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Picture from Brick-N-Motor food truck.

Picture from Brick-N-Motor food truck.

Legislation was submitted to Rochester’s City Council this week that would allow food trucks to operate downtown. (Read it here.) Food truck operators say the new rules are too restrictive and don’t provide space for enough trucks. But it’s a start.

Cities and suburbs all over the country are grappling with how to treat mobile food vendors. Rochester’s food trucks formed an alliance to advance their interests.

Food trucks have some benefits for cities. They attract people to parks. They generate more foot traffic. The provide additional food options and sometimes they are the only convenient food option. They can attract patrons to neighboring businesses, such as bars, coffee shops and retail stores. Most importantly, people like food trucks and want them near their workplaces.

Much of the debate surrounding food trucks involves complaints from brick and mortar restaurants, which have many times the amount of money invested in their businesses. Many regulations bar food trucks from pulling up near permanent establishments. Food trucks counter that restaurants should be able to withstand competition and the trucks operate on a much smaller scale. There should be a compromise somewhere in the debate.

It will be interesting to watch Rochester’s experiment with food trucks this summer.

Links of the Day:

– An Erie County village is tired of cars and wants to take back its Main Street.

– Syracuse schools debate how to discipline problem students. This is a number one complaint of Rochester teachers, too.

– Only a tiny percentage of missing children have been abducted by strangers. The number of missing kids has gone down.

– A Boston Globe columnist takes politicians to task for not having the courage to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

A Queens bar serves nothing but Keuka Lake wines.

18 Responses to Why Food Trucks?

  1. May 11, 2013 at 11:34 am Lee Drake responds:

    Regarding food trucks – since when is the government in charge of regulating competition? Because if they are – I want in. I think that they should move all the competing web development companies who pay less rent than I do out of my building, because it’s unfair competition. What? That’s ridiculous you say? That’s the same argument the restaurants are using here. The government’s role is not to regulate competition. Let the marketplace do that. As long as the food trucks do not present a hazard, are operated safely, then the cities only concern should be if they impede traffic in the places they are parked. This is another example of the city driving small business entrepreneurs out of the city center with ridiculous regulations. Even toney suburbs like Brighton and Henrietta regulate food trucks more loosely – and in the case of Brighton welcome them with open arms. And we wonder why young people don’t want to stay in Rochester or move downtown.

    • June 4, 2013 at 5:07 pm Tortoise40 responds:

      Since when does government regulate competition? Since government has existed. New York State granted legal monopolies to steamboat operators on the Hudson for nearly four decades before the Supreme Court stopped them. Now politicians just help the businesses with the most campaign contributions on the sly – through regulation. You say let the marketplace regulate competition and I agree. But in the next sentence you invite regulation. To a large degree the market can regulate whether a business is safe as well. Every rule which is proposed and adopted by a legislature for the supposed benefit of safety makes it more difficult for a new business to enter that marketplace. Every regulation intend to improve “fairness” is one more brick used to wall off competition. This is why the biggest corporations often support MORE regulation of their industries. And why the most highly regulated markets have the fewest producers. As an example, hundreds of millions of Americans drive cars and use gasoline every day. How many U.S. automakers and oil companies can you name? With so much demand, you’d think there would be thousands. But they’ve effectively created a monopoly through excessive regulation. Government regulates competions each time they pass a new regulation. And we’ve got to stop empowering them to do it.

      • June 5, 2013 at 10:26 am Lee Drake responds:

        The next sentence was sarcasm. Sorry if that didn’t come through in your reading of it.

        • June 5, 2013 at 10:28 am Lee Drake responds:

          And yes – where restaurants are concerned we do need regulation for health and safety – the industry has proved itself unable to properly self-regulate, and people have died or become very ill because of it. My business has safety regulations as well and I abide by them (OSHA, etc. etc.).

  2. Having spent 3 summers working the hot dog cart for the Executive deli I know that the City has regulated competition for a long, long time. Hot dog cart spots are awarded via a lottery. If you own 5 carts you have better odds of getting a primo spot whereas a guy with one cart gets one shot only. Storefronts have the Right to ‘claim’ the sidewalk in front of their place for a cart (which is why we were on Fitzhugh, Barrister’s had claim to Main St.). Cart used to have to be moved every so often until the lottery system was formed I was told. Food trucks are hot dog carts with an engine, nothing different. The guy who set’s up on Alexander near East every weekend has been using a truck forever, but he is using it like a hot dog cart. Food truck people here want to be able to set up in multiple locations throughout the day (like they do out west) I assume, otherwise they are exactly like hot dog carts. I think the lottery system is bs, but it is there. Food trucks need to follow the same rules or go somewhere else. Changing laws for fads is how we end up in these situations, so some real thinking should be done by our ‘leaders’ which takes everyone into account as they created the system. Or eliminate all regs and let it be a free-for-all. Food truck lobby…… oh I mean ‘alliance’. Talk about inflated sense of self worth. One more hipster fad being passed off as the mainstream norm. I’m pretty sure any Applebee’s outsells the ‘best’ restaurants in Rochester.

  3. May 11, 2013 at 2:48 pm Derek Beckwith responds:

    My chefs that I am friends with not only have their brick and morter places, but also food trucks as a way of brings excellent food to places that others would have it. It opens up a chance to have more customers come to their main place. The lottery system does suck, there has to be a happy medium some how. I wish the city not only had more hot dog vendors but also roasted nut vendors too.

