants to operate in this way? Can they easily open for business in a location where there was no restaurant previously? Can they open in whatever 200 square feet are vacant at the moment, perhaps a garage or the corner of an empty lot, just by signing a short-term lease with the owner? Can they--most importantly--do so without going through some neighborhood review board, or without violating zoning ordinances? Without providing several thousand square feet of private parking space for their customers' cars?

If not, then food trucks have a distinct advantage, which helps to overcome their obvious disadvantages, and it should be no surprise that they're multiplying.
posted by alexei at 3:11 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Andelman is synonymous for low-information shakedown operation in Boston. They cater to the operators who lack any kind of sophistication to know that they're essentially paying the three brothers not to bad-mouth them.

On the other hand, while I'm a fan of the recent food truck fad in Boston, I can say that they're not taking away the core clientele that the restaurants service, they're just reducing the length of the lunch rush. Those operators who are savvy enough to adapt to changes in the environment will continue to generate profits while those who offer the same menu for a decade, like Al's, will see their profits decline.

Oddly enough, people keep opening brick and mortar restaurants and food retail all over Boston. The trucks aren't the problem.
posted by jsavimbi at 3:16 AM on August 23, 2012


Which distinguishes it from a fad in...what way, exactly?

Good question.

A fad is transient. It becomes popular quickly and fades quickly, typically to be replaced by another fad. Fads are hard to predict and often hard to understand why they explode into popularity. Why do the youth of today wear that type of hat at a jaunty angle. Why are people suddenly serving obscure ingredient x or doing y?

A trend doesn't have to last forever, but it is less transient and may also have a slower pickup rate. It is also easier to understand a trend in consumer insight terms - i.e. why it has become popular. What sometimes looks like a fad can become a trend, particularly if it evolves. History is littered with businessmen who declare that it'll never take off.

Food trucks are trends. We know this, because we have the luxury of hindsight. They are well established in lots of cities, in and outside the US. There is no reason to believe they are going to just peter out and lots of reasons to suppose that consumers will continue to want places to eat that are cheap, experimental and innovative.

Think about it in terms of a hype cycle: in some places you'll find food trucks everywhere and unfeasibly popular. As the hype dies down, there will be a shakeout and what is left will continue. Not a fad. Just the natural evolution of a trend.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


There are a lot of issues with brick-and-mortar restaurants in urban centers, which I suspect are exacerbating their conflict with food trucks. Simply put, restaurant culture in North America's major cities is not sustainable. It's largely dependent on flouting labour laws: unpaid overtime, illegal immigrants, undeclared tips, drug-fueled 20-something kitchen staff, etc. (They're not all like this, but ironically the major chains are under more scrutiny so they tend to be the good employers.) None of this is news, of course. But if food trucks provide a mechanism to get more tasty food to people who want it, for profit, without the exploitative practices of many a brick-and-mortar restaurant, well, more power to them.
posted by mek at 3:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Frankly, I like to know that it is easy for the people cooking my food to 1. Get to the bathroom. 2. Wash their hands frequently, with warm water and soap.
This is not so easy with a food truck.
I seldom eat from any sort if food truck for this reason.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 3:23 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


... and I immediately think of that Bob's Burgers episode. I hope none of this ends with a crappy rundown food truck on fire.

Side note: the food trucks in Portland are exquisite.
posted by six-or-six-thirty at 3:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


One of the best I've had is at dusk outside the British Museum in London, the last thing I expected to be eating, sitting by the lions, was goat curry and rice (yum)

Oh I've had food from that very food truck! It was good, waaaaay better than the crap that they claimed was Bibimbap in a restaurant on the other side of the Museum.
posted by the cydonian at 3:40 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


The roach coaches tend to have a lot of stuff prepped and tend to be more like a diner on wheels, but I don't think that's part of the "trend" we're talking about here.

Maybe it is. I think everyone is talking about the food trucks they've been to, regardless of the links at the top. Certain neighborhoods will have food trucks that really amount to relatively upscale food boutiques for people who go for food trends and have money. Certain neighborhoods will have trucks offering cheapo servings of industrial food to people who just want stomachs filled now.

One seems certain to me: if food trucks sit in the same place every day, they aren't food trucks anymore, they're fixed-location restaurants that ought to operate under the same rules as other fixed-location restaurants. For example, maybe they need to arrange for toilets, including disabled access toilets. It might be cool if the truck operators got together to buy lots that they could share (and build seating and toilets on) rather than depend on public parking spaces.
posted by pracowity at 3:41 AM on August 23, 2012


Re fads/trends - also worth adding that farmer's markets have also been dismissed as a fad and still get discussed as such on the internets. The data say otherwise. There is a parallel with [higher end] food trucks in lots of ways - they're local, about the experience as well as the food, and not least because as farmer's markets grow and evolve you typically see them go from just selling stuff to take home to also selling stuff you can eat there and then.

In the UK, for example, Borough Market is a trendsetting example - once a retail/wholesale produce market, it went high end and then became a key trading site for specialist, low volume food producers. Now around 1/4 of the site is given over to takeaway food stalls. This is not atypical, and the parallels with food trucks are reasonably clear in terms of what this tells us about how people want to buy stuff to eat.
posted by MuffinMan at 3:42 AM on August 23, 2012


My city already has heavy restrictions on Food Trucks like the ones that they proposed in Boston and it sucks. There a couple of brave truck operators but since they can't stop near an existing restaurant and they have to move every 30 minutes, I've never managed to actually find one.
posted by octothorpe at 3:56 AM on August 23, 2012


ReeMonster: "I don't understand why real restaurants are so nervous about this fad."
Food trucks were invented in Berlin prior to the First World War (spurred by the relatively recent invention of the primus stove, which allowed for a portable heating source). Since there are still restaurants in Berlin to this day, I agree that the brick'n'mortar shops ought not worry too much. I also don't think you can call something which has been in widespread use for 100 years a fad.
posted by brokkr at 4:08 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Wow, Boston's law requires 1000 feet between food trucks and restaurants?? That's insane.
posted by mediareport at 4:16 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also don't think you can call something which has been in widespread use for 100 years a fad.

They are relatively new to a lot of people in the US. They were just introduced into Boston, weren't they? And so they will be a fad for a lot of people who go to them now because food trucks are new and hip. But then everyone will be going to them, so the people who went to them first will start going back to restaurants to avoid being seen with uncool people.
posted by pracowity at 4:19 AM on August 23, 2012


In the Boston area, this discontent has been playing out in an ongoing feud between the Phantom Gourmet restaurant-reviewing brothers and the Staff Meal food trucks.

I smell a musical!
posted by Rinku at 4:30 AM on August 23, 2012 [7 favorites]


Food trucks are very popular in the Research Triangle area, especially in Durham. When I moved here I was curious why I saw a lot of food trucks in Durham, but not in Chapel Hill, and it turns out it's a consequence of differing regulations. As of yet, it's relatively inexpensive and hassle-free to operate a food truck in Durham, although there's talk of imposing more restrictions, such as food truck location with respect to a brick and mortar restaurant - but the city is working with food truck operators on revamping regulations. As of June this year, with its more restrictive regulations and higher permit fees, Chapel Hill had received zero permit applications from food truck owners since the rules went into effect in late January. Comparison of permits and license fee costs: Chapel Hill - $886, Raleigh - $226, Durham - $75, and Carrboro (which neighbors Chapel Hill) - $85.

Food trucks in Durham are more in the artisanal food spectrum, and so not necessarily cheaper than eating at a sit-down restaurant. But the food is interesting, and often fill gaps, such as the strange lack of doughnuts in the downtown area (Monuts Donuts to the rescue!). There are also parts of town where there would be nowhere to get food without driving some distance if a food truck were not nearby. Not to mention the office parks in Research Triangle Park, where food trucks are a welcome respite from eating at a chain restaurant, and the food comes to you.

Even during the short time I have been living here, I have seen food trucks and Durham Farmers Market food stands "graduate" into brick and mortar restaurants. Frequently they move into currently empty downtown spaces. I would certainly hope for the sake of the city of Durham that food trucks are not just a fad.
posted by research monkey at 4:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [19 favorites]


We are hearing echos of this up here in Portland, Maine. The restaurant community up here is vehemently opposed to any sort of food truck stuff opening up, and it's really quite a bummer. The city has started to allow them, but only several blocks away from any operating restaurant, and only during certain hours. The limitations on their operation have nothing to do with sanitation or food safety. It's total bullshit, and really frustrating. Especially considering some of the rat-trap coffee shops and cafes around here...I'd feel much better ordering food from a truck than some of the restaurants here.

Having come from a city with a really strong food-cart scene (Portland, Oregon) and visiting other havens of food-truckdome, I miss it something fierce. I love sit down restaurants, but honestly, that shit gets expensive (especially here, WTF Portland, why the hell are your food prices so goddamn high?). Food-cart and a movie became a pretty regular staple for a couple of young married 20-somethings who were pretty broke.

Now that we have a kid, I'm really wishing we still lived right down the street from Cartopia. It's like a mall food court that doesn't give you diarrhea. Everyone gets what they want, and it's super family friendly. Even before we had a kid, the coolest families would hang out at this pod. It was great.

