Tag Archives: Food truck

Matt Chandler: Don’t Legalize the #BUFTruck

2 Nov

When last we Fisked a column by Matt Chandler of Buffalo Business First, he was busy imploring all the mean people to stop being mean to kind old racist Carl Paladino. Today, he publishes an article that is supportive of the food trucks in Buffalo, but then essentially asks the Common Council to stop crafting legislation that would legalize their operation.

As it stands now, the food trucks operate essentially as outlaws. They can sell food in the city so long as no one complains. But if someone does complain, there are no rules in place to protect anybody, and the trucks get chased away by the police. Trucks are permitted to operate on private property with permission, or along Buffalo Place in the central business district with a permit.

So, Chandler is exactly correct when he writes,

The argument is that trucks can park outside and siphon business away from bricks-and-mortar restaurants. The problem with that argument is simple: Ask people how they decide where to eat lunch and they’ll usually list a combination of the following: Who has the best food? Who has the fastest service? And who is most affordable?

It doesn’t matter if you are slinging dogs out of a cart, tacos from a truck or sandwiches out of a building, those factors drive customers.

The food trucks are simply another form of business competition, and competition is good.

If traditional restaurants are threatened, it should drive them to improve their product, deliver it with more efficiency and stay competitive in their pricing. At the end of the day, the customer wins.

But then, noting that the Common Council had tabled (again) proposed regulations, he asks them to leave it there. This completely ignores the fact that it’s the food trucks who are helping drive the debate on setting rules and regulations so that they are permitted to operate in the city without fear of being chased away arbitrarily and capriciously. Regulation is not a bad word when it protects the competing rights of mobile and stationary businesses to be treated fairly.

Currently, the proposals from the trucks and the brick & mortars are largely similar. Some differences exist – for instance, the trucks want a 200′ radius from the front doors of open kitchens, while the restaurants want the radius to emanate from the walls of any such restaurant, not just the front door. The restaurants want the city to set up special vending districts in city lots, and the trucks oppose this. The restaurants want “tax parity”, which is somewhat ridiculous. This is why we have legislatures and courts. Now, the lobbying begins in earnest. We know what each side’s proposal is.

So, after mounting an eloquent defense of the food trucks, Chandler ends with this:

With buildings crumbling, houses abandoned, schools a mess and jobs evaporating daily, don’t our elected officials have more important things to devote their time to?

As for me. I’m going to file this blog, then finish eating the delicious turkey sandwich I bought from the brick-and-mortar deli located 25 feet from a food truck. They prepared it fast, charged a reasonable price and, most important, it is delicious.

I can’t really think of a more pressing issue for city government to take up than freeing up a new business sector to do business in the city.  I can’t think of something more important for the legislature of a poor city to do than to help enable an entire, brand-new sector of small businesses with comparatively low startup costs to legally operate in the city. The Common Council shouldn’t forever table this bill – on the contrary, it should act on it as soon as possible, and do so in such a way that we end the status quo, which is tantamount to illegal protectionism of restaurants.

I wonder what deli is located 25 feet from a food truck?

The Food Trucks Propose a Law (UPDATED)

28 Oct

The following document was filed with the Common Council today. It represents the law the food trucks would like to see enacted to regulate their business in the city of Buffalo.

UPDATE: The document I posted below was missing a page from the proposed bill. Here is the entire document: 

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Note that they are adamantly against – and will oppose – any distance restriction beyond a 100′ from an open kitchen, or 500′ from a festival.  Apart from that, no additional restrictions are proposed. The definition of a food truck is clarified to exclude hot dog vendors and trailers, and the statute is rather succinct in requiring a license, health inspections by the county, and the aforementioned radius from brick & mortar restaurants. That’s it.

The ball’s now in the Common Council’s court. This proposal was filed so that the Council could consider it at its November 1st meeting.

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When There are No Laws, It’s the Wild West

22 Aug

This past weekend, the battle between food trucks and a small handful of restaurants in Buffalo grew more acute, and more ridiculous.

Two local restaurants – Taki’s on Court Street, and the Waterline at the Waterfront Village have gone out of their way to affirmatively call city government and thwart the food trucks’ ability to set up in locations where they’ve been invited to set up.

