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Opinion: Phantom Gourmet CEO on Food Trucks

Dave Andelman, of Phantom Gourmet and the Restaurant and Business Alliance, makes a reference to Somerville's Redbones and says, "[Food] trucks should not be allowed within a one thousand feet walking distance of a restaurant."

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: 

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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. 

Courtney O'Keefe August 13, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Agree!
Matt C August 13, 2012 at 06:37 PM
Ron, you are right - I was trying to think of places in the city where there is a lot of pedestrian traffic and not much many food options - especially in the am.
Mc Slim Jb August 13, 2012 at 11:04 PM
Assuming that Andelman isn't just shilling on behalf of his advertisers (ha!, I know, that's pretty much the Phantom's entire business model), I have some questions: 1) Why isn't Dave advocating protectionism against the big national chains that have moved into the Seaport, sucking business away from independent brick-and-mortar restaurants in other neighborhoods of the city? Don't they have an unfair competitive advantage, with their deep pockets to sign long-term Waterfront leases and buy $400K full-liquor licenses, their sourcing economies of scale, their national advertising budgets, and their access to abundant, cheap parking? 2) Who will protect the food trucks from the unfair advantages that brick-and-mortar establishments have, like the ability to seat customers, let them use a bathroom, serve alcohol, operate in a blizzard, have a fixed location where their customers always know to find them, have running water and gas cooktops? 3) Where was Dave when Amazon and Apple were turning the bookstores and the CD shops into empty storefronts? Doesn't protecting legacy businesses demand that we put the brakes on any innovative new business model or technology advancements? Won't someone think of the buggy whips? Anyway, Andelman's position seems like an odd, anti-capitalistic, protectionist stance for such an allegedly pro-business, anti-regulation Republican. Or maybe we should apply Occam's Razor, and conclude he's just whoring for his sponsors after all.
Brian McCarthy August 13, 2012 at 11:23 PM
David Andelman is just like his father; he will say whatever he gets paid to say.
Mary Ellen O'Reilly Powers August 13, 2012 at 11:43 PM
Sowa - a weekly "bizarre??" Hahahahahahaha.... Is it the editor or the writer to blame here! Hahahahahahahaha...
The Foodie Journal August 14, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Unfortunate that an enterprise that used to be a legit source of food info and reviews has become a shill festival for its sponsors. Tough to be taken seriously when that's what you're known for.
Elizabeth Caffrey August 14, 2012 at 12:51 AM
Isn't this capitalism at its finest? Someone has figured out how to build a better mousetrap - evolve and do better. Also, there doesn't seem to be a fact in this opinion piece but it is portrayed that. I agree with Matt C - there is a place for food trucks in Somerville so let's figure it out otherwise that business will go to Cambridge.
Elizabeth Caffrey August 14, 2012 at 12:54 AM
Doesn't Red Bones? I wonder how they feel about being called out.
bendy August 14, 2012 at 01:28 AM
I own a cafe and I think this piece is one of the silliest things I've ever read about the restaurant business. Sure, I'd be momentarily annoyed if Somerville established a designated food truck area right across the street from our cafe ... but eventually, I'd be happy because such a thing would attract customers who might not otherwise come to our neighborhood. The restaurant business is about complementary competition. Almost nobody eats in the same restaurant every single day. Rather, especially if you're talking about convenience, you want to have a cluster of decent places in one neighborhood so that customers would be happy to come there frequently and still get variety. My take on food trucks specifically is that they're a gateway drug: a restaurant fix without paying a restaurant price. If you're in the restaurant business in Boston, you want everyone who can afford it to eat out three times a day. Food trucks help make that happen. And if you have a brick and mortar restaurant, having a food truck is a great way to get your product in front of more people and expand the brand. Finally, the bureaucratic nonsense espoused in this editorial is just dumb. I can't believe that anyone involved in the business world would ever advocate for such a silly, cumbersome system.
mb August 14, 2012 at 01:45 AM
