Monday, February 7, 2011

The Great Food Truck Debate

Looking around Old Town Granada Hills last Friday night at 7:00, you'd swear this town had a vibrant nightlife. Chatsworth's sidewalks were buzzing with activity, from Zelzah to a few blocks eastward. Kids rolling down the street on heelies dodged adults standing in clusters, eating tacos and sliders, chatting, texting, arranging rendezvous with friends. Pedestrians crisscrossed the street, ducking into storefront businesses -- Menchie's, Blis Hookah Lounge, Sweet Design and others -- as well as sampling the wares from scattered food trucks parked on either side of the street.

Then, by 8:15, it was all over.

"One or two trucks is okay, but eight -- that's ridiculous," said an employee of Numero Uno Pizza who refused to give his name. "It's not fair."

Friday night, usually a busy night for the pizzeria, the employee said, saw a drop off in business and numerous complaints from takeout and dine in customers who couldn't find the easy parking they're accustomed to finding in front of the store. Instead, the space in front of Numero Uno was occupied by the Bollywood Truck, and a short distance away, a truck run by Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Numerous sources named Numero Uno as the source of the phone call to LAPD that ended the party, but this employee denied making the call. "We didn't call the police, but I'm glad someone did," he said. "They leave trash, we know they're breaking laws," he said of the food trucks.

"An Italian food truck, parked in front of an Italian restaurant. Ridiculous. They had a Chinese truck in front of Vegetable Delight too. How would they like it if we got a cupcake truck and parked it in front of their store?" the employee said, pointing in the direction of Sweet Design Cupcake Shop.

Joeleen Medina, the Cupcake Shop's owner, co-organized the gathering of trucks with Rob Grier of food truck The Munchie Machine, but Medina says she was no happier about the placement of trucks than Numero Uno was.

"Maria's should never have parked in front of Numero Uno. Dumpling Station should not have parked in front of Vegetable Delight. I totally agree. Those trucks didn't have common sense -- that's lame," she says. "Numero Uno has all the right to not want a truck in front of their store. I'm 100% for Numero Uno. We buy from them," Medina added.

But Medina did not agree that the trucks steal business from local stores, or that they were breaking any laws.

"Food trucks are an absolute community event, they bring people out. They don't take business away, they bring out their own followers. The community wants them here." Medina also added that food truck nights bring attention to local businesses.

Medina explained that as word of the event leaked out, more trucks than had been anticipated or specifically invited piggybacked on to the event. She also said that trucks had been instructed to park in front of her shop, across the street near Blis Hookah Lounge, or on Yarmouth Street, but trucks that parked in front of Numero Uno and nearby Vegetable Delight failed to comply with those instructions and the Bollywood truck refused requests from three different truck owners to move their truck from the spot directly in front of Numero Uno, but the Bollywood Truck owners, who could not be reached for comment, stayed put.

Julia Muccia of Papas Tapas said that at first, LAPD officers were apologetic. "He said, 'Sorry, we don't want to do this, but somebody complained.'" The officer asked Muccia for her paperwork, which she keeps in a binder on the truck -- including a business license, permit from the health department, and insurance paperwork. But the officer asked for a street vending or "peddlers permit," which Muccia didn't have, nor are food trucks required to have, Muccia said. "I know my business, and I don't need a peddler's permit. I have all of the licenses I'm required to have."

Not certain of the permit requirements, the officer called his chief, Muccia said, who arrived on the scene soon after. "The chief comes out, and the sidewalk is filled with people, and he says, "If you don't close your doors, I'm going to handcuff you and impound your truck."

Under threat of arrest, and amid protests of the assembled crowd, Muccia shut down for the night, as did the other trucks. Muccia, who contacted her attorney that night, said her lawyer assured her that her permits were in order and the LAPD officers were in the wrong, and uninformed about truck permit requirements.

Said a frustrated local resident who was present at the event, "That's what cops do. They don't know the law, so they threaten you with force."

The Numero Uno employee GigaGranadaHills spoke to presented a card given to him by LAPD officers, which had written, "LAMC 80.73(b)(2)(f)." (The card also had the name and number of Senior Lead Officer Dario Del Core, who didn't return calls asking for comment). This was the municipal code section officers said that food trucks were in violation of, according to the employee. "The law says that the trucks can only park here for half an hour, and they're breaking that law." This code violation was presumably the reason that truck owners were threatened with arrest.

