The Somerville Board of Aldermen and broader Somerville community have been discussing in recent months the possible benefits and drawbacks of welcoming food tucks into the city.
Among other things, some feel food trucks are small business incubators that add to the overall economic vibrancy of a community. Others have questions about whether or not food trucks take away business from brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Here's some more on the debate in Somerville:
Dave Andelman, president of the Restaurant and Business Alliance as well as the CEO of Phantom Gourmet, Inc. (the two are associated), has sent an op-ed piece about food trucks in which he comes down firmly on the side of protecting brick-and-motar resrautants.
Here's what he wrote:
SERVING UP SENSIBLE POLICY ON FOOD TRUCKS
BY DAVE ANDELMAN
Food trucks are colorful and fun, and they serve good, inexpensive food. I support these hard-working entrepreneurs and their employees. However, we need sensible rules so that: 1) The food truck industry can be successful and 2) The food truck industry will not: discourage restaurants from opening and expanding, cause restaurants to end their leases, or force restaurants to fire employees.
Restaurants have been hit by a perfect storm of negative conditions including a weak economy, an increase of the meals tax from 5% to 7%, higher food and energy and health care costs, and escalating credit card use/fees. In July alone, our state lost 2,100 hospitality jobs. Restaurants signed five, ten, and twenty year leases, without knowing that trucks would soon be taking their customers (every one of two dozen chefs and owners whom I asked, who are now near a food truck, confirmed that this is the case). Because they don’t build a store, pay rent other than a nominal fee such as $50 per day, or hire many employees, the trucks sell food for significantly less than the restaurants. The restaurants can’t just “step up their game”; it’s impossible for them to meet the prices of their mobile competitors given the cost structure of these two types of business.
Why have we created this privilege only for food trucks? Will nail and hair salons on wheels set up on Newbury Street? How about busses that provide massage, or motorcycles that serve coffee? People are investing their life savings to start a business, and they can lose that business if a competitor with far less investment and operating cost is allowed to suddenly siphon away their customers. Companies want as much certainty as possible before risking their money, right now, the climate is uncertain. This means less construction, less jobs, less taxes, and less rent.
Red Bones is an excellent, multi-million dollar restaurant in Somerville. Why is it good for BOSTON that they prepare food, drive to Boston, then sell this food on the street in the Back Bay, some of the most valuable real estate in the country? Is this not discouraging to the restaurants that invested exponentially more in building cost and rent than Red Bones invested in a truck? Does Red Bones pay the local meals tax to Somerville or Boston? Why remove parking spaces for customers who want to visit Boston and patronize local businesses?
Food trucks should be allowed and encouraged at events like the SoWa Open Market, a wonderful weekly bizarre featuring food and shopping in the South End. Large public or private areas are ideal spots to host food truck events. Boston Common and the Esplanade should welcome the trucks, as they are big pieces of land with very limited options for food and drinks. However, a new rule should be added: The trucks should not be allowed within a one thousand feet walking distance of a restaurant. We are not alone in contemplating this sort of rule; San Francisco, Chicago, and Las Vegas are all currently debating how many feet should separate restaurants and food trucks. The trucks have big followings on social media, so it will be easy to recruit their loyal customers to walk a short distance to buy a tasty, inexpensive snack or meal. Alternatively, the limit may be lowered to five hundred feet if the truck sends a certified letter to every restaurant in the designated area, and the majority of the restaurants then approve issuing the permit to operate. This could mean that some areas of Boston will have no food trucks, but the trucks can still seek approval to operate in other parts of Boston, nearby cities, and anywhere in the state including the parking lots of large employers. Exceptions should also be made for events like Sowa Open Market or Food Truck Festivals, as such temporary events draw people to Boston and local restaurants/businesses benefit from the overflow. The “Food Truck Promotion And Restaurant Protection Provision” will work for Boston or any city trying to balance between encouraging this emerging industry and preserving the existing restaurants, jobs, and taxes in a given community.
Dave Andelman is a Boston home owner and the President of the Restaurant And Business Alliance.