  4. May 11, 2013 at 4:52 pm orielly responds:

    Totally free market sounds great unless you pay 20K a year in taxes for your restaurant to the city and some guy parks his food truck out front of your restaurant, blocks people seeing your place and then he steals your customers as they try to go in.

    Every food truck is regulated and should be for many reasons in any burb. And yea Brighton is great – they let in food trucks but won’t let a restaurant have a dive through because…Brighton is too good for those kinds of business.

    • June 5, 2013 at 9:47 am Tortoise40 responds:

      Sounds to me like someone’s a little bitter at getting beaten by a better business model. There’s nothing more American than surveying the field as it is at the moment and devising the best strategy to win. Unfortunately, there’s also nothing more American than running to the government for help if you’re the one losing out to a better strategy.

  5. Exactly Orielly, which is why the lottery system was set up that way for carts (again, from my understanding only). The carts aare to be made available for a fire inspection at any time (hard to do when you don’t know where the truck is parked) and a health inspection while serving food. Most of the people I know in the ‘foodie’ business want the rules changed to favor themselves and don’t care about ‘regular’ eateries and the reason given is always ‘because we are trying to change people’s ideas about food’. Oh, and making a profit isn’t part of the plan? Or regular restaurants food choices aren’t ‘cool’ enough? A few politically connected folks in the ‘foodie’ biz are making it out like they speak for the majority in their industry and a few food snobs are making it out like we are in a wasteland of food. Egos and money, just like with everything, are driving this debate not fair play or a rising tide lifting all boats.

  6. May 11, 2013 at 8:26 pm bill responds:

    It’s laughable when anyone from City Hall says they want to keep the playing field level. Wonder how the poor taxpaying businesses on the wrong side of Mt Hope feel or the East End business owners during High Falls money pit dayys. The only places that will really feel pain from these are the lunch places downtown, other restaurants won’t be affected. Food trucks are really just lunch, bar, and special event food. Something leas restrictive can be done while still protecting the few brick and mortar restaurants downtown that depend on the lunch hour crowd. These overly strict rules are overkill and show city hall is of touch. Maybe it is a fad or hipsterish, but its what young people want so embrace it. We need them to stay and we need companies to see that we have interesting things to draw/keep employees (although a less hostile business environment would be much more valuable, theres little cn do about it at the local level)

    • May 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm Lee Drake responds:

      Again – the city should not be in the business of protecting other businesses from competition. That is not their role, and it’s a slippery slope you do NOT want them to go down.

    • May 12, 2013 at 2:43 pm Lee Drake responds:

      Are you saying that the city should prevent a restaurant from opening next door to another restaurant? Do you think that the food trucks pay no taxes, and no fees for parking in their spots? Do you think they don’t have costs just like every other food truck owner. Do you think they work less hard? There is a lot of misinformation flying around here, but it’s not the food truck owners that are misinforming.

      Hot dog carts should also be freed up from onerous regulation – I never said they shouldn’t.

  7. May 12, 2013 at 2:47 pm Lee Drake responds:

    PS – I don’t own a food truck, or have any financial interest in any food truck. I do own a small business and I collaborate with entrepreneurial and startup businesses throughout the Rochester Area. I also enjoy eating at food trucks AND restaurants. Those restaurants and bars that have collaborated with the food trucks like Roc Brewing and Lux have seen vast benefits to having food trucks in their area (and no I’m not financially associated with either of those businesses either.

  8. I don’t think anyone accused any trucks of violating those ‘myths’. I compared a mobile truck, serving at various locations during one day with a hot dog cart that is required to be stationary and in a permitted spot or one not ‘claimed’ under city regs by a restaurant. Certain spots in the city (mostly downtown) are reserved for the lottery, the rest of the city is wide open so long as the cart is permitted and not on a restaurant’s main sidewalk (without their permission). My information comes from working in that industry and knowing plenty who are in it. If they make money or not is no concern of mine. But if they want the system gamed to benefit themselves when they knew the rules of the game before they decided to try to ‘bring’ food trucks to town….. well I don’t feel sorry for them. Change the rules then play the game, don’t name drop or bully the changes into place which is the typical Rochester way.

  9. May 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm Orielly responds:

    Yea a city should be able to stop a food truck from parking in front of my restaurant. And no way a food truck pays the amount taxes of a restaurant not even close.

    The city and towns controls all kinds of business for lots of reasons. Farm markets can’t sell items and compete with Wegmans. Fast food can only be in certain areas, Cities and towns can have a say on what business you open, where it can or can’t exist, and determine if you have enough parking, how big your signs can be, lights, tons of things. Can’t put a porn shop next to a school tons of things retail business can or can’t do, controlled by business.

    • June 5, 2013 at 9:49 am Tortoise40 responds:

      If you’re losing a game you can do two things: play better or change the rules. Pretty obvious which of the two you’d like to do.

  10. I don’t want to overly restrict food trucks, but the sad truth is with the state of downtown there are many small business owners that operate restaurants only during breakfast and lunch because that’s all the market will support. I wish it weren’t but go downtown during lunch hour and then after 5pm. Lunch hour isn’t bad, but after 5 is just plain sad. So something should be done to prevent a food truck from opening up smack dab in front of one of these limited hour restaurants. The food truck has one advantage the restaurant doesn’t, come 5 they can pull up stakes and follow the crowds. Also my understanding of Rochester’s over complicated business licenses means that a restaurant can’t open up at night if there is an event or activity going on in the area without getting their business licenses amended. Where as a food truck can just show up, say for party in the park or some other event that draws people to downtown outside of 9-5 m-f.

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