Things may be getting even more sticky between the Sonoma County food truck brigade and brick and mortars in downtown Santa Rosa. As more and more truck stops crop up — first Munch Mondays, then Tasty Tuesdays in Rohnert Park and now discussion of a possible Friday night fleet in Railroad Square, the war of words is reaching a din. On Tuesday, the downtown restaurant association will meet to discuss concerns in what’s expected to be a rousing debate with city officials in attendance.
Surprising? Hardly. Restaurants around the country are struggling to adjust to the onslaught of mobile vendors — a phenom taking diners by storm. In an economy that’s already beaten the hospitality industry to a pulp, this could be a final nail for some. They say it just isn’t fair that someone with substantially lower operating costs can pull up near their establishments and siphon off customers.
Conversely, truck owners pay $60,000 and up for their rigs and are required to comply with all local health and permitting codes — all of which have costs. Many truck operators are themselves brick and mortar owners looking for new ways to reach eaters. Some are chefs who have lost multiple restaurant jobs in this tough economy and are simply trying to become entrepreneurs. A few tentative studies have shown that vibrant food truck scenes can actually stimulate local economies. But let’s be honest, the truth is that trucks are the media darlings of the moment and do have an upper hand when it comes to operating costs.
Meanwhile, city officials are finding themselves in an uncomfortable middle ground. Some have longstanding laws about mobile vendors, some have no laws at all, and are scrambling to determine what to do. In the absence of laws, some are banning the trucks altogether. When it comes to the potential economic draw, however, some forward-thinking cities like Santa Rosa are trying to split the difference, creating multi-pronged marketing efforts that help both mobile and sit-down eateries.
Here’s the thing: From a diner’s perspective, it all seems like a bit of a tempest in a teapot. All we want is great food at a great price. Diners want something new and interesting. Food trucks are courting bored eaters — many of whom are spending more time eating at home in this economy — to come out and eat again. Using social networking, clever marketing and playing off current trends, it’s working. Is that the fault of entrepreneurs? Or is it unfair to conventional restaurants? Can we ever find a place where we can all just get along?
There are clearly many sides to the story, and BiteClub wants to know what you think!
Do you think successful brick and mortar restaurants have anything to worry about? Has truck food already jumped the shark? Are the ones crying foul the loudest marginal eateries who have more to worry about than food trucks?