On Sunday, the New York Times' Kim Severson wrote an op-ed knitting together all the cities where the food-truck backlash is flaring. New York is pushing food trucks out of Midtown, and Seattle and Raleigh, N.C., are considering new restrictions on where they can park. Here in San Francisco, we're seeing wars between food trucks and nearby restaurants, and a new permitting process that makes it cheaper for food trucks to hit the SF streets and also more vulnerable to a NIMBY-driven denial of attractive parking spots. As Severson sums up:
Yes, the trucks offer entrepreneurs a way to get started in the restaurant business. Yes, they add jobs and money to a city. The food is often innovative, relatively inexpensive and convenient. For those willing to stand in line and eat from a paper plate, there is usually a warm personal exchange when the meal is passed from chef to diner. But many restaurateurs are sick of seeing competition literally drive up outside their windows.
Do food trucks really take away business from existing restaurants? Probably -- and those losses are felt by an industry that quickly kills any restaurant that doesn't measure napkins used or tomato scraps thrown away. But given the limited hours they're allowed to operate, a food truck isn't a ticket to print money, as some restaurateurs like to claim. Neighborhoods like China Basin and the northern reaches of the Financial District, where restaurants are scarce, greet each new truck with elation, and SFoodie still thinks the line outside the Curry Up Now truck on Bush is far too long to brave again.
The crazy success of the Off the Grid events in SF points to one solution. Food truck pods in Austin and Portland, Ore., are part of the reason the street food movement took off there first (more relaxed regulation is another, ahem). But there have to be other ways to tweak SF's new food truck regulations to allow trucks to make money outside the confines of Off the Grid -- limits on how many trucks can park in one neighborhood, perhaps, combined with NIMBY abatement measures -- or else the food-truck movement will atrophy the moment this first rush of excitement fades.