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Friday, March 5, 2010

Monday's City Hall Hearing on Street-Food Regulations Has Some Cautiously Hopeful

Posted By on Fri, Mar 5, 2010 at 12:20 PM

click to enlarge Fees and regulations have proved onerous for mobile-food businesses like Gail Lillian's Liba Falafel Truck. - LUIS C./YELP
  • Luis C./Yelp
  • Fees and regulations have proved onerous for mobile-food businesses like Gail Lillian's Liba Falafel Truck.
Monday's agenda item on mobile food regulations at a hearing before the city's Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee has San Francisco's street-food vendors engaged in a way that recalls the mobilization around the detention last fall of Amuse Bouche. While vendors (both licensed and not) have long complained that the permitting process is stacked against resource-challenged startups, there's cautious optimism that city agencies are serious about lowering barriers to new entrepreneurs.

District 8 Supervisor Bevan Dufty is sponsoring Monday's item."We need to figure out the common ground between wanting to have food and other services available in a fun manner," Dufty told the New York Times last week, noting that street food "adds vitality" to a neighborhood, but suggesting the need to "balance consumer safety and merchants' concerns." Last month, the Examiner reported vague tensions between truck vendors and brick-and-mortar merchants in Upper Market.

Last week in Dufty's office ― at a meeting no doubt called in part to prep for Monday's hearing ― the Supervisor heard from current and hopeful mobile food vendors, as well as city representatives from Planning and Health. La Cocina director Caleb Zigas was there. He told us Dufty's aide had approached him and Larry Bain of Let's Be Frank after a public street-food discussion in January. Zigas has long felt the city is sincere in wanting to ease restrictions for micro-entrepreneurs to become legal food vendors, citing Dufty, Supervisor Avalos, and the Planning and Health Departments and what he suggests is their commitment to making it easier to sell on the street. "All those guys are really engaged," Zigas said, "not just about how to do it, but how to do right."

Originally skeptical, would-be vendor Hugh Schick left feeling hopeful that at least some in City Hall want to streamline the licensing process. Schick, a private chef trying to launch a mobile food business tentatively named Le Truc, called the meeting "encouraging."

"I had entered this equation thinking the city was going to be the enemy," Schick said. "I would say that while the [licensing] process is onerous, the people involved here are really going out of their way to make this work."

Still, there are huge obstacles, including challenges around establishing commissary kitchens for food sellers and the strong objections of brick-and-mortar merchants. Expect both ― and more ― to be voiced at Monday's hearing at City Hall. Want to attend the public meeting? Show up at Room 250 at 10:30 a.m.

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