Friday, September 7, 2012

Food Truck Drama in Downtown Las Vegas

I adore the explosion of food trucks that started with the success of the Korean BBQ Taco slinging Kogi trucks in LA and erupted into a full blown phenomenon all over the country. Food trucks make it easy for a chef with a good idea to get their small business off the ground quickly with lower overhead than a brick and mortar restaurant, and they provide a wonderful alternative to the usual fast food options that are open late into the night after many drinks have been consumed.

Like any other major city (or even minor one... I saw a lineup of trucks in Boca Raton, for goodness sake), Las Vegas has a huge fleet of food trucks serving up a diverse offering of mobile delicacies. Among the most popular trucks rolling around The Strip and Downtown are Fukuburger (which was so successful that a brick and mortar version opened in Hollywood last year), Haulin' Balls, Sin City Wings, Chi-Town Huslter, Slidin' Thru, LBS Patty WagonSausagefest, Lola D's Kitchen, The Redneck Kitchen, and Engine 1 Pizza (served out of an actual decommissioned Fire Truck). More and more chefs are getting their concepts off the ground and onto the road with each passing month, and I've noticed new trucks the last few times that I've attended the First Fridays Art Festival.

The success of food trucks has sent brick and mortar proprietors into a bit of a tizzy, which is kind of what always happens when a new development in any industry threatens to take away market share from the old guard. And now many Las Vegas restaurant owners are working to regulate food trucks and keep them from posting up near their front doors.

On one level, I get it. It seems sorta unfair to find a way to put together the money to open a restaurant and then have the competition park in front of the real estate you struggled to fund. But come on... how many people are planning to go out for a nice sit-down meal and decide at the last minute to grab food off a truck? Sure, if you were headed to a pizza by the slice joint, then maybe you'd change your mind and decide to grab some Wings or a Burger. But really, if you're looking to get romantic dinner and drinks, are you really going to change your plans at the last minute just because the Sausagefest truck is idling outside of Bar + Bistro? I think not.

A proposition was recently shot down that would require food trucks to always park at least 300 feet of a restaurant. While it's fair to ask trucks to not park right in front of a restaurant, staying 300 feet away from any restaurant is insane. Another proposed law would have required that all trucks stay 1300 feet away from brick and mortars, a truly insane and over the top number. These proposed laws would basically make it impossible for food trucks to park in the same city as their competition.

The real irony of this whole battle, and I'm certainly not the first person to point this out, is that many Downtown restaurateurs who have benefited from the neighborhood's policies that have made it easier to open a small business are now fighting against other small businesses. It seems especially gross to witness supposedly progressive and cool local business owners trying to block out other small businesses from thriving. Trying to keep a Walmart out of the neighborhood is one thing... trying to block The Redneck Kitchen from cooking up some homestyle Southern fare down the block from a sit-down restaurant seems downright un-neighborly. It's against the spirit of everything the slowly building Downtown renaissance is building towards.

With a 300 foot buffer between trucks and every restaurant, where would the trucks park on The Strip or in Downtown on First Friday fest nights in a town with hundreds of eating establishments? 300 feet is such a wide radius that once they are out of the prescribed zone of one place, they're probably going to be in the nuclear footprint of another eatery.

Other cities have passed similar laws and managed to remain reasonable. In progressive haven Austin, trucks are not allowed to park within 20 feet of a brick and mortar restaurant. This seems fair, reasonable, and completely chilled out as are most things about Austin. Restaurants aren't allowed to make laws against other restaurants opening down the block from their front doors... why should they shut down a food truck's right to compete in a neighborhood with plenty of hungry potential customers?

In the end, the places that will thrive, whether they serve their food from a brick and mortar storefront or out of a firetruck, are the places that serve the tastiest grub. That's how America is supposed to work, and that's how food truck regulations should work in this election year!

We built that. Forward, not backward.


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