This entire comment should be taken with a grain of salt, considering that I first met my wife, completely randomly, at Potato Champion.
posted by furnace.heart at 4:55 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Jimbob's got it, when your response to competition is to try to get the government to kill it, your business model is in trouble. American.
posted by unSane at 5:00 AM on August 23, 2012


Wow, Boston's law requires 1000 feet between food trucks and restaurants?? That's insane.

That's not the city regulation, that's what the Andelmans want. Boston does limit where trucks can park, to about 20 places around the city (including in front of the Boston Public Library main branch in Copley Square, where the city actually removed several street parking spaces to make a food-truck zone), and holds a lottery for the prime spaces. The city also has a food truck calendar so you can know where your favorite truck will be on a given day.
posted by adamg at 5:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Just introduced in Boston" might be technically true, but there have been food trucks in Cambridge for at least a decade, probably more. In fact, they're actively increasing the number of trucks, at least along the river.

Restaurant owners have a lot of power in this area, for better or worse. In my neighboring town, they all turned out to fight a single-digit increase in the number of liquor licenses. Oh how it will destroy our businesses, they cried. The head of the town's board of health got chewed out for closing down a filthy pizza place after multiple violations by a high-ranking member of town government because the owner "was a nice guy! How could you do that to him?".

Also, is this where I can complain about the Phantom Gourmet being a shill for the same dozen restaurants? It used to actually be a review show years ago. I stopped watching when they sent Mike (?) to review a freaking McDonalds or Wendys (or both). Now every time I turn it on it's about the Andelman brothers and their very important restaurant friends.
posted by Jugwine at 5:09 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Food trucks are very popular in the Research Triangle area, especially in Durham. When I moved here I was curious why I saw a lot of food trucks in Durham, but not in Chapel Hill, and it turns out it's a consequence of differing regulations.

They are also essentially absent in Raleigh. I may head over to Durham for the next Food Truck Rodeo.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:23 AM on August 23, 2012


Also, is this where I can complain about the Phantom Gourmet being a shill for the same dozen restaurants?

God, is that ever true. The Phantom Gourmet, 5+ years ago, used to have some semblance of credibility. I used to TiVo it and very frequently was directed towards really good food by it. Times have changed, though; personally, I think it started sliding downhill after they canned David Robichaud as the host. It took maybe 1-2 years after that for the show to reach the point where it felt like half the reviews were puff pieces done for places owned by friends of the Andelmans.
posted by tocts at 5:26 AM on August 23, 2012


Progress isn't always pretty. Take, for example, Atlanta's street food movement.The push for food trucks to offer an alternative dining experience, one that boosts street life, builds community, and provides jobs, is thriving in Atlanta despite consistently being tripped up by red tape.

Food trucks are a relatively new thing here in Atlanta--they've been around for at least a few years and have fought an uphill battle for legality pretty much the whole way. They're still not allowed to drive around, pick a spot and set up shop. They have to arrange to park on private property, which has lead to some pretty cool "food truck days" in certain parts of town. Like, if it's Thursday, you know to head to this storage space parking lot on Howell Mill or whatever.

Like has been said, these trucks are offering necessarily limited menus of food that is easy (usually) to eat on the go. We've got one here called The Fry Guy who serves...you guessed it: fries. French & curly with a variety of different condiments. It's pretty great. My favorite though is Palookaville, a gourmet corndog truck which is I swear to god one of the greatest things I've ever put in my mouth. There was also that guy in a truck making grilled cheese sandwiches outside a rock club on New Year's Eve who was making both a killing, but also the most satisfying drunk food imaginable at that moment there in East Atlanta at one in the morning.

But in general, the food being served from these trucks is stuff you probably wouldn't find (or order) in a sit-down brick-and-mortar. Further, because of the restrictions on where they can park, these businesses are often the staples at the city's many many many many street festivals, where this kind of thing is absolutely perfect.
posted by Maaik at 5:30 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


DC is in the midst of a major increase in the number of food trucks, and I've been eating at them fairly regularly for about a year now, pretty much exclusively for lunch while I'm at work. I like them mostly because they bring variety to an environment that was previously dominated by Quizno's and Cosi. You do see a lot of the same trucks, but there's enough change to make it worth going out to see if there's something new and interesting. They're also better than the aforementioned Quizno's, because pretty much everywhere is. Interestingly for the class of restaurants that I would otherwise patronize at lunch, a lot of the trucks are more expensive; they just also serve better food.

The trucks have been surprisingly controversial in my office with people breaking into three groups. Group one (including myself) likes the trucks and goes maybe once a week. Group two distrusts the trucks because of concerns about cleanliness, notably this group seems to mostly consist of people who already have issues about food safety (the types who fight with waiters because the steakhouse won't do their steak well down enough or send back eggs for being too runny).

Group three is this one guy who is convinced that the food trucks are all run by rich white people who are taking away jobs from the poor immigrants who used to run the food trucks. While I get some his point, the DC food truck industry is increasingly dominated by high end trucks run by white people who one might (if one wanted to start a fight) describe as "hipsters." We also have one group of trucks which is pretty fucking racist, featuring white people in outlandish costumes serving ethnic food, but claiming that it comes from a fictional country, i.e. selling Indian food as food from "Merlindia." That said, a lot of the food trucks are run by non-whites and I think in a "rising tide lifts all boats" way, the fact that people are out in huge numbers to patronize the food trucks means that their business is probably doing better than it was.

I would also dispute the idea (at least here) that the trucks are a problem because they use public parking. Technically, this is true, but if you were planning on driving downtown to park on Franklin Square at noon, FUCK YOU. If we're going to have public on street parking downtown, I'd rather it be used for commerce than for someone who is too lazy/scared of black people to use public transit. There are probably less urban contexts where this is a problem, but not here.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 5:31 AM on August 23, 2012 [9 favorites]


20 years ago, New York magazine did a Food issue containing a two-page spread about food carts. A purveyor of Mexican food said "I used to work in restaurants. You had to fight off the rats, my friend. Here everyone sees your kitchen."
posted by Egg Shen at 5:32 AM on August 23, 2012 [16 favorites]


The concerns over kitchen sanitation (again, here in ATL, not sure how it works elsewhere), are addressed by regulations saying that a certain portion of the cooking of the food must be done in an actual kitchen and not on the truck. So that's created this new industry here where restaurants or bakeries might rent out their kitchens after-hours to food truck chefs to do their work. Many food trucks might use the same kitchen.
posted by Maaik at 5:36 AM on August 23, 2012


The Phantom Gourmet op-ed is really something to behold. Interspersed with a metric ass-ton of privilege (restaurants signed multi-year leases and could have never possibly guessed that competition might move in! it's not fair that food truck fixed costs are so low! this hurts the job creators, which I will unilaterally define as 'restaurant owners who hire people, but not food trucks that hire people'!) is the single most ridiculous proposal that I have ever seen: create a 1000-foot no-food-truck zone around each and every existing restaurant in the city of Boston. He goes on to suggest that this would mean that trucks could set up shop on the Common or the Esplanade, but a quick glance at Google maps shows restaurants on each edge of the Common, and lining Beacon Street less than 500 feet from the Esplanade. So, unless someone knows of a completely restaurant-free part of Hyde Park or Mattapan, this means that he actually wants to restrict food trucks to the vacant lot under I-93 in Dorchester, and the islands in the middle of Boston Harbor.
posted by Mayor West at 5:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [11 favorites]


I guess this will weed out those terrible restaurants that few people go to anyways. Why do we want the government to protect crappy restaurants? I go to restaurants to enjoy a good meal that I can savor and the chance to sit around for a few hours in a nice place that doesn't hurt my eyes. Obviously I will never get that from a food truck.

If all I want is a quick burger or taco or pizza or sandwich for lunch on the go then food trucks are perfect.
posted by JJ86 at 5:45 AM on August 23, 2012


Funny how the first link's photo caption includes New York in the list of cities cracking down on food trucks, but the article never mentions NYC at all. So far as I can tell, the trucks here serve lunch only, and are a rational solution to having a half a million people in Midtown all wanting hot food in the same 30 minutes. For my co-workers, the choices are the cafeteria, the trucks and carts, the food mall under 30 Rock, or very expensive slow sit-down restaurants. All of them are crowded at lunch and vacant the rest of the day, and all but the carts pay rent 24/7 to sell food for 5 hours a week.
posted by nicwolff at 5:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, is this where I can complain about the Phantom Gourmet being a shill for the same dozen restaurants? It used to actually be a review show years ago. I stopped watching when they sent Mike (?) to review a freaking McDonalds or Wendys (or both). Now every time I turn it on it's about the Andelman brothers and their very important restaurant friends.

There are also rumors that they shake down restaurants for improving reviews. Still, people do watch their show and a Great 8 bit can easily spike custom the weekend it airs.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 5:48 AM on August 23, 2012


If they're going to take any kind of legislative action, first they have to overturn the foodie law that requires all food served from a cart or truck be described as "amazing".

Trevor, these dumplings boiled in donkey diarrhea and served by an authenic Madagascaranian leper from the back of his Schwinn are AMAZING.
posted by dr_dank at 5:51 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


they're local, about the experience as well as the food,
– @muffinman

Shameless plug, I founded a company ten weeks ago dedicated to food trucks, pop-up shops, and other 'ephemeral retail' in part based on this trend.

