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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is Emeryville Poised to Kill Its Street-Food Scene?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 14, 2010 at 3:53 PM

click to enlarge Liba Falafel and Seoul on Wheels in a typical lunchtime scene in Emeryville. - LAUREL H./YELP
  • Laurel H./Yelp
  • Liba Falafel and Seoul on Wheels in a typical lunchtime scene in Emeryville.
The East Bay city of Emeryville has been a particularly bright spot in the Bay Area's emerging street-food scene. While San Francisco is a maze of payouts and regulations across multiple agencies, Emeryville has dangled a streamlined permitting process far cheaper than that of its neighbor across the Bay Bridge. As a result, Emeryville's streets have served as a kind of incubator for mobile businesses, the place where, in less than a year, a handful of trucks has gotten established. Liba Falafel, Primo's Parrilla, Ebbett's Good To Go, Jon's Street Eats, Seoul on Wheels: All have thrived in the hometown of Pixar and Novartis.

That could be about to change. Fueled by complaints of unfair competition by brick-and-mortar restaurants, Emeryville's City Council has agreed to look at the city's mobile catering ordinance ― last amended in 1988 ― to protect brick-and-mortar eateries from what certain business owners are alleging is unfair competition.

Late last month, the Council called for the formation of an eight-member task force, charged with reviewing the current mobile food rules and making recommendations that might include raising fees, limiting the number of mobile vendors, and restricting where they can operate. Here's the full list of things the task force will consider, in the words of a notice posted by the City Clerk:

  • Limiting the geographic area that mobile food vendors may operate
  • Limiting the number of mobile food vendors
  • Raising permit fees
  • Regulating mobile food vendors on private property
  • Use of public right of way for cooking, seating and/or storage
  • Developing remedies for non-compliance with the ordinance
  • The task force will contain two City Councilmembers, two mobile food vendors, and two owners of brick-and-mortar restaurants, as well as one food truck patron and one restaurant patron. The deadline for applying is today, and the Council is expected to announce task force members when it meets on Sept. 21.

    Sounds reasonable, right? Except that in an opinion piece posted on The Emeryville Tattler a week later, blogger Brian Donahue seemed to see the hand of doom for street food, thanks to the political influence of restaurant owners in town. Donahue:

    We are chagrined that the bullet point list makes it obvious that City Hall is LOADING THE DECK and not interested in presenting unbiased finding of fact for this task force. At the Tattler, we have to ask why? Could it possibly be political patronage at work?
    Is Donahue right? Is this the end of Emeryville's months-long golden age of street food? Check in tomorrow when we talk to Emeryville Chamber of Commerce, where calls for changing the city's mobile food ordinance originated, and speak with one restaurant owner who thinks mobile vendors are bringing down his business.

    Part Two: Emeryville restaurant owner says food trucks are killing his business.

    Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Contact me at

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