Holland, MI has a similar policy: http://www.thehotdogtruck.com/2012/08/boy-whose-hot-dog-cart-was-shut-down-by.html
Travis Grandon August 14, 2012 at 10:12 AM
This op-ed is total brain snot. The Phantom Gourmet is irrelevant to independent business and thankfully his opinions and suggestions are treated like the malaise they are. A food truck requires no less investment of blood sweat and tears and financially it is an investment of scale, so many truck operators wouldn't be able to actually open a brick and mortar, but are nonetheless indebted to someone who coughed up 15k-60k to get that rig road ready. Perhaps in five years time there will be a food truck graveyard because one bad egg sickens a patron and sentiment will blow in the wind. It is an uncertain business on the best of days. I would like to thank the CEO OF Phantom Gourmet for publicly exposing himself as a narrow minded shill hacking down innovation and entrepreneurial spirit, congratulations.
Jolyon Helterman August 14, 2012 at 12:55 PM
It's almost as though if you express even one iota of sympathy for the brick-and-mortar defenders, you get ridiculed personally. Agree with MC Slim that having Dave Andelman as the face of your activism doesn't help, but I also get the sense that no matter how articulate Dave's (admittedly hole-ridden) argument had been, an anti-Andelman venom would permeate every response to it. Like most people don't give a sh*t about the issue at hand; it's simply a mob mentality, gleefully cheering on the hecklers. "Kill Andelman! I can't believe he takes money from advertisers! His audience likes crappy chicken parm! Waaaaaanh!" Just for fun, I'd like to ask, say, the owners of Angela's Cafe (or any other scruffy, Chowhound-coronated mecca) to espouse some of the same protectionist views in a public forum. I think the dangerously cliquish local foodiverse would, quite literally, implode. Andelman, a guy connected to the restaurant biz (in however a pay-for-play connection), didn't spend time and effort plumping for mom-and-pop bookstores, and THAT undermines his point? Interesting indictment.
Mc Slim Jb August 14, 2012 at 01:30 PM
I thought my (obviously satirically-couched) point about Apple/Amazon was clear, and it wasn't that I actually thought it was Dave Andelman's business to defend Newbury Comics and the Brattle Book Shop. Rather, it's that defenders of old business models against newer ones run the risk of seeming like Luddites at best, and crony capitalists at worst. (Also, Andelman needs another example besides Al's sub shops, a longtime sponsor and frequent guest of his show.) The brick-and-mortars should be wary of appearing to try to use their lobbying pals to get government to level a playing field that has been reconfigured by an innovative new entrant. It might also help if brick-and-mortars acknowledged that they have many inherent advantages against food trucks, and considered the notion that if consumers are abandoning them, it may be for a better product, not necessarily a cheaper one. And yes, having a spokesman like Andelman probably doesn't help: he has all the credibility of a stripper telling you how fascinating you are as she strokes your wallet.
Melissa G August 14, 2012 at 01:50 PM
Jolyon, while I see where you're coming from. Given this particular Op Ed and the comments that follow it, one might think that this is a Andleman heckleing that is taking place. However, this conversation, this situation, this problem isn't a new one. These same types of comments and opposite opinons were stated when some of the Aldermen of Somerville made arguments against food trucks that were equally as hole-ridden as Dave Andleman's argument. And one reason that you are pretty unlikely to hear owners of places such as Angela's Cafe or any of the other smaller food nerd mecca's spouting the same protectionist views is because many of them are similar in position and nature to food trucks. They are hard working people who put their everything into their business, they don't have deep pocketed backers, so they forced to put out delicious food and be innovative in their business strategies. They are more likely to feel a connection to those who put their everything into food trucks, who are forced to put out high quality products in innovative ways in order to stay in business. You should take note of the restaurants that are complaining about food trucks. Many of them are part of chains (albeit, mostly local chains) or bigger restaurant groups. While yes, I am sure they built themselves up from the ground, but I think they're a little out of touch with the smaller, new-comers who are just trying to make it in the growing Boston food scene.
Dan Seitz August 14, 2012 at 02:12 PM
