We reported earlier that S.F. street-food startup Le Truc had agreed to host Eddie Huang, proprietor of Baohaus in New York City, in a throwdown with Chairman Bao. Yeah, the story has the kind of irresistible tension editors like me love: pugnacious little guy accusing better-funded corporate entity of stealing his creativity (in this case, the name Chairman Bao, the name of Huang's signature dish). But really, it's a story that cuts to the heart of where street food finds itself, in San Francisco and beyond.
The underground food cart movement that rolled into the Mission last year is at a crossroads: grassroots startups are wondering how they can grow, when it takes suitcases full of cash and a measure of bureaucratic savvy to go legit. Just as that's happening, investor-backed companies like Mobi Munch are circling for a big hunk of the street-food pie ― a pie, critics like Eddie Huang might suggest, was baked up by independent operators, one crème brûlée ― or bao ― at a time.
Huang's blog, Fresh Off the Boat, artfully sketches out the objection to so-called corporate street food operators:
They see a market to expose and they have a business model to efficiently pair people with trucks for their particular market. They are completely deteriorating the independent, creative, and spontaneous aspects of food trucks. The whole scheme is very pre-meditated and formulaic. Perhaps you just don't care and want pork buns in your neighborhood, but I still feel there needs to be some integrity and a personal touch.Do you agree? Does it matter to you that there might be marketing and infrastructure money behind a truck like Chairman Bao, or do you think that the food itself should do the talking?
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