To give everyone an idea of the level of interest, we raised a first round of seed capital in two weeks, a second round three times the size in three weeks, have just been accepted to quite a prestigious incubator, and are having conversations with everyone from small independent business people to global brands to the UK government.

The trend is an intermediate step between home-based businesses (supper clubs) and formal businesses (restaurants). The former are limited in reach and relatively informal, whilst the latter are quite onerous in terms of capital required and business credibility. It's very hard to get out of one's house in the supper club case, and equally as hard to 'give it a shot' in terms of a restaurant. Obviously these are generalities and there are heaps of exceptions.

In between home-based businesses and formal businesses exist a category of business which is innovative, new businesses – people with ideas and limited means to actualise them. Traditionally, these people have been locked out of giving it a shot on an equally playing field. Sure, there are food stalls in markets, but those come under the control of the person in charge of the market. Borough Market in London is a great example. Wonderful market, but stringent limitations, the foremost being that it's open a few days a week. If a vendor want to trade over multiple days, it's on them to move a stall around.

Put the stall on wheels and what do you get? A food truck.

The feedback from our research in the last few weeks has been fascinating. It's like a restaurant without the restaurant. There are a few drivers of that...

• Localism is a huge one. People are going out of their way to connect with local proprietors, as there's a growing awareness of the economic reality of corporates. Walk into a Starbucks and the economic profit goes to the Starbucks shareholders. Being that the majority of public equity in the United States and Europe are owned by relatively few actors, corporates concentrate the profit in small pockets. That's one of the reasons communities stay 'broken', anytime one goes to a corporate, the money is going out of the community and into the coffers of a centralised entity which likely does not spend the profits in that community.

• Innovation is a secondary driver. Food trucks try things. They experiment. The people running them are free to try whatever they want. The overheads are comparatively low. A formal restaurant typically finds something that works and repeats and refines it. People go to restaurants largely because they know what they're getting. Innovation means a new sit-down dining experience in a different place. As the overheads are higher, typically that means less iterations of innovation. One probably will not patron three restaurants in a night, however they may well go to three food trucks are one of the gathering popular in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or London.

• It's the economy. Times are hard and many people have less money. With a restaurant, one is paying for both the food and the experience. The point is to eat, thus many people are showing they are more malleable in terms of the experience. Food trucks offer a nice balance of high-quality food without the overhead of waitstaff – which has a direct translation to reduced cost.

That's the tip of the iceberg. We're seeing restaurants launch food trucks as a form of marketing outreach. We're seeing successful food trucks turn into restaurants. Gatherings of food trucks. And then the success of the "format" is extending into other areas – mobile libraries, mobile workshops, and now a mobile innovation lab for students in the United States.

We're doing a weekly briefing for professionals in the 'ephemeral retail' industry, and without fail, one of the most popular featured spots are food trucks – people love them. And they've been completely enabled by social media and the ability to communicate information in real-time via mobile devices. It started with cupcake trucks and twitter, and now has expanded into formal service offerings.

One food truck fellow that approached us compared it with the transition between postal mail and email. With postal mail, he said, there's many experiences. The physical presentation of the communication, traceability, record-keeping, smell, touch, etc. With email, it's distilled to the message. Before email, there was not a separation between the message and the experience. After email, it's possible to just deliver messages – at a much lower cost, and indeed, it's proven quite popular.

Food trucks are similar. It separates the experience of eating from the experience of dining; and as it turns out, that's something a lot of people connect with.

In terms of the tension between food trucks and restaurants, it's similar to that of CDs versus MP3s. Huge business models have developed around 'the old way'. The new way comes along and significantly threatens the old model. And there are a lot of beneficiaries of the old way. Individuals, companies, governments. Thus, there is the inevitable conflict. However, innovation being what it is, if food trucks prove a more efficient option, they have a vibrant future.

Sorry if this is a bit scattered, time is short these days and I'm off to meet someone about a luxury food truck project for Central London in a few minutes...
posted by nickrussell at 5:51 AM on August 23, 2012 [117 favorites]


Having come from a city with a really strong food-cart scene (Portland, Oregon) and visiting other havens of food-truckd miss it something fierce. I love sit down restaurants, but ho that shit gets expensive (especially here, WTF Portland, why hell are your food prices so goddamn high?).

Prices are higher in Portland Maine for a few reasons: It's beyond the end of the line for transportation, tourists with money are a big part of the customer base, business is dead in the off season (7 months out of the year). Add to that there are only 66,000 people in Portland, the largest city in the state, so there isn't much economy of scale AND a captive audience.
posted by Sir Cholmondeley at 5:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I will just sit longingly here in Montreal, wishing that we too had the option to have food trucks. They keep promising to consider it, but nothing ever happens.
posted by jeather at 6:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the invisible taco of the market!
posted by newdaddy at 6:10 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


At the risk of sounding like a "hipster," the crackdown on food trucks in Chicago is unambiguously bullshit.

Recently the city passed an ordinance mandating that food trucks be no closer than 200 feet from an operating restaurant. In a city of this size and density, that means that food trucks can't go anywhere near the downtown business district or any of the popular neighborhoods. That means food trucks are dead in Chicago.

Let me couch it in my experience. I work in an office building. There is one little sandwich shop in the building and a high-end restaurant next door. There are many, many more hungry people swarming out of the building at lunch time than these two restaurants can possibly accommodate. Food trucks used to line up along the street and sell sandwiches and tacos at lunch. There was always a line out the door at the sandwich place at noon, and I think it's fare to say that the high-end dining place is serving a different clientele entirely.

After the law passed, all those food trucks disappeared. The people that used to eat from the food trucks? Maybe 5% went to the sandwich place. The rest of them leave the building and spend an extra 20 minutes out of their day walking to another place to avoid the line at the sandwich place.

All because we need to "protect" the brick and mortar restaurants. It is maddeningly stupid.
posted by deathpanels at 6:12 AM on August 23, 2012 [24 favorites]


20 NYC food trucks to follow on twitter.
posted by infini at 6:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


I have to admit to a certain amount of confusion over why people enjoy food trucks so much.

Similar to Bulgaroktonos, I've mainly patronized food trucks while working at offices in urban areas. They compete, in my mind, not with 'real' sit-down restaurants — despite the fact that some of the more pretentious ones clearly want to — but with takeout joints. E.g. fast food, sandwich shops, etc.

Any restaurant that isn't serving food in Styrofoam with plastic utensils has nothing to worry about from food trucks, in my experience; customers have almost certainly decided whether they're going out for a real, sit-down, hour-long lunch or whether they're going to grab takeout and haul it back to their desks before they step out the door.

But it doesn't surprise me that there's pushback from brick-and-mortar takeout places, since those are some of the most monotonous and uncreative restaurants around. (And much as it pains me to say it, in a lot of places it's the local mom-n-pop places that are the worst offenders, with a Chipotle or Baja Fresh franchise providing the only attempts at culinary diversity.)

No business owner ever enjoyed having to innovate or tackle new competition. We shouldn't be surprised that existing businesses are attempting to subvert the regulatory framework in order to clobber their nascent competitors — that's what businesses do. But we shouldn't allow them to succeed, either.
posted by Kadin2048 at 6:18 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I just got back from a convention in Indianapolis. The food trucks were a lifesaver, because in previous years, it was nearly impossible to get lunch of dinner within a reasonable timeframe because the number of people attending the convention overwhelmed the downtown restaurants. (The years when the convention coincided with a Colts game were especially rough.) It seems a pretty reasonable way of handling sudden changes in population density (fairs, large events, cities that are more heavily populated during work hours...).
posted by Karmakaze at 6:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I just have to say this about the Phantom Gourmet brothers. I was home sick one day, and while feverish, started watching a Phatom Gourmet marathon. Everything was so obnoxiously big, I began to wonder if it was a parody of how Americans ate. It culminated in a show that reviewed their favorite burgers in the area. One of them described a burger, in which the buns were replaced by fried dough -- and each piece of fried dough concealed its very own cheeseburger. At this point, I like to think I was hallucinating, but a friend tells me he saw the very same episode. I hope he's fooling.
posted by .kobayashi. at 6:22 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


I work in downtown Boston and go to a food truck once or twice a week. Staff Meal is good, but lately I've been enjoying Bon Me. Lobstah Love and Paris Creperie have also been good.

But you know what? There are some good fixed-location restaurants around, too, like Falafel King and D'Guru. Sometimes I even get a sub at one of the places that the Andelmans seem to like. I don't entirely get the fuss.

One trend I've noticed is that more and more tech companies (like the one I work for) are leasing office space in or near downtown, and people who work for tech companies like interesting food. The established businesses in downtown are mostly in the financial industry, and their employees tend to wear suits, and I suspect frequent Andelman-approved places. Maybe the issue here is a changing customer base. I don't feel entirely bad about this.
posted by A dead Quaker at 6:23 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hamilton has just settled on a 30m restriction, which was much less than what some of the brick-and-mortar restaurants were hoping for. Part of it had to do with the sudden fame of a couple of our food trucks, the Gorilla Cheese grilled cheese truck, and the Cupcake Diner truck. A bright light appeared in the troubled downtown, and the City couldn't very well snuff it out.
posted by Capt. Renault at 6:37 AM on August 23, 2012


Funny how many businesses hate capitalism.
posted by aramaic at 6:39 AM on August 23, 2012 [18 favorites]


I don't have a strong opinion about this, but the DC debate over Foljol Brothers and racism is more nuanced than "pretty fucking racist." Is Balki on Perfect Strangers racist?Latka on Taxi? Borat? The Shriners? Do fictionalized people from fictional countries contribute to Orientalism? (I would say yes, but the discussion needs to happen before we start burning Andy Kaufman recordings or shaming Shriners.)

