Buffalo Food Trucks: Call To Action

23 Sep

I know, I know.

The urge to rip Carl Paladino a new, equine-sized rectum over his poorly thought-out opposition to food trucks is relentlessly strong.

And that post might come, but it’s not this one.

Because as it stands right now, the Buffalo food trucks are unable to set up anywhere in Buffalo – except on private property – and in the case of Buffalo Place (which is sort of private, but not really), even that’s in jeopardy.

Carl’s noise applies only to Buffalo Place’s unfortunately named “business improvement district”. Here’s who populates the board of that entity. You have two governing bodies to lobby – the city and Buffalo Place, and Paladino is being particularly vocal in opposition to the food trucks, using all of the lies and falsities that Just Pizza and Jim’s Steakout spouted back in August.

The only truck that ever set up anywhere near the Ellicott Square Building was the Whole Hog Truck, which parked 370 feet from the Ellicott Square’s main entrance on Washington Street. It serves BBQ pork sandwiches, which neither Charlie the Butcher nor Just Pizza serve.

This post is not about Buffalo Place, but you should take the list of board members and start writing to them or calling them now.

This is instead about the entire rest of the city, which the Common Council will be discussing on September 29th. This post is about taking a problem and solving it. So, I’m giving you some homework. We don’t want Thursday’s meeting to turn into another restaurant vs. truck shouting match. I think we need the trucks and their supporters to continue to be reasonable, collaborative, and worry less about the restaurant/Paladino drama.

So, I don’t care if you reply in comments or shoot me an email to alan[at]wnymedia.net, but here’s the assignment:

Create your ideal food truck regulations; a one-page outline of

what you’d like the rules to be, or what you think is fair.

That’s it.

250 feet from an operating restaurant kitchen? 500 feet? 2 hour maximum time in any city-street location? More? Less? What else?

Here’s the proposed legislation as it stands now:

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This being Buffalo, an ad hoc, undisclosed group of “concerned” businesses has united to hire a lawyer and actively oppose the food trucks, running them out of business completely. They submitted documents to the Common Council for their consideration. Food truck proponents must – and should – do the same.

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There is a public hearing that’s taking place on Thursday September 29th at 10:00 AM in room 1417 of City Hall. It will be chaired by Common Councilmember Joe Golombek, and the public is invited to attend. If you’re a city resident, you should contact your city council representative and urge him or her to attend. The object of this hearing isn’t to discuss what a jerk Carl Paladino is, but instead to craft reasonable, rational, and fair regulations that will allow the food trucks to operate more freely in the city (but outside the downtown core), and also protect existing brick & mortar restaurants.

The current imbroglio over the food trucks is Exhibit A of how new ideas and change are oftentimes aborted. It might not be the most important issue in the world, but how it’s handled lays the framework and pattern for how all novel ideas and issues are handled; it’s new and different! Kill it with fire and holy water!

Instead of getting distracted by fights with reactionaries who have proven themselves continually to be part of the problem, we should instead solve the underlying problem: reasonable regulations that protect both the food trucks and their opponent/critics.

Other cities have dealt with this issue. They reached a fair and reasonable compromise. There’s no reason why Buffalo shouldn’t be able to do the same. Let’s make it happen.

For a change.

15 Responses to “Buffalo Food Trucks: Call To Action”

  1. Charles September 23, 2011 at 8:23 am #

    How do other cities allow these activities.  NYC and Toronto, for instance. Model something after their laws.

    The LoTempio & Brown comment letter raises important issues vis-a-vis zoning issues that need to be addressed, meaning that the zoning laws may need to be amended lest the whole effort is nullified by a court order against cart vendor operations.

    Personally, I think that the fixed place restaurants are shooting themselves in the foot by opposing food cart vendors who are by definition small businesses that help to create a sense of urban vibrancy. And more specifically, Charlie the Butcher and Jim’s SO’s location in the ESB make them invisible to any of the public who don’t have occasion to enter the ESB.  If I decide to take in a Sabres’ game or an outdoor concert or if I have any business downtown, I am highly unlikely to find myself in the ESB if I want a quick bite to eat.  I would be glad to find a vendor who serves quality food at a reasonable price. Absent that, I would likely drive out of downtown and stop someplace convenient along the way.  If I want a sit down lunch or dinner, I am not likely to patronize either CtB, JSO or cart vendor. 

  2. Derek J. Punaro September 23, 2011 at 8:35 am #

    I don’t see any reason for the regulation to be any more restrictive than the proposed version. 100′ from a restaurant, 500′ from a festival unless permitted by the event. Time restrictions, specified locations are all B.S. rules. How about we take the path of least restriction for once?

  3. Jesse September 23, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    @2: Rock on.

    Why not?

    Any restrictions on where they can go really just smack of protectionism for existing businesses – rent-seeking.  But they’ll whine with their lawyers so I guess the trucks have to band together to fight back with lawyers of their own.  More full-employment nonsense for lawyers!  No 9% unemployment for them!

    Sorry, I digressed.

  4. Thomas Stanford September 23, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    Here’s a suggestion: Lift all of the regulations. Roll back the ridiculous taxation. LEVEL the playing field so that restaurants, shops, and any other business can more freely… wait for it… DO business. What a novel idea! We have enough problems even getting businesses to start in the city, why would we make it MORE difficult? Oh wait, that’s how our politics and economics have worked for the last 60 years here (and nationwide). Besides, they’re going after these trucks to put an end to them, not just regulate them. They don’t want the competition, and trying to pull out any stop they can find in our already bogged down regulatory code.

