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The Great Debate: Food trucks, concerned restaurants to meet Thursday

Photo by Don Nieman from Lloyd's birthday party

blog by Ben Tsujimoto  • 

Buffalo’s food truck scene has built momentum, slowly but surely.  From Lloyd’s second place finish in the Food Network’s national voting competition to smaller events like the Roaming Buffalo & Rolling Joe Cafe serving together at the Buffalo & Erie County Historical Society, food trucks breed optimism and a sense of progress that’s rare in the City of Buffalo.

At 10 a.m. on Thursday in City Hall Room 1417, the Common Council will meet with food truck owners and the most vocal brick and mortar restaurant owners to hammer out their differences and negotiate agreeable regulations.  There could be fireworks too—not the pleasant, sparkly kind—as the livelihoods of food truck operators like Peter Cimino, Chris Dorsaneo, Christopher Taylor and Kathleen Haggerty are on the line. 

How can you participate?  The meeting is open to the public, meaning that yes, anyone can attend.  There’s also a petition letter circulating—it already boasts 1,800+ signatures—for food truck devotees to show their support. 

For a detailed perspective of the food truck situation, read Christa Glennie Seychew’s post on Buffalo Spree.  In short, though, a few “brick and mortar” restaurants—stationary food businesses that pay property taxes—feel that Buffalo’s four food trucks have encroached on their turf, stealing customers and threatening to put them out of business. 

Vocal local influencers like developer Carl Paladino and Buffalo Place board member Rev. Darius Pridgen wholeheartedly back the B & Ms, positing that food trucks are shady leeches to nearby restaurants.  Common Council member Joseph Golombek, Jr., the sponsor of the food truck bill, will need public support Thursday against Buffalo’s (closed-minded?) heavy-hitters.

We’ve been outspoken in support of the food truck movement, but we absolutely hold most brick and mortars in high esteem.  Both can survive, and both can be successful—there’s nothing mutually exclusive here.  Yes, the extremes—brick & mortars denying food trucks the opportunity to exist or unregulated food trucks frequently encroaching on the same established restaurant—must be avoided, but there’s certainly a middle ground where both sides compensate. 

To quote from Brian Meyer’s Buffalo News article from July 29: “Officials from Just Pizza, Jim’s Steakout and Elmwood Taco & Subs passionately argued that the proposed law needs more review and public dialogue.”  Dialogue and review are just what they’ll get Thursday.

In late July, food truck detractors suggested a 500 foot zone away from established restaurants in which the mobile vendors could not serve.  There are very few trafficked locations in Buffalo that are 500 feet from an opening food business, unfortunately, and food trucks would likely be squashed. 

What’s the appropriate distance that should separate a food truck from an open stationary restaurant?  WNY Media’s Alan Bedenko drew our attention to the new law in Seattle that allows a mobile food vendor to set up in a public parking spot 50 feet from a B & M.  While 50 feet is viewed as “lax,” 100 feet isn’t unreasonable for Buffalo. 

Seychew’s second-to-last paragraph sums up the color that food trucks lend to our city:  “[Food trucks] also add to the cultural fabric of our community. For a decade community activists have called for an increase in public art, murals, buskers, and other expressive ways in which to enliven our often-gray city. The hive of activity that occurs around a food truck is no different than that which occurs around the M&T Plaza series and other outdoor demonstrations of our unique WNY culture.”  Don’t kill culture.

TAGGED: city hall, food trucks buffalo, legislation, lloyd taco truck, peter cimino, roaming buffalo

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