I wish the Fojol owners would find a compromise that keeps the carnival theme but I can also see how that was made difficult for them when the blog posts and petition (starting out, "Dear idiots...") that made it most prominent clearly had the goal of shaming instead of the goal of creating discussion. I think Fojol quietly toned down the schtick and stopped wearing religiously significant clothing like turbans although I don't see the Indian truck enough to say for sure.
posted by Skwirl at 6:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]



Food trucks are similar. It separates the experience of eating from the experience of dining; and as it turns out, that's something a lot of people connect with.

Thank you. Was trying articulate one of the differences I see. I live in a small town now so no food trucks, though we did have a burger and fry place that was in a truck for years and moved to small permanent place. It runs through a take-out window so the only real difference in getting their food is that it isn't on wheels anymore.

I patronize both it and local restaurants the difference is what I want from the experience. The takeout place is where I go if I want something relatively quick, yummy and portable. If I want really good fries I go there. Out of about ten places in town they are the only ones that cut their own fries and the only ones that serve burgers made from local beef. It's not cheaper either. A burger and fries there costs the same as several other burger and fry places in town.

The difference between that and other restaurants is the experience. I go to a restaurant when feel like sitting down, getting my eating needs served by someone else and getting involved with the social interaction involved. Restaurants are for when I want to dine. The other place is where I can just eat, on my own terms and without all of the added service. It's fast food like a chain fast food place but better in terms of food quality and taste.

I wish we had more places like this around. Here food trucks go with local fairs and festivals and they're usually just your typical greasy premade burgers and fries dumped with gravy. Anything that can be cooked in a fryer.

After going to one fair where a truck appeared that served homemade burgers, some fabulous wraps and stir fries I've actually pondered a food truck business. That truck's line was twice as long as the standard fair food ones and people were raving about it. I talked to the owners and during the week they travel to a couple of different locations in the area. They were actually in the process of aquiring another truck to meet demand. People seem to be looking for this type of 'eating'.

Also in terms of cleanliness, food trucks can be pretty gross, I've seen some doozies. I waitress and I've seen and worked in some doozy restaurants. As with any food service it depends entirely on the owner and how much they want to push health regulations and take the chance of their customers payng a price for eating their food. There is nothing inherently unclean about food trucks at least not anymore or less they any other restaurant.
posted by Jalliah at 6:56 AM on August 23, 2012


Favorite Portland food truck name: "Lebaneser Scrooge".

Also, you can have my Clover Food Lab chickpea fritter sandwich when you can pry it from my cold, dead, lightly pickled hands.
posted by the painkiller at 6:58 AM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


God, I wish we had these here. There are, I've heard, some trucks operating in Tokyo, but only in certain districts. Around the eastern, office side of Tokyo, there are very, very few restaurants in some areas, yet the rules are ridiculous. There was a news show that did a segment on the Nihombashi area, and the people that try to fill the gap for the office workers. The guy they used as the focus had a business where they made at least 600 boxed lunches every morning, and he sold them from a cart. The laws forbid a stationary cart, so the man, in order to avoid costly citations, cannot stop moving while he has his cart. Passing a customer a bento lunch? While walking and pushing the cart. Making change? Gotta keep moving.

Aside from that? We have kebab trucks. Pretty much every popular nightlife area has kebab trucks. One of the guys running the one I used to go to told us about how they could make a ton of money at summer festivals, but having to pay off the yakuza, as well as the cops makes it hard to make a living.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:07 AM on August 23, 2012


I live on a block in Queens lined with kebab joints, most of them kosher -- it's a big Bukharan Jewish neighborhood -- there's a real variety in price and decor. But none of them can beat Nisar's Halal food truck parked out front of the lotto spot. First of all, it's four bucks for a lamb gyro, and he really packs it full. It's fast and more convenient than the sitdown places, the guys who run the truck are total sweeties, absolute gems, but the biggest reason is how damn tasty the food is. It's at least as good as any of the other places around, and you can take your food and go sit on a park bench or in your apartment and enjoy a meal without being eyeballed by the locals for talking funny and not wearing a hat.

I don't usually like to eat street meat. But in a neighborhood full of storefront competition, the lone food truck that stays in business is obviously doing something right:

A great lunch for four dollars!
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 7:16 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Push Cart vendors in NYC got outlawed partly due to pressure from pressure from store owners that they represented an unfair competition.
posted by The Whelk at 7:17 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wash their hands frequently, with warm water and soap.

The gelato truck I occasionally work in totally has running water. No bathroom, but my hands were definitely always clean.
posted by Night_owl at 7:18 AM on August 23, 2012


Food trucks are not totally new in the Boston area - there have been ones in front of Tech square for what - 25? 30 years?

The treatment they are getting in Boston proper is not especially surprising, however. Just google for "Uber" and "Boston" for a parallel case. What *is* especially surprising is that they can find any place to park!
posted by scolbath at 7:21 AM on August 23, 2012


I don't have a strong opinion about this, but the DC debate over Foljol Brothers and racism is more nuanced than "pretty fucking racist." Is Balki on Perfect Strangers racist?Latka on Taxi? Borat? The Shriners? Do fictionalized people from fictional countries contribute to Orientalism? (I would say yes, but the discussion needs to happen before we start burning Andy Kaufman recordings or shaming Shriners.)

Well, I assume that when I said "pretty fucking racist" people understood that I meant "in my opinion." I would say that absolutely fictionalized people from fictionalized countries* contribute to Orientalism, and I'm not sure anyone who recognizes the concept of Orientalism as a real thing would disagree. I also think that the Fojol Brothers are worse than other examples of fictional countries because the fictional countries are clearly just stand ins for specific actual countries. Honestly, it reads to me as basically half a step away from black face (white people dressed as stereotyped version of non-whites), and I don't think claiming that you're from a fictional country makes a bit of difference anymore than if I dressed up black face and called myself a "Banafrican."

It's a shame because some of their Indian food is quite good, and it's often the only place to get good vegetables for take out lunch.

*Borat, by the way is not from a fictional country, he claims to be from a real country, Kazakhstan. Also, if you're defense is "this is only as racist as Borat!" then the thing you're defending is probably pretty racist
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 7:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [5 favorites]


Frankly, I like to know that it is easy for the people cooking my food to 1. Get to the bathroom. 2. Wash their hands frequently, with warm water and soap.
This is not so easy with a food truck.
I seldom eat from any sort if food truck for this reason.


As someone who has worked in the restaurant biz for years at different classes of establishments I can confidently say that access to these things does not correlate with usage or at least not as much as it probably should.

For instance in a couple of places I worked at the official policy was to wash your hands after handling money. That's pretty inconvenient when the place is full and people are running from table to table. Probably why, even in the higher class places it barely ever happened.

I won't even bother to give numerous examples of things from many kitchens.
posted by Jalliah at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


That sounds right in general, but it's not necessarily true. Your competition may actually be doing something (serving food in unsanitary conditions, treating workers poorly, not paying appropriate taxes, breaking zoning laws, etc.) that you think should be regulated but has been overlooked by regulators, so you call on the government to do something.

Then regulate those individual things, and do it in a way that isn't code for "really we just want to drive food trucks off," like prohibiting serving food without 100 feet of a running engine, etc. Business owners tend to say a lot of crap about their self-sufficency and ruggedness and job creation and self-madeness and how they pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and did it all themselves and no one helped them out and etc. That's frequently just a lie, these people are just as likely as anyone else to run to local government to try to work themselves an economic advantage, actually much more because they actually have resources with which to scratch backs.

disillusioned above said that he thinks it's silly to think of restaurants in any form as a zero-sum game. In fact it's the very definition of one; there are only so many people in your community, and they are only going to eat at most X amount of food all together. In effect, there are only so many people to distribute pieces of the pie to.
posted by JHarris at 7:36 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Man, reading a sort of free market reaction to regulations on the blue is crazy. Usually, it's just "regulate this, regulate that" grar all day, every day. Apparently the line must be drawn somewhere, and apparently that line stops just short of a taco truck.
posted by resurrexit at 7:37 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Favorite Portland food truck name: "Lebaneser Scrooge".

My sister-in-law, whose father is Lebanese, calls him that.
posted by Egg Shen at 7:41 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've wondered why a small restaurant/bar would waste space on a kitchen. Why not park a truck outside your own place and provide table service?
posted by StickyCarpet at 7:42 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Apparently people here are able to have nuanced opinions instead of knee-jerk reactions. Fancy that, huh.
posted by brokkr at 7:43 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


In fact it's the very definition of one; there are only so many people in your community, and they are only going to eat at most X amount of food all together. In effect, there are only so many people to distribute pieces of the pie to.