However, that City code section, which states that catering trucks can be in residential areas for half an hour and commercial areas for one hour, is the subject of an LAPD memo that apparently, the officers on the scene Friday night didn't get. Provided to GigaGranadaHills by Matthew Geller, CEO of the SoCal Mobile Food Vendors' Association, the memo, from Chief William Bratton, says that 80.73(b)(2)(f) is "invalid and no longer enforceable" due to conflicts with state law. "In California," Geller explained, "there has to be a rational relationship to public safety... (but) time limits don't improve public safety."

"We have an ill-informed police department going out and enforcing something that the cout has said they couldn't enforce," Geller said, arguing that police are overstepping their bounds, even if they do so in the name of protecting restaurant owners. Just as it it wasn't the role of police to protect reord stores from iTunes or bookstores from Amazon, Geller argues, it's also overreaching for police to act in the interest of protecting brick and mortar restaurants.

Still, food truck owners consider themselves an enhancement to the communities they visit, and based on the foot traffic on Chatsworth Street that night, they can make a strong case. Mike Borassi, of Maria's Italian Kitchen, one of the trucks that raised Numero Uno's ire, says that the philosophy should be the more, the merrier. "We're very respectful of restaurants, because we own nine restaurants, and we wouldn't want trucks parked in front of us. Borassi said he agrees with Numero Uno's position that his truck shouldn't park in front of their restaurant, "and we didn't. We pulled out and circled and found a space up the street. We were parked in front of a place that was closed, with newspaper on the windows."

For the most part, truck owners present at Friday's ill-fated event were in agreement: parking directly in front of the restaurants, though technically legal, is discourteous and a bad idea. “I think trucks are asking for trouble when they park in front of restaurants,” Bill Kelley of Smokin' Willie's BBQ said, expressing a sentiment echoed by every truck owner GigaGranadaHills spoke to.

When asked for his opinion on the best way to prevent future conflicts between food trucks and restaurants, Mike Borassi said, in his thick Bronx accent, "There has to be respect. You don't want to park directly in front. It's gotta be the type of thing where everybody's gotta be respectful, and try and work together. We're all out there trying to do the same thing -- generate some business and feed people. I mean, it's like, c'mon. The bottom line is, we're only serving food. We're not curing cancer. We want to make everybody happy."

19 comments:

  1. I've lived in Granada Hills for 5 years. I had never set foot on Chatsworth until the food trucks started coming around. As a matter of fact, I didn't even know there was a Numero Uno in the area. I just want to point out that these food trucks are doing more than just selling food, they are creating a neighborhood in an area of LA that is sorely lacking.

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  2. Numero Uno seems to be lying here since people on the scene that night went into Numero Uno and asked if they called the police and Numero Uno said "Yes"

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  3. I was there that night and I can confirm that Numero Uno is clearly lying when they said they did not call. Two of their employees directly told me that they had, in fact, called the police.

    I hope the negative plublicity that Numero Uno is getting from this is worth it to them. We, for one, will never visit Numero Uno again (and we used to go at least every other week), and will go out of out way to dissuade others from patronizing them.

    And the Devonshire LAPD should be ashamed of themselves for being so heavy handed and ignorant of the law. Particularly so when they were completely and totally wrong in every regard! They were the true clowns in all this! You can't get them to ever show up for any quality of life enforcement in the neighborhoods ("it's not our job"), but they show up in force for this stupidity! Amazing!
    Someone (or someones) at Devonshire needs to get a severe dressing down and disciplined!

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  4. I've lived in Granada Hills for 8 years and my family has owned property here for 60 years. I've always referred to it as the cultural dead zone. I saw the food trucks on Friday, and while I did not partake, I enthusiastically support them. Bringing street life to this neighborhood is good for everybody. The brick and mortar places pretty much suck and need to step up their game if they want to compete. Ever been inside Vegetarian Delight? The place is hideously dark and depressing. More power to the trucks!

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  5. I've lived in Granada Hills all of my life and have always been active in the community - I haven't needed food trucks to shop locally. I like my neighborhood!

    I love Numero Uno and the owners. Don't blame them at all for feeling like they did. Same with Vegetable Delight. Good food, good people.

    Having an organized food truck fest, which has been done twice now, is a great thing! It does get more people out and about and is wonderful for the community.

    A disorganized event, on the other hand, leads to unfortunate things, as we have directly seen.

