The Bay Area’s foodie culture has gone mobile in recent years, with food trucks offering everything from creme brulee to curry-filled burritos. But some San Francisco restaurant owners say the carts are cutting into their business, and they’re asking City Hall to step in. Meanwhile, food truck vendors complain about the red tape and confusing permit process. Both sides are unhappy with the current rules, and they’ve come to the table to hash out new regulations.

Matthew Cohen, founder of Off the Grid
Rob Black, executive director of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association
Tim Volkema, co-owner of the Kasa Indian eatery and the Kasa Indian food truck
Ken Cleaveland, director of government and public affairs for the Building Owners and Managers Association of San Francisco (BOMA)

  • Rufus

    If this Recession gets any worse, perhaps we’ll start seeing food trucks serving stray dogs. (I’m a cat person… can you tell?)

  • Gadget

    l living in NYC I see a lot of food trucks, and what I wonder about is the amount of pollution they create as they (many of them anyway) sit with their motors (generators?) idling.

    • Rufus

      NYC food trucks are not sanitary. Buyer beware!

  • CharlesPowne

    There are tons of food carts in Portland, not only downtown, but all over the city and suburbs. The world hasn’t come to an end and there are still plenty of bricks-and-mortar restaurants. I’ve heard the arguments being voiced before, and have little sympathy for them.

  • Hp2120

    Where can customers go? Porta potties? Who pays? Gas station style? I want to wash my hands!
    What about green? Plastic? Garbage? Power?

    • Kyle Wilson

      Food trucks don’t provide restroom facilities for obvious reasons. One doesn’t often sit down and eat at a food truck as you would at a restaurant; you can grab food and go if you need to use a bathroom or just go before hand.

      Most food trucks have minimal garbage and many of them use only compostable or recyclable materials. Trucks are usually required to provide a waste bin and haul it away themselves. Whatever power the trucks require is provided by an onboard generator.

      — South Bay food truck enthusiast

  • thegreatone

    My God why is it that whenever a biz goes to San Franpisco they pass laws against it. FIRST the lunatic mouthing off against the truck declaring that they are “dangerous because someone waiting for a burrito could get mugged in line”. WTF??? Name ONE just ONE incident where a crime any crime was committed against someone waiting for a burrito. That shows that these guys haven’t a leg to stand on. Food truck have been around a long time. Just because one person’s overhead is high doesn’t give one the right to force government to choose one business over another. And bringing in fear into the argument ought to have the effect of allowing the  trucks go where they please for free.
    What a waste of time and effort. 

  • Marie

    I’m a
    little over the artisanal food truck scene. I work at Civic Center, and at
    first I was thrilled. Now, I’m tired of the long lines and high prices. I’m
    tired of shivering in the cold and balancing my food on my knees (Off the Grid
    provides chairs but no tables). Most of all I’m tired of all the garbage
    created by takeout containers.

    guess what? The food is not that good! The last straw was paying $7 for a tiny
    bowl of garlic noodles. The noodles were mushy and I refused to pay separately
    for the toppings – the nerve!

    Give me
    a burrito anytime. That was a little rude to refer to those businesses as
    “roach coaches,” wasn’t it?

    • I have to eat. I want:

      Cost Efficient
      Fair to the Earth
      Tastes Good

  • Burke_hansen

    They are different business models- one is sit down, the other to go. Some restaurants have their own trucks- a tacit acknowledgment of that fact. There should be more trucks, frankly. If restauranteurs want to get in on that branch of the food business they would have the same rights as anyone else (after all, had they been more creative they could’ve done it years ago, ahead of the curve). I would do one myself if the up front permitting weren’t so expensive and the freedom to move the trucks around weren’t so restricted.

  • Adam Smith said “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Mr. Cleaveland and Mr. Black are perfect examples of that. Perhaps restaurants don’t want to see competing food trucks at their doors, but as a consumer, that is exactly what I want. I want as many options as possible so I can choose that which is best for me and for competitive forces to drive prices down and quality up. If the restaurant owners aren’t happy with the competition, that’s just too bad for them.

  • CharlesPowne

    The caller didn’t accurately define “pods”, which are groups of individual carts or trucks that cluster together and share a common area.

  • Dagift

    I am a second generation food truck owner… I (for 15 years) ran my service to the same high school I graduated from…. several years ago our currant mayor made a ‘sweertheart ‘ deal with Pepsico corp to bring thier food on campus, and as a result I was not allowed to do business.. If anyone wants to open up the school areas, they will be up against some pretty tough adversaries!

  • One of your guests just said we don’t want too much competition comparing it to pouring water in the “engine of growth”. Perhaps this man needs to read Schumpeter or just about any micro-economist. Competition IS the engine of growth.

  • Hans

    Who’s bathroom is used? Brick and mortar?

    • They could say no or charge for it if they want to.