True, and they only have x amount of dollars to spend. However to a point restaurants whether it's through things like types of food, quality, taste and value for money can effect how often and how much those people choose to spend in their establishments.

An example would be when I worked at an office. The few places around served pretty crappy food and weren't that pleasing. A good many coworkers and I brought food from home and barely ever ate out. When a new place opened up that served terrific food for a great price, and had a great atmosphere many like me went from bagging it every day to eating there a few times a week even though it cost more overall in terms of personal budget. That places didn't take business that already existed from the other places. It brought more people into the overall business.
posted by Jalliah at 7:47 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


But if food trucks provide a mechanism to get more tasty food to people who want it, for profit, without the exploitative practices of many a brick-and-mortar restaurant, well, more power to them.

Is there any reason to think that food trucks have better labor practices than restaurants?
posted by enn at 7:51 AM on August 23, 2012


A food truck is far more likely to be owner-operated, for a start. Said owner is unlikely to pay him or herself sub-minimum wage.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:56 AM on August 23, 2012


It might be cool if the truck operators got together to buy lots that they could share (and build seating and toilets on) rather than depend on public parking spaces.

In San Francisco this exists: Soma Streatfood Park. (I am almost certain I am miscapitalizing that.)
posted by madcaptenor at 7:59 AM on August 23, 2012


I have to admit to a certain amount of confusion over why people enjoy food trucks so much.
I think there's a fair amount of romantic over-enthusiasm for "local" businesses in urban areas, but that's another story.

I don't especially enjoy food trucks because they are food trucks. I don't have any significant qualms about them either. I like the convenience of street food. Food trucks are a form of street food. I like walking down the street and seeing people selling sandwiches or rice bowls or enchiladas. Brick-and-mortar restaurants in urban centers tend to have set hours between 11-3pm, whereas street vendors tend to operate longer, less profitable hours, which is great for mid-afternoon snacks. Maybe it appeals to the foraging instinct. It's a much more pleasant experience to sit in the park and eat a hotdog while watching people jogging with their dogs than to buy a microwaveable burrito at a 7/11 and eat it in the company cafeteria by myself.

Street food also reclaims a bit of the public life that has all but vanished in most American cities. There's a much bigger appeal to hanging out in public spaces like parks and plazas when there are street vendors. IMO, that's actually good for the local restaurants because it makes the area more appealing to foot and bicycle traffic. Most food trucks and street vendors are not competing with restaurants, they are complementing them. I'm not going to put on nice clothes and take my girlfriend to an asian-fusion restaurant for dinner and then decide at the last minute to buy tacos for $5 at a food truck instead.

Sigh. The food truck ordinance in Chicago is yet another case of "this is why we can't have nice things." I guess I'll just move to Portland. Thanks a lot, Rahm.
posted by deathpanels at 8:01 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


A food truck is far more likely to be owner-operated, for a start.

Are they usually run by just one person? I don't really know much about them, the ones in Chicago seem to only serve the downtown office lunch crowd (or maybe they're gone now with the new ordinance?) and I'm never downtown during the weekday.
posted by enn at 8:02 AM on August 23, 2012


I love our food truck scene in Austin. Austin is certainly trendy and full of hipster locavores and all that, but we get a lot of different things to try and see how they work out. One of my favorite food trucks (a limited-menu sushi roll truck) has spawned a fantastic Japanese restaurant that's now one of my favorite places to eat.

We don't have the regulations to limit locations, with some trucks parked up next to restaurants, but we also have decent weather year-round, as in you can eat outside in February here and in the evenings year-round, though I wouldn't want to eat out in the sun in the middle of July.
posted by immlass at 8:06 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


...than to buy a microwaveable burrito at a 7/11 and eat it in the company cafeteria by myself.

That's setting the bar about as low as it goes.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Most food trucks I've seen/patronized have either one or two people doing the work. Of course, even when there is a single cook/server there's no ironclad guarantee that they're not just working for an absentee owner. But even so, compared with the difficulty of running a brick-and-mortar restaurant with one person, or even having the owner do a full half of the work, the ratio of hired (and potentially shafted) help to active owners is going to be a lot lower in the food truck business.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:08 AM on August 23, 2012


> I've wondered why a small restaurant/bar would waste space on a kitchen. Why not park a truck outside your own place and provide table service?

That's sort of what Fullsteam Brewery and Motorco in Durham do - they provide the drinks and entertainment and various food trucks outside provide the food.
posted by research monkey at 8:12 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I live in a city where the food truck scene is blossoming, and being encouraged by city government in a way that has helped these new entrepreneurs and their brick-and-mortar counterparts. Tallahassee has been promoting a Food Truck Thursday event in a part of town that has very few sit-down restaurants. There are also First Friday gallery crawls and other events that attract more people to areas that don't have enough restaurants to meet the demand for food. And several of the food trucks are rolling franchises of local brick and mortar restaurants. I love the variety. When my wife and I are out and she wants pizza and I want Cajun/Thai fusion, we can each get what we want. And the more people that are drawn to these events, the better the brick and mortar shops do.

Food trucks for some, miniature American flags for others!
posted by Cookiebastard at 8:15 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


There's a bar down the street from me that doesn't really have a kitchen (they've got a fryer, so if you want a meal of entirely fried food that can handle it), but they bring in a food truck to park on the street when they're expecting a large crowd.

Obviously, because this is D.C. "expecting a large crowd" is a code phrase for "'during Skins' Games."
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:17 AM on August 23, 2012


Still weeping for the former owners of Happy Grillmore. The sandwiches were good, and the schtick of having a Happy Gillmore themed naming convention to them was clever.
posted by wcfields at 8:20 AM on August 23, 2012


This stuff is messed up. Sometimes I don't want to pay extra for a lease, tables, chairs, and waitstaff to glare at me when I only order a main course and a water. Many people agree. Food trucks fulfill a need. Maybe I'll go to your sit down restaurant for the A/C when it's 100 degrees outside.
posted by scose at 8:20 AM on August 23, 2012


In San Francisco, it seems that food trucks--most of them operated from outside the city--do not have to provide health insurance for their full-time employees, whereas restaurants located in the city are required to by law.

For that reason alone, I don't even bother with food trucks.

A food truck is far more likely to be owner-operated, for a start.

Do you have anything to back that up?

In many ways, food trucks seem like a dodge around regulations that permanent restaurants have to follow.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:24 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


There is a terrific taco truck right by my subway stop in Brooklyn. On the same corner there is also a woman who fries up empanadas right in front of you. Both are excellent, both are not always there, but I have not seen either have problems.

I love the food trucks here in New York. I work really close to one of the city parks, so for most of this summer, I have (when I haven't brought a lunch with me) bought food from a truck (or the little stand in the park, which is admittedly a bit pricier) and sat in the park for my lunch. I even worked out with my boss that I would work later and take a longer lunch. And hour of fresh air, surrounded by green in the middle of New York is wonderful, even on the beastly hot days. I kind of get sad on the rainy days, as I have to eat inside.

I know of a couple of trucks in New York that are run by a restaurant. They take a couple of portable, popular menu items, grab someone who can cook them and send him or her out with a cart. This is how I found the fantastic Horn of Africa restaurant when I lived in Portland, OR- they have a cart at the Saturday Market. There is a solution for restaurant owners- set up your own carts. They already know what their favorite items are, they can sell them on the street. If they are the sort of restaurant that does not sell portable food, then they should not be worried about the carts.
posted by Hactar at 8:25 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also, food "carts" and food trucks are very different and should be regulated thusly.
posted by mrgrimm at 8:27 AM on August 23, 2012


I've wondered why a small restaurant/bar would waste space on a kitchen. Why not park a truck outside your own place and provide table service?

Most food trucks -- at least the ones serving non-trivial food -- are really just frontends to an off-site prep kitchen somewhere. And in part, that's why they can be so profitable for their owners: they can take advantage of cheap kitchen space out in the 'burbs or in an ugly warehouse somewhere, and then sell the food in a high-priced downtown location, all without ever renting any expensive downtown real estate.

The one legitimate regulatory problem I've heard of with food trucks is the (possible, alleged) lack of inspections of these off-site prep kitchens. Since they're not really restaurants they can often fly under the radar.

There's nothing stopping a downtown restaurant from doing the same thing; they could get rid of the prep kitchen in their expensive space, and do all the prep work offsite in a warehouse somewhere, and bring everything in during the day as-needed. I don't think most restaurants do that because they don't want the logistical complexity, but it's certainly possible.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:27 AM on August 23, 2012


the painkiller: Also, you can have my Clover Food Lab chickpea fritter sandwich when you can pry it from my cold, dead, lightly pickled hands.

An imperfect chickpea fritter sandwich made right at the Clover Food Lab blog.
posted by kristi at 8:32 AM on August 23, 2012


Do you have anything to back that up?

