Tag Archives: foodtruck

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 #BUFTruck Legislation: Tabled Again

26 Oct

Yesterday, the Common Council’s Legislation Committee met again to take up the issue of food truck legislation. Attorneys for both sides spoke, indicating that some progress had been made – some of it by the attorneys over beers – but that significant issues remain unresolved.

In some ways, this sort of legislation-by-committee of stakeholders is a textbook example of how not to push a legislative initiative. Evidently, the meetings between the food truck and brick & mortar representatives degenerated into shouting. It’s time for the common council to understand that it’s never going to satisfy everybody, and that life isn’t fair. So, it needs to craft some reasonable rules, implement them, pass it, and let the market figure out what happens.

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One of the proposals includes a sunset provision – after one year, the law expires unless the common council takes action to amend or renew it. This gives everyone an opportunity to see how the law works in practice over four seasons, and both sides seemed amenable to it.

One of yesterday’s speakers was Christina Walsh from the Institute of Justice.  The WNY Food Truck Association retained her to explain to the Council that fewer regulations are better than more, and that complicated regulations in some cities have essentially turned trucks into outlaws. She indicated that these food trucks help get feet on the streets and generate their own jobs and economic activity. Most significantly, she helped to rebut the canard that the food trucks have all the advantages over brick & mortar restaurants. Tell it to someone who (a) doesn’t know where the truck is on any given day; and (b) has to wait in inclement weather to get food they need to eat in inclement weather.

How pathetic is it that the Food Trucks had to retain the services of a freedom expert in order to fight for the right to serve tacos, burgers, coffee, and BBQ from mobile canteens?

Councilmember David Rivera indicated that the meeting yesterday had been set up to get input from additional voices, but that none of them had shown up.  The meeting was somewhat abruptly adjourned after 45 minutes.

I have some questions out to various people involved in this issue, and as I get more details I’ll relay them here. In the meantime, be sure to join the WNY Food Truck Association Facebook page, and follow your local food trucks:

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Food Truck Tuesday & Nickel City Chef

25 Oct

1. The food truck debate continues apace. The food trucks and the brick & mortars on the ad hoc committee created to help draw up regulations that everyone could agree on has met a few times, and from what I can gather from the Twitter stream of Roaming Buffalo truck owner, Christopher Taylor, it didn’t go well.

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The Common Council is to meet on the issue today at 2pm at City Hall, and the Food Truck Association is urging its supporters to join them. They suspect that a vote may be taken on proposed regulations today.  I’m not so sure it’ll all be resolved today, but one can always hope.

2. I’m very proud of my association with Nickel City Chef, and have been honored to judge several really epic battles between talented local chefs. I had urged its organizer, Spree food editor and Feed Your Soul owner Christa Glennie Seychew, to pull together a cookbook by the chefs, highlighting the food they prepared during their battles. That book is out, and its unveiling will be tonight at a party at Artisan Kitchen & Baths on Amherst Street between 6 and 9. 

If you can’t attend the party, you can order the book and DVD through this link. It makes a great gift for any Buffalo foodie, and celebrates Buffalo’s best chefs, and our best ingredients from small local farms.

Thoughts on the #BUFTruck Council Hearing (UPDATED)

30 Sep

As promised, here are my thoughts about the Food Truck public hearing at City Hall yesterday:

1. It was striking that only one person spoke in opposition to the food trucks.  John Fusco of Zetti’s has become something of an unintentional internet phenomenon with his focus on restrooms and his strong New York accent, but upon reflection, boycotting these restaurants isn’t the answer. I know Fusco, and he’s a good guy. I disagree strongly with what he said, but I appreciate that he was the solitary truck opponent to get up and voice his concerns. I have a bigger problem with the other restaurants, who put on a conciliatory public face while trying to kill or hyper-restrict the trucks.

2. The truck owners were very eloquent advocates for their cause. Pete Cimino of Where’s Lloyd was especially passionate and really killed it.

3. The Common Councilmembers who were present (all except Mickey Kearns) all seemed to indicate that they were willing to pass a law to regulate (in a good way) food trucks, and are concerned about the time, place, and manner details. This is the sausage-making that most people ignore, but is critically important.

4. The resolution at the end of the meeting was that the trucks and restaurants put their heads together and come up with a set of rules that everyone can live with. It is hoped that recommendations from this advisory committee will be completed within 30 days, in the hope that the law can be changed by November.

5. Going back to that word – “regulation”. It sometimes gets an undeserved bad rap. Regulating food trucks with time, place, and manner restrictions is a massive improvement over the status quo, whereby the trucks are prohibited from working the streets and setting up just about anywhere except on private property, or in locations for which they have a permit.

6. The story told by architect and developer Steve Carmina was startling. He owns a building at Main & Mohawk that likely wouldn’t have been leased had Lloyd’s taco truck not set up there and made that corner a destination of sorts a few days per week. That stretch of Main Street is especially bleak and depressing, but when that truck is there, it acts as a magnet for people from all over the city and region. He gave the truck credit for that pedestrian traffic and resulting economic activity, which in effect revitalized that corner.

