Mike N Willies

Schnitzel Truck

One of the main reasons municipalities give for not wanting food trucks on their streets is that it takes away business from brick-and-mortar restaurants who pay rent.  But are food trucks really a threat to established food businesses?  Restaurant and Institutions magazine asked seven chefs and food truck operators for their opinion on this subject.  The general consensus was that restaurants and food trucks are two very different businesses, and serve customers looking for different types of experiences.

Roberto Santibañez, who owns The Taco Truck in Hoboken and Jersey City, NJ and also owns the restaurant Fonda in New York City says”You go to the food truck for one kind of experience and sit down at a restaurant for another kind of experience. We should all be aware of it and try to provide foods that are more accessible to people, but I think there are two different markets and times for each one.”

“Any competition, I always say, is good. Everybody gets a little bit sharper. When I came to my street we had five restaurants, and five years later we have 12 or 14 … Every time there’s a new restaurant coming, we get a little bit better.” said Bart Vandaele, chef-owner, Belga Café, Washington, D.C. [RI Mag]

However, some restaurants along the Miracle Mile in Los Angeles do not necessarily agree.   Recently, Toshi’s Fresh Asian, an independent Asian takeout, and Organic-to-Go, a fast-casual chain based in Seattle, both closed on Wilshire Boulevard.  The restaurants had been familiar lunch stops on the 5700 block of Wilshire, an area thick with office buildings and eateries that serve their occupants.

But the daily lunch scene in recent months has been visited by as many as eight food trucks that offer everything from barbecue to organic sandwiches to several kinds of Mexican and Korean food, often at low prices.  To be sure, the new wave of food trucks has pressured brick-and-mortar restaurants all over the city. But the situation has escalated into a food fight along the Miracle Mile, where restaurants have enlisted a city councilman to get involved on their side.

“We’ve always had trucks out there, but their numbers have increased. We are absolutely hurting,” said Dennis Rohde, owner of the Baja Fresh franchise next to Toshi’s. He estimates that business is off 20 percent, forcing him to cut back employee hours.  “When they’re directly across the street from your business, they catch people coming out of the offices. Many of them are interested in a quick lunch and the trucks can offer that for a cheaper price because they don’t pay rent, maintenance fees or the things we have to maintain.”

To offer an alternative to the food trucks, one landlord who was turned down by a hamburger restaurant said he expects to sign a lease with a national coffee house chain. So far, no specialty coffee trucks have shown up on the Miracle Mile. [LA Business Journal]

Richard Wilt, chef-partner of INC. Street Food in Roswell, GA sums it up perfectly – “I don’t think restaurants have anything to worry about unless they’re overpriced and not really seeing what people want.”

Our sentiments exactly.