I've tried to find hard figures on the proportion of food trucks that have an owner/operator and cannot (links welcome!), but many articles describe an owner-operator setup as common, and that fits with my own experience from observing a friend who ran one, where he cooked and served the food alongside a single full-time employee. By comparison, any but the tiniest sit-down restaurants are going to need a higher proportion of hourly employees no matter how active the owner is, because serving is a demanding job. And the chain take-out joints like Potbellies, Chipotle, etc., are, at best, franchisee-managed, with all actual food prep and serving done by hourly staff.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 8:48 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I only see food trucks when I'm driving, and for some reason it seems awkward to park behind them, get food, and then get back in my car. It's just me, isn't it?
posted by desjardins at 8:51 AM on August 23, 2012


Daisy May's BBQ cart nom nom nom
posted by Damienmce at 8:52 AM on August 23, 2012


The food truck scene where I work (Rosslyn, Arlington, VA) has been really interesting. It seemed like the county was encouraging the trend until recently, and there have been so much tension that the local business development org even weighed in on the issue (coming down on the brick and mortar side). We have seen a lot of trucks come and go over the last few years (RIP Banditos BBQ) as well, so it's not like running a food truck is easy, exactly - it's still the restaurant business. We have also seen at least one fantastic success story in District Taco, which recently opened their second brick and mortar store, this one in D.C. and it's doing well, after starting as a Rosslyn food truck.

There used to be like five food choices for lunch in this area when I first started working here. Now there are more regular restaurants too, but the food trucks bring a whole new vibe to the lunch scene and a lot more choice. I used to bring in my lunch a lot, but with the new options I eat out a lot more for lunch too - at the other area restaurants as well, not just food trucks - so it's not really cannibalization of existing sales. As a consumer, I certainly hope that the truck trend continues.
posted by gemmy at 8:57 AM on August 23, 2012


The other week I went to a Board of Aldermen meeting in Somerville about how to fight the incoming scourge of food trucks. It was totally depressing.

This is one town over from Cambridge, which as someone mentioned upthread has had food trucks for years. In Somerville the foodie hipster food-truck invasion hasn't happened. There are, apparently, four trucks scattered around a large area -- I've never seen them. One of them was parking near a restaurant and getting long lines at lunch, and that restaurant complained, and the aldermen were shocked to discover that food trucks had been legal the whole time and are rushing to correct the problem.

Food trucks are already pretty regulated in Massachusetts. They need a hawkers and peddlers license, which means they need to register with the police department, get a health certificate, get a sales tax number, etc. A share of the sales tax goes back to the towns they sell in. They need to rent space at a licensed commissary where their food is prepared. They need to have a relationship with a brick and mortar business that will allow employees to use the bathroom. And of course they have to comply with local parking and noise and trash laws and so on. It's not exactly the Wild West.

So to me the question would be, why are these great entrepreneurial incubators like the Clover Food Lab settling in Cambridge and not Somerville? How can we get some of that action up our way?

But their questions were -- why should we allow this? Why aren't we charging more for it? What if they sell cheap pizza near an existing pizza restaurant? What if they're noisy? What if they strew trash around? What if they interfere with traffic? A parade of horribles that might descend on us if food trucks hypothetically took advantage of their existing right to be in business.

I have no personal investment in food trucks, other than that I love the weird experiments they seem to allow. But as someone with an entrepreneurial bent, it just hurt to see people sniff the potential for change and devote great creative energy to shutting it down before it could spread. To be fair, it sounds like after they ban the non-existent food trucks, they're going to allow a few of them in a few trial locations, with a high fee, during daylight hours. I guess that's something.
posted by jhc at 8:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Holy shit, it wasn't a fever dream. The burger-stuffed fried-dough burger is real. By the way (and I know this is sidelong to the actual conversation) if you're not watching the Phantom Gourmet, you're missing what is either the worst food show in the USA, or the best bit of televised performance art on the planet. I can't decide which.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I guess what I'm saying is it's probably okay to be feuding with the Phantom Gourmet Boys. You're either a part of some great public art project or just, y'know, sane.
posted by .kobayashi. at 9:10 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


OK, I am in Providence, RI, and there are a lot of food trucks. Some are high brow (see Plouf Plouf), with its amazing frites and blood-orange sorbet and snail salad. Other trucks are really cheap and awful but they sell a hot dog or burger for a dollar.

Since there's a dearth of low-end food for sale Downtown/Downcity -- as in, "you can't get to a McDonald's dollar menu without getting in a car" -- these low-end food trucks offer a way to fill a hungry stomach that can't afford other food.

And of course there's always Haven Brothers.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:21 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Here in Jersey City there is a pretty dope brick-and-mortar restaurant that emerged as the fusion of two food trucks, one selling crepes and one selling Korean food. The restaurant now sells both types of food as well as delicious crossovers like crepes with beef bulgogi. Not only is it a cool piece of local history, it's a unique restaurant and it probably wouldn't exist without the food truck scene.
posted by en forme de poire at 9:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I also don't think you can call something which has been in widespread use for 100 years a fad.

The new thing is these "gourmet" trucks with hip names and twitter accounts, where people will line up for 30 minutes and spend $10 to get a grilled cheese sandwich. They're those food trucks you started to see in LA a few years ago (not the original taco trucks).

You can tell it's a fad because it exploded here in Calgary last year. Hot dogs or fries (which we've had for decades) make sense to me if you need something quick to eat while you walk. Waiting 30 minutes for a tiny plate of vietnamese fusion where there's no bathroom and no seating doesn't make sense.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:28 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I should say the wait isn't always on the order of 30 minutes. Still, it's longer than, for example, the typical fast food restaurant, and that's if there's nobody ahead of you in line.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 9:30 AM on August 23, 2012


The thing is, food trucks operate primarily at lunchtime.

I work near the State House in Boston, and the closest food trucks I can think of are past Post Office Square, where there are fewer restaurants and/or takeout places.

I have the fortune of being able to run into a cafeteria across the street and have my pick of the salad bar, any sandwich I can think of, veggie burgers, soup and what have you. Plus several other good options.

But the thing is, all of my food at lunch time is grab and go. I don't go to proper restaurants for lunch because I don't have freaking time -- and when I do, it is as a treat to catch up with an old friend or colleague. I imagine a lot of other people operate in a similar fashion in this area.

So a food truck, were there one closer to where I work, would be a decent option for me from time to time because I grab and go for lunch. I don't want a sit down place at lunch.

It's not that food trucks are necessarily taking business away from restaurants ---- maybe they're taking business away from other grab and go options like McDonald's, but I don't think McDonald's is going anywhere any time soon. And maybe Cosi is losing a few bucks, but Cosi also does a shit ton of meeting catering, etc. that I don't believe their in horrible shape, either.

Dinner is another story, but a lot of food trucks have moved on/closed shop by 2 in the afternoon anyway, that they're not taking anything from the after-work and dinner crowds.
posted by zizzle at 9:32 AM on August 23, 2012


I've wondered why a small restaurant/bar would waste space on a kitchen. Why not park a truck outside your own place and provide table service?

That seems to be a pretty common thing for breweries around Oregon to do. Particularly if their tasting room/'spot to drink' is interleaved with the actual brewing operation. "Here, pull a barrel over to the table and have a seat" is a good sign. Since places that are at that point are rarely established enough to have their own kitchen for food, often times they'll invite a rotation of food carts to come by during their busy hours.

Food cart gets a captive and eager audience, brewery gets people eating (and thus staying around longer), everyone benefits.

In particular: Vertigo Brewing & Oakshire Brewing are both known for this. It's a great system.
posted by CrystalDave at 9:42 AM on August 23, 2012


maybe they're taking business away from other grab and go options like McDonald's, but I don't think McDonald's is going anywhere any time soon

I am told that McDonalds is one of the strongest entities pushing against relaxing food truck restrictions in Raleigh and Chapel Hill.
posted by Rock Steady at 9:54 AM on August 23, 2012


Great post.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:55 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


FPP Correction: Boston magazine did in fact award best "Meal On Wheels" to Mei Mei Street Kitchen. The award was listed in the "Oddball" section instead of the "Restaurants & Food" section, and that's why I missed it. Apologies!
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 9:56 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't get me wrong, I like food trucks, but I still like the food stands (both fixed and temporary) in Taipei. I think food trucks still have a barrier of entry and trendiness that make their prices higher than it should be. I'm kind of waiting for the other shoe to drop: either the bubble pops on the premium gourmet trucks or nimble brick and mortars (Chick-Fil-A, In-N-Out, Sonic Burger, Chipotle) to get in on the action. Of course, even by then, even with cheaper prices, I still can't replicate walk down a Taipei street while eating a stick of fried dough while deciding whether to buy skillet buns, milk tea, or popcorn chicken in a plastic bag.
posted by FJT at 10:03 AM on August 23, 2012


I love our food truck scene in Austin.

Apparently in Texas these venues are known as Food Trailers in addition (or instead of?) Food Trucks. See, for example, food trailers austin.com.
posted by Rash at 10:04 AM on August 23, 2012


Oh yes, I just remembered: In-N-Out DOES have a food truck. But it's for special events only.
posted by FJT at 10:05 AM on August 23, 2012


Chick-Fil-A

There is a Chick-Fil-A truck running in DC, with line lengths not seen since the height of the lobster craze of 2010, although the last time I took notice of the line was before they became a flashpoint for anti-gay-marriage activism, so maybe it's calmed down by now.
posted by Copronymus at 10:12 AM on August 23, 2012


Apparently in Texas these venues are known as Food Trailers

See also from the same site: Trailer Food Tuesdays. There are definitely differences between the "trailer scene" and what I grew up knowing in Houston as taco wagons. The latter food vehicles have been around for a long time, but they aren't aimed at the same demographic.
posted by immlass at 10:30 AM on August 23, 2012


Wait until they find out what the Chinese restaurants and Pizza places have been up to for the past several decades!