  • Berneaux

    I work at a manufacturing facility that shares a fence with a food truck kitchen and I see tremendously unsanitary practices there on a regular basis. The trucks that are supplied there are not just the roach coach varieties either — several of the higher end hipster-type trucks load up there as well. How are food trucks inspected and how can I be sure that the food I am being served was not prepared at a place that only has a blue port-a-potty as its wash-up facility?

    • Lots of brick and mortar places aren’t very disciplined with sanitation practices either.

      • devaspark

        But that doesn’t excuse both places of unsanitary practices.. both of them need to be inspected to make sure food is prepared safely for people to eat.

        • utera

          like it or not, all things being equal, which is likely going to be dirtier, the kitchen with unlimited water supply or the one running from a small water tank.

    • Joyce

      Food trucks have sinks and hand washing facilities or they don’t pass inspection. 

  • SF Worker

    Food trucks, just like brick and mortar restaurants are varied. Some of both do suck. But this proposed solution isn’t the way it should be. Choices don’t exist- ‘like business’ would that apply to all the freaking sandwich shops? All the lame pizza by the slice! By all means we need more brick and mortar over-priced subpar food. Food trucks bring more competition and in the end is better for us the customers. Is BOMA going to not allow new brick and mortar? Is density going to be addressed for the brick and mortar joints?

  • Henry Eason

    It’s not fair for brick-and-mortar restaurants to carry the burden for municipal and social services through taxes and fees while the food trucks ride almost for free, undercutting prices and causing local businesses financial pain. Fees on mobile restaurants should be raised to the same level as fixed establishments. Then there’s issues of traffic interruptions, food safety, air pollution from those belching exhaust systems right on the sidewalk, clogged sidewalks or pedestrians…Come on this is a no-brainer.

    • Moe Hong

      If restaurants have a problem with truck competition, does this mean they also have a problem with brick and mortar competition? After all, trucks can’t do much business when it’s cold and rainy, but restaurants can. Is *that* an unfair advantage?
      Henry Eason, mobile restaurants actually pay more in inspection fees, license fees, commercial-grade VLF, and the required commissary fees than restaurants do, and the Franchise Tax Board says they are no more or less likely to misreport sales and tax revenue than restaurants. As for food safety: county health inspectors actually have rated the average truck kitchen cleaner than the average restaurant or catering commercial kitchen – mostly because laws require that it be cleaned out every single night in a licensed commissary (often by the owner, not a minimum wage employee, as is the case with restaurants) and for the most part these kitchens are much more visible to customers.

      PLEASE get your facts straight before defaming an entire class of entrepreneurs!

      • utera

        brick and mortar businesses all pay rent and play on the same level playing field.  

        No store should be able to undermine another by simply parking a truck in front of their competitors.  Like it or not the brick and mortar businesses paid their dues and fees for the right to do business in that area, with the understanding that they were investing into the area and for that they would get that retail space. A store or restaurant just parking in front of yours is frankly like an illegal building, it shouldn’t happen.  If it is to be allowed a completely different understanding between businesses and government would have to be made into law. If you aren’t going to grant exclusivity even when you invest in property, frankly then the government has no right to ask for any money from these businesses.

  • Food Truck Fan

    “San Francisco restaurant owners say the carts are cutting into their business, and they’re asking City Hall to step in.”  Isn’t it interesting that the Restaurant Association is looking to have the government step in to stop free market competition, yet when the community works to make changes to improve our community, like ensuring workers in the industry have health care and decent wages, etc.. they scream bloody murder.  Give me a break!

    • jcsnotes

      It’s not free market competition.  Free market competition would be renting the space next door.  Sidewalk/street space is public space.  Food trucks are asking for public space to be set aside for their profit.  Not that this is a bad thing, it’s not necessarily.  But, it’s wrong to portray this as government interfering with the free market.

  • Kari

    Who was the caller that has a truck serving some Trinidad treats? I cannot remember what they were called and sounded so yummy!

  • carmelvalleyite

    Maybe if we had food trucks selling fruits and nuts, the Bay area would finally be able to relate.   What happened to free enterprise?  It’s always amusing to the rest of us to see just what off-the-wall happenings come out of there.

  • GoldenBuddha

    I’m from San Jose and went to Vancouver, Canada mainly to eat at the food carts there. They are awesome, BTW! SF should be encouraging these kinds of businesses.

    • Rotharr19

      they don’t represent of share a tax base that serves the pour  mostly woman and children i admit some of the food has been great although hit and miss what about a more social justice model where its in some sort “area” fence etc and some of the earnings go to cover cost taxes etc

      also another part,  that also needs process is. if the money is not being returned to the local communities? where is it going and what are  the ecological implications ?

  • utera

    I don’t trust a “restaurant” with a very limited water supply.  Wash your hands?  😉  In any case it really isn’t fair to have businesses that were playing by the rules, paying into the system be undermined by fly by the night businesses, I want the business that can food poison me to not be able to move with ease.   Imagine if you could just park a tent in front of best buy and sell your goods, its just nonsensical.  

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