The Roaming Buffalo truck sets up at the corner of Court and Pearl at the invitation of the Convention Center on occasional weekdays. A few picnic tables have been set up at that corner. R ‘ n R BBQ Truck and Where’s Lloyd set up occasionally in the parking lot of the Waterfront Village, at the invitation of the employees of Synacor, a tenant in that complex.

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[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/RoamingBuffalo1/status/104930418792476673″%5D

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So, the Waterline is worried that it loses its monopoly on food service for 2 hours a day, a couple of days a week, and Taki’s for some reason has it in its head that “food” competes with “food”, rather than the notion that sit-down diner fare isn’t the same as food truck burgers, dogs, and beef on weck.

All of this is a follow-up to this story, with a counter-story written by local business advisor Tony Maggiotto, Jr.

The brick and mortar restaurants had complained that a proposed law, which would have required food trucks to set up outside a 100′ radius of existing, operating kitchens would lead to a “wild west” mentality. Now that that law has been tabled until the Common Council returns to work, we have a wild west mentality being practiced by anti-competitive brick & mortar restaurants. Taki’s, the Waterline, ETS, Jim’s Steakout, and Just Pizza have gone out of their way to tightly restrict how the food trucks can operate.

The tenants at the Waterfront Village complex didn’t sign an exclusivity agreement with the Waterline, which would prohibit them from inviting outside food onto the premises. If the Roaming Buffalo’s mounting of the sidewalk to reach its corner at Court Street Plaza is deemed illegal, then every setup at Buffalo Place (for instance, the farmer’s market on Main Street) is illegal, as well.

The wild west mentality comes when established brick and mortar restaurants flex political muscle to ensure that the food trucks can’t do business in the city – whether that be through thwarting proposed legislation, or demanding that the city prohibit them from competing with them because of, for instance, months’ worth of safe sidewalk-mounting.

Ain’t room enough for the two of y’all?

The food trucks have an advantage? Which advantage?

  • The advantage they have at only being able to set up for a couple of hours at a time?
  • The advantage they have regarding no set rules, regulations, or laws, which leave their businesses subject to the whims of anti-competitive councilmembers and restaurants?
  • The advantage they have of not being in the same place each day?
  • The advantage they have in which people have to take affirmative steps to find out where the trucks will be set up?
  • The advantage they have of not having to lock and secure a $80,000 truck every night?
  • The advantage they have of having to rent an inspected food prep kitchen, in addition to a secure truck parking location?
  • The advantage they have of serving food to people unprotected by the elements?
  • The advantage they have of not having a seating area for customers to use while eating?

The food trucks and the complaining restaurants aren’t the same thing. They are similar only in that they serve food to paying customers.

I have gone out of my way to hunt down Lloyd’s at the Waterfront Village because I enjoy my $5.50 taco lunch. The Waterline’s salads and sandwiches are expensive and haven’t merited a special trip. I’ll now go out of my way to avoid Taki’s because, seriously – how many Greek diners does one region need? But I’ll especially avoid them because they have found that their product is not competitive when faced with burgers or tacos served out of a Grumman truck, and instead of stepping it up or dropping their prices, they’re whining to mommy and shutting down the wheeled interlopers.

Support your local food truck.

Where’s Lloyd (tacos)

The Whole Hog (BBQ)

R ‘n R BBQ

Roaming Buffalo (Buffalo favorites)

Coming soon is Fork on the Road (Vietnamese street food)

Give All The Votes!

17 Aug

Over the past several weeks – particularly in the wake of the article I wrote in defense of the Buffalo food trucks‘ attempts to codify how they can do business – I have been taking a pleasant walk up a bleak Main Street to happily stand in line to enjoy tacos from the Where’s Lloyd taco truck.

What I appreciate about Lloyd’s is that they understand that the point of a food truck isn’t just to serve food out of a truck. The point is to serve something unique or special that you can’t find elsewhere, or that other people don’t do as well.  I don’t mean to denigrate the other local food trucks, which serve coffee, two of which serve BBQ, and one of which serves Buffalo classics. I frankly haven’t tried any of them, but I wish them success.

But Lloyd’s is the one that does tacos better than pretty much anyone else in town, and brings them out to where people are – Main & Mohawk, the Larkin Building, and several office parks throughout the week.