That seems a bit racist.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2012


Hey zizzle... Clover food truck has a spot near park st T stop...not too far from State House? I've only been to the one near South Station; delicious but lines can be long.
posted by maryrussell at 10:36 AM on August 23, 2012


One of the finest things about food trucks in the Bay Area is the bit where one or two park outside big office blocks that aren't within walking distance of any good food. That's a damn lifesaver.

As for who owns & operates them -- I was mentally trying to tot up the trucks I see in two groups: hipster & friends, and immigrant + family. But then I realized that TONS of the ones I like, at least by appearance, are something more like "hip young immigrant + friends & family". Which is kind of awesome.
posted by feckless at 10:38 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


The treatment they are getting in Boston proper is not especially surprising, however. Just google for "Uber" and "Boston" for a parallel case.

Regarding Uber: State reverses course, paves way for car-service startup Uber.

Boston Cabbies, stop whining. There's plenty of business to go around.
posted by ericb at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2012


Katjusa Roquette: Frankly, I like to know that it is easy for the people cooking my food to 1. Get to the bathroom. 2. Wash their hands frequently, with warm water and soap.
This is not so easy with a food truck.
I seldom eat from any sort if food truck for this reason.
Do you presume people in food trucks pee in the corners inside? They typically only work a short meal shift (lunch, break time, dinner), and most people can hold it that long.

Also: sanitary gloves are ubiquitous now.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:46 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


There's a surprising amount of ignorance above. The food trucks in our area are supported by our Chamber of Commerce. They're clean and I've never encountered exhaust fumes while hanging round them. There are sinks and soap in them. They usually set up near businesses with some kind of arrangement so they can use the restroom (not that they're taking a lot of breaks, just like during any dinner rush). They do a great job with recycling and clean-up. Many of them offer organic and vegetarian and locally-sourced items.

I eat at food trucks pretty often and I've gotten ONE bad item -- an undercooked grilled chicken skewer. Looking at food trucks overall, this is a better track record than some of my favorite restaurants. (Actually, the offending truck was a first-timer that I've never seen again. I think they're revamping.)

My favorite comments above are the ones saying they've never eaten at a food truck and then opining about them. Please try a food truck sometime soon if you get a chance.

I liked them back when they were mostly just taco trucks (good, cheap, fresh) and now that they offer creative food of all types as well (mobile Peruvian or French food is not a thing I'll say no to). Prices, the feel of the event, and whether they have seats and shade depends on each individual setup and region, so look into more than one.

(And I agree with feckless -- that's another thing I appreciate about the trucks. A lot of them seem to be run by second-generation Americans pursuing a restaurant dream with their friends' and families' help.)

There have been some dumb and not-so-dumb feuds here too, I guess, but I don't really pay attention...
posted by wintersweet at 10:50 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


BTW -- the new season of the Great Food Truck Race (Food Network) started this past Sunday.
posted by ericb at 10:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I work near the State House in Boston, and the closest food trucks I can think of are past Post Office Square

I have often seen a Clover truck at Brewer Fountain Plaza behind the Park Street T station, and a few other trucks by Government Center at the top of the stairs down to Congress Street.

My objection to the Andelman brothers is more personal. I used to watch the Phantom Gourmet every weekend. It airs on a local television station at 10:30 am, Saturdays and Sundays. The station is WSBK, which used to broadcast the old Batman TV show when I was a kid, and in kindergarten I wrote the station a letter asking where I could buy a utility belt like Batman's and someone at the station sent back a nice letter that I have always remembered. Point being, the show doesn't exactly air Saturdays at midnight on HBO.

This is supposed to be a family-friendly, admittedly corny show about local restaurants on a station that is one step removed from cable access. It follows an old Three Stooges rerun. So I think I was understandably bothered when one Sunday morning, after I had sat down to enjoy some family-friendly television and see if maybe we could get a lunch idea, the Phantom Gourmet decides to invite as guests WBCN shock-jocks Toucher and Rich who promptly begin joking about "moustache rides."

Dan Andelman laughed heartily, and Dave Andelman put that segment on the air (it's not a live show), and fathers around Boston had the unexpected privilege of being asked by their daughters, "What does 'moustache ride' mean?" I try to curb my profanity, but fuck the Andelmans. I'll give them their due: It's not a terrible show, and regardless of their blatant favoritism and the rumors about extortion and/or paid shilling, the truth is the Phantom Gourmet brand has yielded a lot of benefits for Boston-area restaurants. They probably do more good than bad. But that particular bad will always stick with me, so fuck them.
posted by cribcage at 10:52 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't get the fuss, but maybe that's because there's been at least one food truck operating in Providence since 1888. Now there are a few more around the city these days (including one that must've made a killing by setting up next to Occupy when they were camped out in the park), but Haven Brothers is still the only one with a reserved space right next to City Hall.
posted by mstokes650 at 11:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


The small town I live in, and write about, actually had an issue with a food truck vs brick and mortar restaurant this year. Now, they are both just hot dog shops, but the town had an argument over closeness to one another, costs of licensing, etc. It has turned out that both businesses in contention are doing just fine, monetarily, and really if a town of 3000 can handle this, why are large cities having issues?

When I get into the city, I love food trucks. It isn't because they are trendy or a fad, but because they are almost always much more handicap accessible than restaurants. I can roll up to one in my chair, they can hear me, and very often, will step out to hand me my food. This is versus fighting doors on so called "accessible" restaurants, with tables that do not work for a chair, aisles that are often too small, and wait staff that do not understand that I don't move as fast as they do.

Restaurants are fine, if I have a companion with me, as they can help navigate doors and things like that, but alone, and if there is a truck available? I'm there.
posted by SuzySmith at 11:22 AM on August 23, 2012 [6 favorites]


Here in Minneapolis/St. Paul food trucks are exploding, well, in a good way not literally. Initially, due to regulations, there were only trucks in St. Paul which at the time was very welcomed as the only other options were your typical chains or horrible food courts. Now they are everywhere and there are new options every week. In fact, I just finished a delicious shrimp po' boy from Smack Shack. Several of the food trucks here are actually opening restaurants and several restaurants (Barrio, Ngon, Rusty Taco) also have food trucks. Even the celebs are getting a piece of the action with Andrew Zimmern firing up his own truck to serve goat burgers etc. I've heard of some restauranteurs complaining but mostly I think out of sour grapes at not being able to monopolize serving mediocre food in their area. I vaguely remember someone complaining in a op-ed about six months ago.

You also see a mix here of the high-end local food alongside typical taco trucks and hotdog carts. People continue to line up at Arby's and Chipotle at lunch so the idea of a bunch of carts putting restaurants out of business is ridiculous.

Of course, when it's -20F here the trucks are gone and the city weeps.
posted by misterpatrick at 11:30 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wait until they find out what the Chinese restaurants and Pizza places have been up to for the past several decades!

That seems a bit racist.

Wait, what? I think this is just saying that pizza places and Chinese food restaurants often deliver. Am I missing/misreading something?

posted by en forme de poire at 1:39 PM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


@maaik beat me to giving the up and coming food truck scene in Atlanta props. These folks are working to relax restrictions, and we recently got a food tuck park. As mentioned, these folks are making really excellent food often serve things you wouldn't find and Fry Guy is fantastic.

One thing I will also point out is that the Food Truck movement is giving new, less well off, less connected, immigrant, unconventional, etc., chefs a chance to open a restaurant far earlier in their careers than they would have traditionally, if ever. A food truck can cost a fraction of what a brick and mortar place costs giving chefs with limited means and/or niche appeal a real chance of opening a successful business. They can also operate with much less overhead, with much smaller menus or even single offerings; it's a lot easier to make a living selling nothing but fries when you don't have to cover the overhead of a building first. Lastly, they can move to find their audience (and use social media to market to it); whereas if they choose the wrong brick and mortar spot, they're screwed.

One of the food trucks that shows up at my office park (north of Atlanta) is owned by a family from Homa, LA, that had lost their restaurant in Katrina. According to them, they'd still be saving pennies and working for someone else for years more if their only option was a conventional restaurant, but the lowered barrier to entry have allowed them to be serving po-boys out of the truck they now own. That's some mighty fine capitalism right there.
posted by kjs3 at 2:33 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


I just got back from a convention in Indianapolis. The food trucks were a lifesaver, because in previous years, it was nearly impossible to get lunch of dinner within a reasonable timeframe because the number of people attending the convention overwhelmed the downtown restaurants. (The years when the convention coincided with a Colts game were especially rough.)
posted by Karmakaze at 9:19 AM on August 23


You were at Gen Con too, huh?

My friend and I were in Indy for Gen Con last week on Thursday (we drove up from Louisville just for the day). We'd skipped lunch, and walked out on the Capitol Street side at 4pm to see eight food trucks lined up across the street, serving hungry gamers. The incredible West Coast Tacos had, alas, already run out of food, as had Spice Box Indy, Mac Genie Truck, and the rest. They were wrapping us as we lunged towards them.