    Those trucks that were uninvited were the ones that caused the problem, especially if they parked nearby to a local establishment selling similar food. Not cool on top of not cool.

    Up to this point, having one or two trucks in the area has been working just fine (aside from the organized fests). Greed blew it.

    Don't blame your local community business owners for wanting to protect their business. Times are tough for a lot of folks right now, and people tend to be more protective during these times. Cut them some slack.

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  6. Why don't the food trucks park in the zelzah/chatsworth shopping area. With lack of stores the area could use the business. It would be nice to see something there even if it is parking lot businesses

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  7. I tried that. The Zelzah/Chatsworth shopping centers are home to Jersey Mike's, Burger King, Del Taco, Pickup Stix, Carl's Jr. Sorry, but they just won't have it.

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  8. Please don't blame Numero Uno. I have worked with them on a fundraiser for our school, they are a business that pays rent and shouldn't have their name smeared because the food truck parked in front of their business.
    Inform the trucks not to park in front of "open" businesses or park in a deserted parking lot (Ralphs next to Rite Aid is a great area).
    It's a common sense issue.

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  9. It is common sense that Numero Uno and the other local businesses in the Old Town area need to learn about competition and marketing.

    First, if the local businesses were doing their job we would have a thriving a vibrant Old Town Granada Hills without the trucks. The trucks have brought a new energy to the area.

    Second, the food trucks have brought people into the area and has introduced these people to the businesses in that area. Most people don't even know that Numero Uno is there. Because of the food trucks people have discovered Numero Uno and the other businesses for the first time.

    Third, the businesses should learn to use the trucks for marketing. Numero Uno and the others missed out on a great opportunity that night. If anyone at Numero Uno had a marketing sense, they might have said, "Sunday is the Superbowl, so lets pass out coupon to all these people down here so that they buy their pizza from us."

    It is sad that Business Improvement District has also failed the downtown area and it has taken the trucks to create a night life that was explain as "hopping."

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  10. How about the other Zelzah/Chatsworth shopping center, the one with the closed Ralphs?

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  11. Again, they cannot do the shopping center parking lot. The trucks will be able to be in the area but like previously said, they need to use a bit of common sense that the businesses in the area don't want the competition. They have not had competition in such a long time, have had complete control in the area and are in a panic. Well, panic on because with the spring & summer coming, trucks will be there and the people will come.

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  12. If the food trucks agree they want to be respectful, why did they park in front of restaurants?

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  13. I think the general consensus is that the food truck fest. is a great idea and brings everyone in the community out together! I personally have lived in Granada Hills for 10 years and I can tell you, I've never participated in anything similar to this.

    I do not agree with the way action was taken that particular night and I was present; in fact I was waiting in line at one of the food trucks when an officer on a power trip came and told me I was not allowed to place an order if I had not done so already. I do see some of the above points about Numero Uno protecting their business, however, it could have been handled better. One employee of the Numero Uno in particular was repeatedly heard talking and behaving rudely towards ANYONE that tried to simple find out what was going on, including truck owners and customers. The cops used threats to overstep their boundaries, which unfortunately is too common in law enforcement, and everyone simply ended up aggravated at the end of the night - and some still hungry!

    It's great that people do support Numero Uno but let's remember that the food trucks are only there for a few hours on one given night. If I felt like having pizza that night, why would the food trucks stop me from having it?

    What's done is done but since the trucks are coming back tonight, let's see how it goes!

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  14. are these foof trucks coming still

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  15. Well, for me the food truck business is a real great thing. I don't see what's bad in great diverse tastes, low cost food and great people. I sure prefer it over any fast food restaurant in the local mall. Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your blog so informative.

    sugar

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  16. The food trucks will and are killing the small business.That's the bottom line. Is it really worth it for a tacky shallow trend???

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  17. Anyone that defends the food trucks is as shallow and weak as the trend itself.

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  18. A classic ad hominem attack. That, my friend, is weak.

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  19. L.J. Williamson

    Speaking of weak-
    The person that writes this blog is a an unqualified pen quill looking for cheap notoriety who helped open the flood gates for these town killing machines by inviting them here.
    The food trucks are for weak,shallow,trendy lemmings that lack discipline and restraint and have nothing better to do.
    Simply not going to the food trucks would cause them to leave much like a hungry school of sharks.
    When great restaurants and stores start closing and tattoo places,massage parlors,dispensaries and tobacco stores move in you'll know who to thank.

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