  5. King Kong September 23, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Just a point of clarification, as one who agrees with you on the food truck issue, Charlie the Butcher does frequently serve BBQ’d Pulled Pork sandwiches at the Ellicot Square Building location.

  6. Thomas September 23, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    Interesting article linked below. Did you know food trucks only need be 20ft outside of a brick and mortar restaurant in NYC. If it’s good enough for them…..?

    http://www.gelfmagazine.com/archives/the_food_trucks_shift_into_gear.php

  7. MJC September 23, 2011 at 1:52 pm #

    I don’t know what they do specifically in Toronto, but there are food trucks up and down the portion of Front Street near the train station. Doesn’t seem to affect the dozens of restaurants that are also on Front Street.

    This entire controversy shows exactly how small-time this city really is. Do you think that NYC or Toronto even allow pizzerias or sub shops to have a real voice in politics? I have a hard time believing that the concerns of a pizzeria or some shithole diner are given any degree of credence elsewhere.

  8. Fat Tony September 23, 2011 at 3:24 pm #

    If food trucks are such a viable threat to existing restaurants, then in a free enterprise system, Charlie the Butcher should invest in a food truck and compete. If he has a superior product at a fair price, he would not only compete successfully but engage new customers who might later on visit his restaurants. As someone downtown but not in the ESB, it never crosses my mind to head over there.

    Then again, it’s probably better to just have Paladino, that supposed champion of the free market, use government entities to kill competition. Yeah, why compete?

  9. Joe Blow September 23, 2011 at 5:39 pm #

    I don’t disagree with any of this, but why aren’t the food trucks aiming for the suburbs? I work in a large large office park in Williamsville and we would love to see some of these food trucks here. There are several of these office parks in Amherst not to mention UB. Why do the food trucks only want to serve customers within the City of Buffalo? There is a critical mass of office workers in some suburban locations where I don’t believe the opposition to food trucks would be so vociferous.

  10. Charles September 23, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    I don’t argue that there should be restrictions or not, just that existing zoning law may already impose the restrictions so the zoning law may need to be amended. A bit more involved. The key phrase in the lawyer’s letter is “conflict with existing zoning laws.”  Trying to circumvent zoning laws, rather than amending the zoning laws, WILL provide fodder for more attorneys to obstruct the food carts. In cases of permissible land use, the zoning laws will trump the regulation of food service carts and the like. So if change is to happen, do the change correctly or risk a protracted legal battle. 

  11. Tom September 24, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    @Joe Blow : The trucks do come out to Amherst and the suburbs on some days. They don’t want to only serve Buffalo. They want to be able to serve Buffalo without nonsense restrictions. 

  12. Angela Stefano September 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm #

    The City of Boston re-did their food truck regulations over the summer. It sounds like a lot of paperwork to get started, but once you get through that, they’re really accommodating — different designated locations (including outside City Hall, near all the restaurants in that plaza and Faneuil Hall), etc. They’re even going to expand the number of locations next year. Previously, the only permit available that even remotely fit the situation was through the Parks and Rec Department and required the trucks to stay stationary.

    Not to pimp out other content, but one of the writers at my new site just did a story on it, and the links in there, to the City’s website about the process, lay out the whole process well: http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/blogs/thenextgreatgeneration/2011/09/food_on_the_move_roxys_grilled.html

  13. Mike September 25, 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    I sent this little piece I wrote up to the Buff News …

    Regarding the story “downtown landlords seek city limits on food trucks,” the basic gist of the argument is that since the revenue streams of some businesses are under threat from competition, the government must step in, and by limiting competition, protect the interests of the established businesses.  Ultimately this serves as a loss for the consumer, who would otherwise have more consumption choices, and also serves to squelch an entrepreneurial environment by hoisting up government-created barriers to entry.  Preserving the monopoly power of local eateries is not a legitimate reason to ban, or strictly regulate, food trucks.  If, as per the original article, “the restaurants are fed up with this (food trucks),” then they should adapt to the environment, and not call on the government to shape the environment in their favor.   This issue of food trucks in particular is minuscule, but serves as a microcosm of the all too pervasive attitude of the government protecting established business interests from competition.   The food truck industry, in cities where it is allowed to proliferate, has helped foster entrepreneurship and create employment opportunities. With start-up costs as low as $15,000, start-up capital requirements are relatively low, and thus, incentivizes those with limited capital to enter a sector of the economy where they previously could not. From a cultural perspective, food trucks, as part of the “street food movement” have created an entirely new food culture.  Often revolving around local fare and authentic ethnic foods, the food culture in the cities where the trucks have been allowed to proliferate, namely LA, New York, and Chicago has benefitted immensely by the introduction of food trucks.  The food truck industry, if allowed to grow here in Buffalo, would be good for the job environment, the food culture, the consumers, and entrepreneurs.  The only parties that would be negatively affected are businesses that cannot adapt, as it should be.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Tidbits: Over the Weekend : Knickerbocker Ledger - September 26, 2011

    […] Buffalo Pundit demands a call to action on food trucks. […]

  2. Sign the Petition: Let the Food Trucks Roam Buffalo | Mobile Food News - September 27, 2011

    […] to run them out of business by existing quick-serve brick & mortar restaurants underscores the difficulty they face in just being allowed to operate in a reasonable way, and in changing presumptions and mindsets. Petitions by Change.org|Start a Petition […]

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