7. There has been some “first world problems” and “stuff white people like” type criticism over this issue. I get it. But scratch the surface, and this is an issue that has plagued Buffalo for years – the city’s business friendliness. There’s loads of reasons why Buffalo’s downtown business district is a bleak shell even between 9 – 5 on a weekday.  Further restrictions on mobile businesses will only help to perpetuate that – ease them and perhaps it’ll change.

8. The food trucks are at a seasonal disadvantage. When the temperature drops, their customers won’t take kindly to standing in line for an extended period of time exposed to the elements. The regulations the city imposes should be eased between November – March to let the food trucks more easily find customers.

9. Two people spoke, expressing to the Council that they were prepared to invest huge money into their own food trucks, but not until the legal uncertainties were resolved. That’s the real-life consequence of slow action on needed legislation.

10. It’s great that people are taking an interest in this political process.  Hopefully, they’ll recognize that almost all of Buffalo’s problems have political solutions and they’ll become more involved and active.

11. I will try to keep on top of the committee’s work and report what sort of progress is being made, and what sort of nonsense might be taking place.

12. The legislative process is silly and slow, but the city, her leaders, and their staff are listening. A petition posted earlier this week has garnered over 4,300 signatures solely based on social media.  Each time that petition was signed, that signature was sent via email to each Councilmember and the head of Buffalo Place.

13. The Mayor’s office has been characteristically silent. Typical. Why is he letting the Council lead on this issue? Why isn’t the Mayor taking a stand one way or another – why isn’t he saying anything about what is at its core a story about how the city deals with businesses, and how quickly it adapts to novelty? To my mind, Byron Brown should spend the next week sampling the wares at each of the trucks, listening to their concerns and stories.  He should be thanking them for enhancing the quality of life downtown. Because he’s a politician, he should also be listening to the concerned restaurants.  He should also then be using his office to be a leader, and help bring about a fair resolution that is a win for everyone. We don’t have a mayor like that, apparently. This issue underscores what a disappointment that is.

UPDATE: 14. I forgot to add the most important part. SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL FOOD TRUCKS. 

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The Food Truck Public Meeting: What to Expect

28 Sep

1. It will be in room 1417 of City Hall at 10am on Thursday September 28th.  In case the crowd is too large, there is a strong possibility that the meeting might be moved to the legislative chambers on the 13th floor.

2. You will have an opportunity to speak, if you wish.  Look for a sign-in sheet. There are no restrictions on who can speak, but it is likely that your comments will be limited in time, and that they be relevant to the matter at hand.  Tailor your remarks in such a way as to zealously advocate on behalf of the food trucks you love, while recognizing the legitimate concerns that existing brick & mortar restaurants have.  If you have specific recommendations or ideas, bring them up – don’t assume that it’s obvious, and don’t assume it’s already been thought of. If you have researched the matter and can point to specific provisions of actual laws that have been enacted in other cities, cite them.

3. This is not a bitch session. This is your opportunity to be heard with respect to some real, positive legislative change that will put Buffalo ahead of many other cities in the state. If you’re a Buffalo booster – young or old – this is a big deal.

4. Come with your mind open. Do not presume that all restaurants are opposed to food trucks. Do not prejudge what the councilmembers’ opinions or positions are. If someone speaks on behalf of a business association with which you disagree, listen respectfully. When you’re doing something novel – when you’re ahead of the times – there’s a lot of hand-wringing and anxiety that goes into that. Be respectful of others’ viewpoints, and expect them to be respectful of yours.

5. The matter is not going to be resolved tomorrow.  You will not walk out of there having witnessed a new food truck law being debated and enacted. This is just one part of a lengthy process, which will continue to evolve and be discussed and debated – both privately and publicly.

6. The meeting will be live-streamed. Look for it here at WNYMedia.net.

Sign the Petition: Let the Food Trucks Roam Buffalo

26 Sep

I realize that the regulation of food trucks is not the most pressing matter facing the world, the state, the city, our society, etc. I am fully cognizant of the fact that this is, on the surface, a first world problem.

However, this is also an issue about freedom to do business in a business-unfriendly place. This is an issue about defeating a strict adherence to oldthink with grassroots support for something new, good, and innovative. The very fact that the food trucks in Buffalo have had to unite for a lobbying effort to counteract an effort 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.

This isn’t about poaching customers or throwing a middle finger up at existing restaurants.  This is about setting up reasonable, rational regulations to protect the food trucks’ right to do business, and also to protect the concerns of existing brick & mortar restaurants, many of whom are quite supportive of the food truck movement.

Good food and consumer choice wins here. Please sign the petition, linked-to below, which has been endorsed and approved by the Buffalo coalition of food trucks. This will be sent to each Common Council member, as well as the Executive Director of Buffalo Place. Be heard.

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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.