Tag Archives: Restaurant

Valenti’s: Might Want to Frame Those Gift Cards

26 Jan

An empty restaurant (click to enlarge)

It’s been about six weeks since the Buffalo News’ sole restaurant critic gave this Italian upstart a 2.5 star review, extolling the virtues of their red sauce and their Iron Chef and parsnips-based provenance.

On January 20, Budwey Supermarkets, Inc. filed a Notice of Petition to evict “Desires Unlimited d/b/a Valenti’s Italian Restaurant under index number LT-0055-12 in North Tonawanda City Court. The matter is scheduled for a hearing on Monday January 30th at 2pm in that venue. Budwey alleges that Valenti’s owes him $5,200 in unpaid rent, plus $500 in attorneys’ fees.  As of right now, no counterclaim has been filed against Budwey.

I have a call in to Budwey’s attorney.

A source close to the matter says that, as the restaurant was readying for lunch service on Wednesday, the electricity was shut off. Terry Valenti had been attempting to open an electrical account in his name, but Budwey put a hold on the service, which rendered that impossible. With power off, food that was slated to be served yesterday is still sitting out, and the food that is in the coolers and freezers may spoil, costing upwards of $15,000 to replace. The problem is that Valenti’s cannot get a purveyor to service the restaurant due to unpaid bills, and a dubious check may have been cut to Curtze’s. (UPDATE: Curtze’s confirms that, although Valenti’s did not have an account with it, they did buy stuff from them from time to time, and they also confirmed that Valenti’s last check bounced – that there was no money in the account and they can’t locate the person who passed it.)

When the electricity was shut off, a source says that Valenti and Brocuglio pulled the Ansul flame retardant system, possibly damaging equipment and necessitating a very costly recharge of the foam system.

 

It’s unknown whether Valenti and Brocuglio intend ever to return to the restaurant at this point, but signs point to “no”. It’s also been reported to me that many valuables and important files and financial documents have been removed from the premises.

At 11am on Thursday, the lights were off, Valenti’s was empty and closed.  In the meantime, someone had created a “Budway Valenti“[sic] Facebook account to mock Valenti’s landlord and estranged partner in the business and former server, Melissa Janiszewski. Screen caps below.

 

 

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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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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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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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)

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)

Nickel City Chef XI: TODAY (Sunday 6/6)

6 Jun

Nickel City Chef X was a few weeks ago, where Chef Dino DeBell of Coles, soon to be of Blue Monk Gastropub, challenged Nickel City Chef J.J. Richert of Torches. The secret ingredient was wine, and both chefs brought their A game:

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The next Nickel City Chef battle will take place on Sunday, 6/6/2010  3:00 pm – 5:00 pm at Artisan Kitchens & Baths on Amherst Street in Buffalo, where Nickel City Chef Paul Jenkins of the highly-acclaimed Tempo is challenged by Chef Jim Guarino, the owner and Executive Chef of one of Buffalo’s most well-regarded restaurants, Shango Bistro & Wine Bar.

The series is hosted by WBFO’s Bert Gambini.  The event will be catered by Sample Restaurant – they catered the last one I judged, and their spread was absolutely incredible.  Also notable is the fact that there are now remote cameras and roaming cameramen enabling the audience to get real-time views of the chefs working in the kitchen – an innovation that has vastly improved the audience experience.

Tickets for this competition and the rest of the series can be purchased online by visiting www.NickelCityChef.com.  It’s a great way to celebrate local chefs, local food producers, and spend a Sunday afternoon.