That and I'm kind of curious to see what RABA's ties are, politically.
Dan Seitz August 14, 2012 at 02:15 PM
You do understand that all they're doing is illustrating how you can follow his line of reasoning right off a cliff, right?
Dale Bertrand August 15, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Dave Andelman, It's not your job to protect restaurants from having to compete with legitimate businesses that offer better value. Have you forgotten that the dining public likes food trucks? Don't we get a say? I know the restaurant business is tough, but if diners prefer food trucks, then let some restaurants go out of business.
bob August 15, 2012 at 10:38 PM
Why not just debunk Andelman's arguments, such as they are? They are quite clearly not aimed at ensuring "that the food truck industry can be successful," as he claims, or striking a fair balance between food trucks and brick-and-mortar restaurants. First, food trucks are part of the restaurant industry, not some separate industry. It's all selling prepared meals. Food trucks also have start-up costs, even if they may be lower in most cases. They have to buy or lease a truck, like a restaurant has to buy/lease a location. They have to hire workers. They pay taxes. Just like a brick-and-mortar restaurant, it's a risky proposition. The recession and increasing food and other costs have also impacted food trucks. And I'm pretty sure Andelman could figure out which town Redbones pays the meals tax to for the food truck sales in Boston if he wanted (I'd guess Boston). Most of the places food trucks park were not legal parking spots for cars, so no customers are losing those spots (i.e. I know that's true in Gov't Ctr, Dewey Sq. by S. Station, Liberty Sq. in the Financial Dist.), and in Boston, I would assume many users of public transportation are patrons anyway. Finally, what's stopping the restaurants from opening their own food trucks, if it's such a better business model? That's what Redbones did. Maybe Al's (which I like and patronize) should join them.
Jill August 17, 2012 at 03:06 PM
It's "a wonderful weekly BAZAR" not a "bizarre." Seriously.
IHM August 17, 2012 at 03:07 PM
So true. Phantom Gourmet is notorious for sucking up to anyone who advertises on their show.
walter cornelius August 17, 2012 at 04:15 PM
U SHODNT hv a 7-11 so CLose to other food places CAUSE IT RUINS HOW EXPENSIVE FOOD IS!!!
Mc Slim Jb August 17, 2012 at 04:30 PM
Actually, in founding the Restaurant and Business Alliance, a lobbying group, Andelman has made it his business (doubtless a profitable one) to fight on Beacon Hill for his sponsors' interests. A list of its members here: http://restaurantandbusinessalliance.com/charter-members/ It should surprise no one that there's lots of overlap between that list and the Phantom Gourmet's advertisers. I wonder if the does a two-for-one deal: buy airtime on my show, and I'll work to get regulations enacted to help you swat down annoying new competitors. It's the very definition of crony capitalism vs. genuine free-market capitalism.
Ron Newman August 17, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I haven't heard of 'U SHODNT' before. Where is it located?
Jonah Petri August 17, 2012 at 05:33 PM
Quite picky for someone who spelled "bazaar" incorrectly ;)
walter cornelius August 17, 2012 at 06:28 PM
NOOO STUPPID! UUUUU shoun dont have one close! TOO CLOSE! what wil we eat at restarunts when i can jus get a sluarpee at 7-11 for money?? POOR RESTARANTAS!!! THIS IS BAD FOR BIZ!!
Mc Slim Jb August 17, 2012 at 11:09 PM
In case you missed it, Galen Moore over at Boston Business Journal weighed in with another very nice, fact-enriched rebuttal to the above: http://www.bizjournals.com/boston/blog/bottom_line/2012/08/food-truck-regulations.html?page=all
Mc Slim Jb August 18, 2012 at 12:51 AM
A casual inspection of the Restaurant and Business Alliance's member list suggests that about 75% of them are businesses that the Phantom Gourmet TV show has run ads for, plugged on the show (without any disclosure of a pre-existing business relationship), or both. The "partial list" of RABA members runs to 115 businesses -- restaurants, bars, nightclubs, hotels, purveyors, and related businesses like legal firms with industry ties -- each paying a cool $1,000/year in dues. I knew the Andelmans had a pretty sweet, corrupt racket going on, but I had underestimated its sophistication. Impressive.
Cliff September 09, 2012 at 06:20 PM
Free enterprise should rule the day here. If you can't compete with new business models then no one owe's you a living.
Jason September 09, 2012 at 07:05 PM
This.
Jason September 09, 2012 at 07:10 PM
Say what. You posting from a rotary phone?...

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