At this point, "location, location, location" has been used so often that it's beyond cliché. It's a real estate truth. If there's anyone out there who doubts the veracity of this statement, I offer to them the curious case of the Miracle Mile Food Truck War.
Since around 2009, the area of Wilshire Boulevard known as Museum Square -- with LACMA, a handful of tall and occupied office buildings, and blocks of nearby residences -- has been one of the most popular spots for food trucks in the entire city. The problem was that since there were only a limited number of spots, the block's been the site of a daily ritual that's more demolition derby than anything else.
But one man is trying to put an end to that.
His name is Patrick Lennon, and for the past few years he's been running the website BookMyLot.com, a go-between for food trucks and those who want to rent them. If you're an office park, or a workplace, or having a huge quinceañera and want food trucks out front, Lennon handles the grunt work of dealing with the permits.
During the course of his job, he became quite expert at navigating food permitting in L.A, and also became aware of the dire state of Museum Park. Here's a short documentary from 2010 about the whole ordeal:
But while the above depicted a battle generally fought between the trucks and the brick-and-mortar restaurants in the area, the true daily skirmish was among the various food trucks jockeying for one of the few spaces nearby.
"Whoever could get the spot first wins," said Lennon. "That turned into quite the chaotic street, where trucks were getting there at seven in the morning." The trucks would wait until 9 a.m., when the spots opened to non-bus traffic, and race around the corner to grab one. When they got one, they'd stay all day, collecting parking ticket after parking ticket, the fines considered part of the operational cost. Sometimes, the fines would cost over $100 a day. But that loss would be recouped during the big lunch rush.
There were also trucks who didn't play nice. "There were a couple, they were a little more aggressive than others," said Lennon. This group self-described as The Food Truck Mafia. "They were good at bullying other trucks," said Lennon. "They scared them with crowbars, hammers, some people would drive into other trucks and push them out of the spot. It got physical."
Hearing about the problem through the food truck industry -- which Lennon describes as being like high school, with rumors running rampant -- he decided to take matters into his own hands. He saw an opportunity in the regularly-scheduled "Special Event" permits being issued for events like Abbot Kinney First Fridays and Granada Hills Grubfest. He went to the IDOT Special Events department, filled out the proper paperwork, and was able to permit the block.
The block is now under his control, and his regulations.
While there are 13 spaces, Lennon is limiting the numbers of food trucks to "9 or 10" a day, decreasing the number to five on Wednesdays when LACMA is closed. There will be guidelines for trash pickup (previously, trucks would often leave trash for the building's janitorial staff to clean), a curated variety of trucks ("a lot of the customers have dropped off because it's the same trucks every day," he said), a wait list for trucks that want to enter the block, and plans for implementing a neighborhood survey of favored trucks.
All of this work, of course, will cost money. For now, the fee is roughly $35 to $70 a day per truck, with the possibility of future permits moving towards a percentage-based fee depending on their specific sales. (For deals he makes at BookMyLot, Lennon takes in between eight and 10 percent.)
"A lot of people were assuming I'm just pocketing all the money," said Lennon. "But there's quite a bit of overhead and operational cost that goes into it." Like doing the legwork for obtaining permits, contacting "nearly every food truck in L.A.", organizing who goes where, and also the cost of the permits; as part of the Special Event permitting, he has to pay the cost of the parking meters throughout the day.
It's been a smooth transition so far. The permits were approved August 24th, and on September 8th the project was launched. Lennon was accompanied by three officers and parking enforcement "just in case." But rather than chaos, "it's been harmonious, perfect," said Lennon. "There's been no more trash, no more traffic problems."
Not everyone's happy about the changes, of course, particularly members of the aforementioned Food Truck Mafia. In an effort to ward off possible problems down the line, Lennon's keeping a record of "horror stories" that other food truck owners have about them. "I compiled over 35 to 40 emails that are explicit, specific stories of when they got run off the road, or somebody jumped on their car with a tire iron and told them to get the hell out of here," he said. "It's a long list."
So, will this be the end of the Food Truck Mafia on the Miracle Mile? Lennon says it's up to them.
"That was another rumor going around, that I specifically applied for this ordinance to ban certain trucks, that I had this master plan so that they couldn't apply," said Lennon. "There needs to be some regulations and guidelines, and they need to abide by certain health codes just like any restaurant. I've reached out to them multiple times, and I'd love it if we worked together."
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