A group of black-shirted staffers of Numero Uno Pizzeria stand in a cluster in front of their store, surveying the Friday night scene on Chatsworth Street. Over the course of the last several months, they've watched the number of food trucks — or as they call them, "roach coaches" — burgeon on the stretch between Yarmouth and Zelzah, growing from one or two, parked only in front of Menchie's, to tonight's herd of fifteen trucks, spread up and down the street. And they're not happy.
"Obviously it's a nuisance. You see nothing but wrappers, and cans, just trash. Why would Granada Hills want catering trucks to damage the place and destroy it? Not one of these trucks is from Granada Hills, not one. Why not pump up businesses that have been here, that support the Little Leagues, the Devonshire Police Station pasta night, instead of this little fad with catering trucks?"
Numero Uno's staff says they're not alone in their frustration. "I can say there's twelve businesses between Yarmouth and Zelzah that are not happy with it. Every single one. All Valley Trophy, they're not happy with it. Vegetable Delight. Fishin' Fools. Ani Bakery. Big Mama's And Papa's, they're not happy with it."
Observers reported that the disgruntled local employees and business owners this evening moved to recapture disputed territory by banding together to park cars in front of their businesses before food trucks could arrive.
The escalating turf war then started getting uglier, as truck owners and business owners got into occasional shouting matches, each side accusing the other of unfairness.
"You're taking our parking! That's sabotage! I'm playing your game now!"
One of the Numero Uno employees yells at Joe, owner of Slap Yo Mama truck, who has pulled up in front of the store to exchange tense words.
Joe steps out of his car so he can put his two cents in. "It's not cool, they all park bumper to bumper over here, they're giving people the middle finger. But if they're just standing out here watching us, they still don't have customers."
Joe, who is in fact a Granada Hills resident, answers the charge that food trucks take away local business' parking and customers by pointing to the slots directly in front of the Pizzeria. "Their parking is right here. We park across the street. We're not taking their parking, and they have parking in the back. It's almost like a school gang, where they're coming out here watching and laughing and high-fiving each other. Why are they standing out here on the sidewalk? They should be doing business. Now, instead of having all of this foot traffic here, everyone is down the street." Chased off the side of Chatsworth west of Yarmouth, the trucks and their customers have now clustered to the east, with a couple of trucks on Yarmouth itself, both north and south of Chatsworth.
Despite many businesses' strong distaste for food trucks and the Numero Uno employees' insistence that the trucks are totally unwelcome, opinion is far from unanimous along the street.
At Blis Hookah Lounge, owner Helena said of the trucks, "We like them. We have a couple of favorites that we get in front of us. They don't bring business in necessarily, but it' s good to have everybody out and about. We appreciate it, and we don't have any problem."
Helena explains that while the trucks are parked nearby, business actually slows down at the smoking lounge, but she feels her business benefits because more foot traffic means more people notice her establishment. "It slows down because it's mostly families and kids, but the guys poke their heads in and say they'll come back when they don't have their kids with them," she says. "This used to be the main drag of this area. It's maybe not the ideal way to get everybody back on the street, but it's doing it."
Joeleen Medina, owner of A Sweet Design, whose cupcake shop is well known for playing host to trucks, says that even she has become dismayed by the current Friday night situation on Chatsworth Street. (Disclosure: Medina's shop, A Sweet Design, is a GigaGranadaHills advertiser.)
"It's out of control," Medina says, adding that she does support the presence of a smaller number of trucks. "It's fine when there's one, two, or three trucks, and people aren't having to cross the street and be in danger. But do you really want what happened in Venice to happen here? The trucks are supposed to enhance the neighborhood, but I never ever planned any of this."
Of the fifteen trucks on Chatsworth Street tonight, only one was there at Medina's invitation. Other truck owners whom GigaGranadaHills spoke to said that they had decided to come to the area from word of mouth recommendations from fellow truck owners.
This evening, Medina was fraught with worry, shaken not only over conflict with neighboring business owners, whom she says she wholeheartedly supports, but also by what she saw as a potentially dangerous situation for motorists and pedestrians. Pointing to a food truck parked in a red zone, she said, "If you want to make a left, you can't see who's coming. It's dangerous, and these are our neighbors and our customers."
The potential danger to pedestrians is just about the only point of agreement between Medina and her neighbors at Numero Uno, who insist that Medina is solely to blame for the proliferation of trucks and competition. "She's the one who organized all of this. And when we went over and told her that its unacceptable, taking our only parking, which is on the street, she proceeded to make it worse and worse and worse. I don' t know why Granada Hills will encourage this, if people are constantly jaywaking. Until someone gets hit or killed, that's when it's going to get solved?"
The Numero Uno employees don't mince words in expressing their frustration with the trucks. "We hate it, everything about it. They weren't invited, they come here. Look at all the trash these trucks are leaving. Walk up and down the gutter, you see nothing but trash," he says, pointing to a clump of wrappers that have blown onto the restaurant's patio. "They come in here, they never cared about any of the businesses that already exist here, the damage that they're doing. Not only us, but every single shop around here."
A second employee interjects, "They're not competing with us, they're sabotaging us by taking away our parking space. That's not competition, that's straight up sabotage. Everybody acts like we're some big pizza guys, but the fact is we're busting our asses just to get by. It's not playing on an even level. There's nothing to protect any of the small businesses here. If we were to go out of business, then who's looking out for Granada Hills?"
Joining in the complaints was a man who identified himself as a business owner but declined to give his name. "They shouldn't park in front of storefronts. When the owners pay top dollar for a storefront, they don't want another business in front of them, blocking them."
Honorary Mayor of Granada Hills, Mike Casey, whose daughter owns KC Salon on the corner of Chatsworth and Yarmouth, differed, going on record as in favor of the trucks.
"Being a business owner on Chatsworth Street and having some commercial property, most of the input I have has been very positive from my tenants who have property on Chatsworth Street and feel that the food trucks have brought them exposure they wouldn't have otherwise, as well as an opportunity for people to have something to eat on Friday night. It brings a lot of people to the street that otherwise might not come to visit all the opportunities that are available. So I'd say I'm in favor of it." Of businesses that are anti food truck, Casey says, "I can understand their position, because there are a lot of other food venues, but a lot of the businesses I know along here are usually closed after five or six."
Medina's disputes the accusation that she's acting as the secret mastermind bent on orchestrating a food truck takeover. But her pleas for understanding and an amicable solution to the feud, it seems, have so far fallen on deaf ears. "They think that we organize this, but we don't," she says. "We don't condone the illegal parking, we don't condone jaywalking, and we don't want food trucks parking directly in front of restaurants." Medina says that on more than one occasion she has even tried to defuse tensions by chastening trucks that parked directly in front of Numero Uno or neighboring Vegetable Delight, but says she can't spend the entire evening patrolling the sidewalk or taking responsibility for policing errant trucks. "I have orders to fill," she says. "I have a business to run."