The tacos? Two delightfully soft, mildly sweet corn tortillas, topped with your choice of tomatillo pork, braised beef, chimi chicken, or beans, cabbage, cilantro, and hot/medium/mild sauce. They’re messy, they’re delicious, and the contrast between the succulent, moist meat (I usually get one beef, one pork, both excellent) and the crispy cabbage gives great mouthfeel.  The “Rocket Sauce” is a must – tomatillo-based heat with flavor. At $2.25 per taco and a buck for a can of soda, it’s a bargain, to boot. The burritos add rice and/or beans in an overstuffed flour tortilla, for $5.50.  I find that’s too filling for lunch, and gets you sort of sleepy.

So, the food is good, the concept is solid, it’s a great value, and they have become a part of the local food landscape in just one year.

To that end, Lloyd’s is in a competition for the Food Network show “The Great Food Truck Race.”  Astonishingly, Lloyd’s is in first place nationwide, and you get to vote for them ten times per day. If selected, Lloyd’s wins $10,000 and gets to travel nationwide competing against other food trucks (the competition is based on cash earned per night in different cities, and there’s loads of location strategy involved).

Now, R ‘n R Barbecue, the Whole Hog Food Truck and the Roaming Buffalo Truck are also competing, but splitting the vote 3 or 4 ways will ensure that no one wins.  Since Lloyd’s was first in town, I think it’s fair that Lloyd’s is first in line for this competition – the others should wait their turn, (but that’s just my opinion).

To vote for Lloyd’s, click the link or text FT182 to 66789 – every day, and if you register on the Food Truck Race site, you can instantly give your ten votes to Lloyd’s each day.

Buffalo Common Council 86es Food Truck Rules, For Now (UPDATED)

29 Jul

Yesterday, there was a hearing at the Buffalo Common Council on proposed legislation that would allow food trucks to actually move about during the day, pay a meter, and stay at any given location for two hours. Certain restaurants, like Jim’s Steakout and ETS, are vehemently opposing the law.  They say it’s not fair, that it’s too easy for the food trucks to become set up, and that they can set up at a location for “days on end”.

UPDATE: Here is the text of the proposed legislation: 

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To placate the brick-and-mortar restaurants, the Common Council tabled the issue for a month – the most profitable month for food trucks. Absent from this decision is the consideration that food trucks rely on the good weather to break even – they are at a massive competitive disadvantage during the winter months. What the restaurants are doing to the trucks is akin to the trucks clamoring for restaurants to be required to, e.g., open their windows when it’s sub-freezing.

Food trucks don’t cost a pittance. They cost tens of thousands of dollars to purchase, set up, stock, fuel, and operate. Does ETS have to fill up a 22 gallon tank with diesel fuel costing $4.15 per gallon?

The restaurants aren’t entitled to artificial protection against competition from government. The food truck phenomenon (my favorite is the Where’s Lloyd taco truck) is in need of regulation and rules, but they should be fair to both sides – not just to the established brick-and-mortars.

In Buffalo, it’s never easy. There are too many entrenched and intransigent bureaucracies that have zero incentive to change or be efficient. (By contrast, during a trip to Washington this week, I noticed food trucks simply parked at a meter, serving food to waiting customers in the downtown core. The regulations for opening a food truck business are quite clear, and handily set forth at this website.

Once granted this license, you agree to operate according to the law. You can only solicit customers who flag you down. The 35-year-old law was intended for ice cream trucks and obviously did not foresee social media playing such a vital role. Please understand that this is current regulations and we will enforce the rule for vendors who do not follow this rule, traffic and parking rules.

For example: If a Mobile Vendor parks on A Street NW for 5 customers who flag them down or alerted the vendor they were waiting via social media, the vendor needs to find a legal parking spot to serve customers and then must leave once all customers are served. Anybody found not following these rules is subject to fines and possible revocation of their license.

Here is the report from Channel 2. It’s too bad that the city can’t, and won’t, tackle an issue that’s been evident for a year now, and instead chooses to punt in order to provide restaurants a competitive advantage of doubtful fairness.

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For the record, the currently active food trucks in Buffalo are:

Where’s Lloyd (tacos)

The Whole Hog (BBQ)

R ‘n R BBQ

Roaming Buffalo (Buffalo favorites)

Coming soon is Fork on the Road (Vietnamese street food)