It was one year ago that Lloyd the taco truck arrived on the Buffalo food scene
. Lloyd has experienced a tremendous amount of success since then for a very simple reason - the food is great.
Operating a food truck is no simple business, though. The trucks are expensive and require significant maintenance. A popular truck - like Lloyd - can struggle with capacity issues as customers line up for product. And in Buffalo, there are no clear rules and regulations for how food trucks are allowed to operate. So to date, Lloyd and other Buffalo food trucks needed a permit to set up shop in one fixed location (like Lloyd sets up at Main & Mohawk) or they could set up on private property.
Lloyd, as a pioneer in the Buffalo food truck movement, led an effort to get the City to establish fair food truck legislation. That initiative has been ongoing for over a year. It appeared the Common Council was going to act but, late last week, the Council voted to table the legislation. This leaves all of Buffalo's food trucks immobile.
Not surprisingly, brick-and-mortar restaurants are concerned about the new food trucks. And a number of local brick-and-mortar restaurants led the fight to stop the food truck legislation. Jim's Steakout
, Elmwood Taco & Sub
and Just Pizza
all fought to stop Councilmember Golombek's food truck bill as they deemed it unfair. Ron Lucchino, owner of ETS, told the Council how he pays over $30,000 in property taxes a year on his Elmwood property while a food truck would pay none. Lucchino's comments dripped with irony as ETS recently pleaded guilty in Buffalo City Court
to failing to keep adequate tax records and paid back taxes in the amount of $380,000 plus a $20,000 fine.
Mark Campanella, vice president of marketing and franchise development at Just Pizza, went further in his criticism of food trucks and said "This could open the doors for cowboys to start coming
in this town. It could just be a scene out of the wild, wild west." Most of our visuals of the wild west come from the classic movies - The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Unforgiven and Shane - so we all know how, back then, food trucks would just drive over people, drive through brick-and-mortar pizza parlors and generally terrorize the populace. Oh wait.
The food truck legislation, which was sponsored by Joe Golombek, would allow food trucks to operate throughout the city on public property so long as they abided by all parking and traffic ordinances and so long as they did not set up with 100 feet of licensed, open food establishment (like ETS, Jim's Steakout, etc) or within 500 feet of any festival or fair. Each food truck would be required to purchase a permit to operate that would cost $325.
It's not unusual or surprising that long-standing businesses are attempting to protect their turf, literally. But for these brick-and-mortar operators to claim that food trucks would have unfair advantages if they were allowed to move around the city with just those restrictions is downright silly. Food trucks have substantial disadvantages including no shelter for their customers, no seating for their customers, limited capacity to fill orders, natural skepticism from many potential customers as to the quality of food coming out of a truck and the list goes on. That's why food trucks are not going to put brick-and-mortar restaurants out of business.
Indeed, other cities
have both healthy brick-and-mortar restaurants and a healthy food truck scene. Buffalo can do the same. We just need our local government to codify sensible and equitable regulations governing how food trucks can operate. The bill that was tabled was sensible and equitable (read the entire bill here
). Should the 100 feet restriction be 150 feet? Maybe. Should the $325 fee be increased to $500? Maybe. But, by and large, the Golombek proposal is pretty fair. The Common Council has had nearly a year to vet this issue and pass sensible legislation to help Buffalonians get better access to quality food. That they haven't done it is an indictment of their ability to handle the most basic of legislative tasks. And that may be the most disturbing part of this food truck fiasco.