Think about life before ubiquitous food trucks.
Think about heading out of the office on your lunch break, the same old four or five choices within walking distance staring you in the face, no other options on the horizon. Think about going to some outdoor event on the weekend, be it a screening, a concert festival, or some kind of art gathering, and actually having to plan a meal rather than just showing up and knowing you'll have plenty of options waiting for you when you arrive. Think about life without The Grilled Cheese Truck.
Now, take a deep breath and put those silly thoughts out of your mind. Because you live in a city that is, according to Forbes.com, "The Model For Food-Truck Freedom."
In the piece, Kathleen Rooney takes a look at the state of the food truck industry around the U.S. and, frankly, doesn't like what she sees. Boston regulates their trucks to the point where they're only allowed in designated areas, the city going so far as to require them to have GPS so they can be kept track of. San Francisco forces the truck owners to go through a costly (both in time and money) rigamarole in order to get the proper licenses. And Washington D.C. was on the verge of forcing its food trucks to remain positioned in a single location, essentially removing the entire reason for their existence, before the regulation was overturned.
Over and over, Rooney calls on these cities to stop putting up so many roadblocks (so to speak) in the way of food trucks and instead embrace them as much as the city that she deems food truck heaven: Los Angeles.
The reasons that L.A. has become the focal point for the food truck revolution:
First, the city officials reject the kind of provincial protectionism found in other locations--protectionism designed to protect brick-and-mortar businesses from food-truck competition. Second, L.A. provides clear, narrowly tailored and outcome-based rules that are generally based on public health and safety concerns, not protectionism.
This is true to a certain extent. FindLAFoodTrucks.com lists upwards of 350 food trucks roaming around the greater Los Angeles area on any given night, certainly an indicator that the mobile method of food sales is doing quite well in L.A. But before we begin announcing an official victor in the war between food trucks and brick and mortar establishments, it may be best to keep in mind what happened to the food trucks that used to blanket Miracle Mile during weekday lunch hours.
Back in 2010, the area was the site of one of the nastier food truck vs. brick and mortar battles around, with restaurants actually hiring drivers to park cars all day on Wilshire Boulevard, occupying the parking spaces, thus keeping the food trucks from operating. Around the same time, councilman Tom LaBonge made plenty of enemies when he proposed a series of regulations limiting where and how food trucks could operate. But after a bit of a cooling-down period, the dust settled and the food trucks were allowed to run unfettered by the city.
That is, until late last year, when the L.A. City Council voted unanimously to keep food trucks from operating in the area between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m., taking them out of the "lunch rush" game for good. (They're still hanging around the area on weekends and during evening events at LACMA.)
Which isn't to say that this over-regulation is the new normal for the city. We'll see in due time if Miracle Mile is an anomaly or the first shot-across-the-bow in an attempt by brick and mortars to take back their customers. But it's an important lesson to keep in mind: While food trucks may currently be the way of life in the city, that doesn't mean the trend will always continue indefinitely. So if you like food trucks around, keep using them. Don't take them for granted.
Sign up for the new Food newsletter here!