We've got a pretty healthy food truck culture here in town, and the city seems pretty willing to be supportive, and I hope they continue. Food trucks are fun, and I haven't eaten from one yet that wasn't totally spic and utterly span.
posted by magstheaxe at 3:11 PM on August 23, 2012


I am in favor of food trucks. I have no more to say than that. So I am going to go back to this from the post:

"The PG brothers responded by posting another of the Staff Meal owners' tweets that bragged about having fired someone via text to Facebook asking, "Do you think it is wrong to fire an employee by text then brag about it on twitter?"

What the fuck? Seriously?!?!

Answer: NO!
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:40 PM on August 23, 2012


Wait until they find out what the Chinese restaurants and Pizza places have been up to for the past several decades!

That seems a bit racist.

Wait, what? I think this is just saying that pizza places and Chinese food restaurants often deliver. Am I missing/misreading something?


Yes, I was referring specifically to delivery. Not sure I should be surprised it was misinterpreted as racist by a MeFi though.
posted by ShutterBun at 2:59 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]


We have a couple food trucks around town, but due to regulations they have to park in weird spaces a lot of the time. The only one I can consistently find is the Poutine truck, and that's because it parks right outside of my favorite bar between 10 and 2 AM every Friday night. Glorious glorious poutine.
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 8:26 AM on August 24, 2012


Aarghhh... After almost a decade of lurking, this post finally forced me to create an account. Thanks.

We moved from Austin (one food truck hot spot) to Portland (arguably THE food truck hot spot) in May of this year. The dynamic between brick and mortar restaurants and food trucks in the two cities couldn't be more different. Keep in mind this is from the perspective of a consumer. I love to eat out and like to get to know the restaurant owners and staff as much as possible, but I can't speak for the restaurateurs.

National and local articles highlight the tension.

Austin
Hours: I miss the any-time-of-day drive-by. I could pull up to many of the trucks on the way to work in the morning and grab something... or I could walk over from a bar in the evening and pick up a snack.

Location: They usually congregate in lots, but a few of them are stand-alone. Most are within walking distance of brick and mortar restaurants.

A couple of them (Torchy's Tacos, Hey Cupcake!) leveraged their food truck brand and customer base to open brick and mortar locations. Others like Hudson's on the Bend went the other way - taking their established b&m brand and "remixing" it as a food truck (Mighty Cone).

In high-concentration areas, like the popular South of Congress (SoCo), food trucks could really be credited with sparking a renaissance of interest in eating out. Classic Austin restaurants in the SoCo area like Vespaio now coexist with dozens of food trucks. Vespaio is probably the best example to illustrate the dynamic because it has always been a popular destination - even before SoCo turned into the hot food area in Austin. But now that the food trucks line up shoulder to shoulder across and down the street, not only is Vespaio still hopping, but there are dozens of other brick and mortar restaurants to choose from in the area.

Portland
We've only been here a few months, but it's obvious there's tension between the food trucks and brick and mortar establishments.

Hours: Most of the food trucks I've seen are only open for lunch, which puts them at odds with the restaurants because it drains away the lunch crowd. You could say that the trucks would do the same for any other meal, but lunch is typically a more hurried affair than dinner.

Location: Portland refers to its food truck ghettos as "pods." They're parking lots and they're extremely crowded. I know of one lot that's about 300 feet long and about 75 feet deep that has 14 trucks crammed in. There are a couple of picnic tables in the middle, but most folks hang around standing up. Hence the word "ghetto."

The selection is truly phenomenal, but none of the food truck owners with whom I've spoken expressed any interest in opening up their own brick and mortar locations. Actually, they all took a pretty adversarial position. They saw the brick and mortar restaurant owners as their "natural enemies" and were more interested in competition than in cooperation. There may be folks here who feel differently, but I have yet to hear it after dozens of conversations.

The traditional restaurant owners, on the other hand, are split. A few seemed defensive and annoyed by the incursion of food trucks into "their markets," but just as many appeared to be really interested in the trucks as the advent of another food revolution. One was actively pursuing the concept himself - thinking of a food truck as either an option to expand his existing brand and customer base or even a next step after the restaurant for him.
posted by degleep at 10:41 AM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


How do all of these regulations not apply to ice cream trucks?
posted by yonega at 11:00 AM on August 24, 2012


How do all of these regulations not apply to ice cream trucks?

Ice cream is pre-made? Especially if it's single-serving treats like sandwiches or popsicles that come packaged and just need to be kept frozen.
posted by immlass at 11:31 AM on August 24, 2012


yonega: How do all of these regulations not apply to ice cream trucks?
White people run ice cream trucks? (Kidding.) (But seriously - they're established in our culture, so they get a bye.)
posted by IAmBroom at 11:57 AM on August 24, 2012


I want a poutine truck!
posted by Night_owl at 5:28 PM on August 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Giraffe Meal
!!!
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 5:22 PM on August 25, 2012


One great thing about food trucks is that they easily fill in a temporary restaurant shortage. My building complex in Downtown LA has been redeveloping its shopping center for about a year now. When all the restaurants closed, the property managers got together with the local trucks, and 3 or 4 different ones show up every day. It's also nice because there's a pleasant seating area with tables and umbrellas. Whether it lasts when the new mall opens, and restaurant leases start up, is yet to be seen.

It got super heated for a while in Mid City, near the musuems on Wilshire, where restaurant owners were having their employees park at all the metered spaces. It was apparently cheaper to reimburse for the parking tickets than to compete with the trucks.
posted by hwyengr at 5:26 PM on August 25, 2012


The anti-food truck hysteria seems to exist outside of all logic. Also in downtown Los Angeles, after an unlicensed driver in a borrowed Cadillac lunging for a rare open metered parking space during the monthly Art Walk jumped the curb and killed an infant, the city formed a task force to address public safety at the event. Bafflingly, the task force decided the main problem was food trucks, and banned them from the core of the event--coincidentally, something that one politically-connected restaurant owner / developer in the Art Walk footprint had long been clamoring for. Only problem: this is apparently illegal. To date, the trucks have not demanded their legal rights. It could get very interesting if they do.
posted by Scram at 4:21 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


I categorize these into two categories: food trucks are the giant former-UPS/FedEx-delivery-vehicle turned into kitchens, while lunch wagons are the smaller cousins that served prepared foods warming on sterno.

I rarely eat at lunch wagons because I have no idea how long the food has been sitting there, nor how long ago it was prepared and what measures were taken during transit. Cold food sits in a cooler of ice.

Food trucks, on the other hand, often serve meals made on the spot, and I can see sinks and soap and working refrigerators and other essentials that give me greater confidence in the quality of their goods.

One problem with food trucks that I'll grant is their size. Depending on the street and where they are parked, these trucks take an enormous amount of space and can impede view of pedestrians or oncoming vehicles. Unfortunately, it would seem any legislation that would improve the situation is instead solely focused on removing the ability to operate entirely.
posted by CancerMan at 12:25 PM on August 27, 2012


BTW -- the new season of the Great Food Truck Race (Food Network) started this past Sunday.

Thanks for the tip. It's interesting that this season they didn't allow any pre-existing trucks. Smart since they had a clear leg up in the prior seasons.
posted by smackfu at 1:04 PM on August 27, 2012


One aspect of the debate that I didn't cover: Food trucks opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, and brick-and-mortar restaurants opening food trucks.

To summarize, Boston's Bon Me food truck is planning to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Kendall Square. This follows the Clover truck opening a location in Harvard Square in 2010 and then another in Kendall Square. And on the other side of the coin, some Boston-area brick-and-mortar restaurants such as Redbones Barbecue and Kickass Cupcakes have opened their own food trucks in recent years.
posted by The Girl Who Ate Boston at 8:37 PM on August 27, 2012


I work in Santa Monica, and I am lucky enough to have a street full of food trucks right outside my office every lunchtime. When I'm in a hurry, I can just pop out of the office and grab something fast and delicious. When I need a break from the office, I can walk to a local B&M restaurant for a sit down meal. I don't eat dinner from food trucks, I go home or go to a restaurant for that. Many of the food trucks here do offer dinner service, but its typically at areas full of bars, and is again not taking away much business from restaurants, its actually drawing more people in.

I am a regular at a few of the trucks, and friendly enough to chit chat about business. One of my favorite truck owners just opened a second truck (different food, not just an identical copy). He said that his food truck business has been more successful than any restaurant he has run. I say good for him, he serves delicious food at a good price, its owner-operated and family run.

There is plenty of overlap between restaurants and trucks. Some food truck owners go on to open restaurants - Roy Choi (Kogi truck owner) now has three restaurants as well as five trucks). Conversely, the owners of the Border Grill restaurant in Santa Monica have a food truck version of their restaurant too.

As for the restaurant vs truck wars, most of it is petty and childish. I think parking your food truck directly outside a restaurant is rather rude. However, most of the restaurants doing the complaining are of the shitty chain variety, that serve crap food to a captive audience, trapped in an area low on good fast food. Rather than try harder, they just whine.

I love the food trucks.
posted by Joh at 9:53 PM on August 30, 2012


Lardo, in Portland (OR) is another example of very successful food truck that has turned into a restaurant.
posted by janell at 9:07 AM on August 31, 2012 [1 favorite]


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